One of my favorite yoga instructors always reminds us during vinyasa classes, “It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect.” Until I started practicing hot yoga, I felt that this was true.
I started my 30-day hot yoga challenge 21 days ago with very mixed feelings. I had been going to vinyasa classes almost daily since October and thought that the hot yoga challenge would take my practice to the next level. During my first week of the challenge, a part of me wanted to quit because so many aspects of it (mainly the heat) were preventing me from finding the same meditative state I was able to achieve in vinyasa. I was torn though, because I had committed to this, told my friends and family I was doing it, and most importantly, told myself this is what I was doing. Would I be failing if I quit? I decided I would continue because maybe this was the challenge: being able to connect the mind and body in such intense conditions.
In week two, my feelings about hot yoga changed dramatically. As I felt myself becoming stronger and more comfortable with the sequence of the poses, I was gaining confidence in my ability to get through this. I would stare at my body in the mirror and see it move through poses I was not capable of doing the week before. It also helped that the instructors started to compliment my form and give me special attention. One of my favorite instructors pulled me aside after class one day to tell me how she noticed a change in my attitude about hot yoga. I wasn't sure what she meant by that, but figured it must be a "good" thing.
Week three marked another dramatic shift in my hot yoga practice. I found myself growing frustrated when I'd fall out of "standing bow" pose or couldn't get my back quite as straight as I wanted it to be during "head to knee" stretching. I pushed myself so much during "bow" pose that I injured my lower back, which I ignored for fear that it would interfere with my practice. If an instructor didn't give me attention during a class, I told myself it was because I wasn't doing well enough and they must be aware of that. I also found myself critiquing my physique; I actually started wearing a shirt in class because I couldn't stop comparing myself physically to the people around me.
Yesterday marked the beginning of week four of the 30-day challenge. I was really looking forward to going to class and having checked and re-checked the hot yoga schedule, I decided I would go to the 5:30 PM class. When I arrived at the studio at 5:05, I was excited to have a nice amount of time to prepare mentally before class.
Much to my dismay, the doors were locked class had already started and as it turns out, class started at 5, not 5:30. How could I mess up so badly? I kept yelling at myself internally and calling myself an idiot. I knew that hot yoga was at 5 on Saturday. How could I mistakenly think it started at 5:30?
Since I've started becoming more spiritually connected, I tried to seek meaning in this mishap. I realized that both my mind and body were trying to tell me something: hot yoga was not good for my mental state. My body tried telling me this when I lost my period two weeks ago (one week into the 30-day challenge), when I injured myself, and when I lost sensation in my hands and feet in class. My mind was trying to tell me hot yoga might not be the best fit for me when I tricked myself into missing a class. I even felt I was lying to myself when the instructor would end class saying "Now look at your eyes in the mirror. After all this practice was never about anyone else, just you” — I couldn’t hold my gaze for longer than a second.
Everything I loved about vinyasa yoga was turned upside down in hot yoga. In vinyasa, I would flow with my eyes closed and feel the poses intuitively, achieving a mind-body connection that put me in a gratifying and positive meditative state. Meanwhile, with hot yoga, staring at my body and pushing myself into poses with such focus made me so hyperaware of my physical self that there was no room at all for my mind or that connection. Instead of "feeling" the poses, I was obsessed with making them perfect, even if it meant injuring myself. On the same note, my vinyasa practice was internal and personal — I was hardly aware of others in the room, aside from the energy I felt from all the bodies surrounding me. With hot yoga, however, I was intensely aware of each person, constantly comparing myself to them and competing against my fellow yogis.
I could continue to week four of the 30-day challenge and see where that takes me. But I won't. By finishing the 30-day challenge, I would be failing at the very nature of the challenge. I know I can do yoga 30 days consecutively, and I don't need to complete a challenge to prove this to myself.
I consider "quitting" the challenge an achievement; I've succeeded at truly becoming aware of my mind, body and soul when it's trying to communicate with me. I have learned to trust my feelings and listen to my intuition. While I might try hot yoga again some day, I’m sticking to vinyasa for now.
This morning, in my final savasana at the end of a 60-minute vinyasa class, I closed my eyes and said to myself, "Now take a deep breath for yourself. After all, this practice was never about anyone else, just you." Inhaling deeply, feeling the air enter my body, then releasing it with an exhale, I felt that this time, it wasn't a lie. Lying there on my mat, I was finally being true to myself.