Life Lessons from Hot Yoga

I’m trying hot yoga these days.

It was a Groupon, and when it popped into my inbox on a very cold early winter day, it seemed like it was a good idea. Notice the past tense.

Hot yoga is hard.

Oh, it’s hot, all right. On days when it seems minus a bazillion degrees with wind child, and I go to hot yoga, let me assure you, there is not one bit of chilliness that remains in any part of me.

But, ya see, I’ve been doing hot yoga about three times over three weeks, after never even doing any yoga at all in my life. Which means I. Am. Lousy. at it.

And so it’s tough to go back.

‘Cuz it’s like I’m setting myself up to spend 90 minutes doing something that I suck at.  Why would anybody want do that?  I’m good at reading books, drinking tea, visiting with friends…and so all of those hold much more appeal to me than going to spend a bunch of time being lousy at something. 🙂

Except the fine yoga instructors won’t let me get away with feeling lousy at itcuz they’re so darn supportive. They say things compassionately, and inspire me to increase my own self compassion. They don’t care about people’s size, or their flexibility, or your balance…they just affirm that each of there is there, doing what we can do.

Some of the lessons they emphasize in hot yoga class seem to be lessons that we can all learn from in our lives.

1. They reframe mistakes as exuberance.

First thing in my first class when we were instructed into our first pose, two people knocked over their water bottles. (not me–because I didn’t think to bring a water bottle to a hot yoga class…evidently I didn’t think this through!)

And the instructor, without missing a beat, says, “I LOVE it when water bottles are flying this early in the class, cuz it tells me of the energy we have.  There is an enthusiasm that flying water bottles have.”

And, in an instant, what might have a person feel embarrassed or self conscious is embraced, reframed as a positive. The moment was transformed from a mistake to enthusiasm. That shaped the atmosphere in the whole room for me.

That was my first moment of hot yoga, and that helped it feel OK right from “the get go”.

2. Go as far as your body lets you and know that your body is doing the work it needs to do…now see if you can go a little bit farther.

There’s this annoying tension in hot yoga…and I’m appreciating it even as it is frustrating me.
One of the common encouragements is to do what you can and know that this is what you are supposed to be doing.  Doing what you can is the goal.
  • go as far as your body will go and that’s good enough.
  • It’s better to have good form than it is to go really far into the pose.
  • When you get as far as you can, don’t compare yourself to others, know that it is right where your body needs to be
  • Listen to your body, and focus on being in alignment even if it means you don’t go as far (and let’s just say that my feet are not even close to being above my head, and heck, that back wall they keep telling us to lean back and look at? I don’t even know if it is there)

But there is this both/and quality to hot yoga…when they say all of the above…as they encourage people to be accepting and supportive of their body’s ability, and to appreciate the value of the “just right” challenge…they ALSO encourage each of us to:

  • lean into it a little farther these last seconds
  • it’s getting hard, and I know you’re shaking with effort, but don’t give up…push through to the end
  • feel a little more stretch by relaxing farther into the position

So…there’s encouragement to be satisfied with what one can do…and that’s a great reminder.  We can’t do more than we can do…and that’s hard for some of us.  Cuz we’re not satisfied.  And yoga is a great opportunity for me to learn to be satisfied with me doing what I can do.

And that encouragement to be satisfied with what one can do, is juxtaposed and contrasted and spoken in tension with encouragement to go a little farther than where one is at.
And the odd thing is…it works!

3. Patience is a big part of the process

Hot Yoga is an exercise in patience. I see people who have been going for a long time…and it shows. The instructors often let us know what to do and then say, ” Some of you will hold it right here, and some of you will move on to the next part. And the rest of you will get there…”

There’s an awareness that it’s a process, and there’s an encouragement not to be impatient.  Hot yoga takes time.  It’s no 20 minute sprint workout.  The class is 90 minutes…it is an investment of time.

There are poses that have made me dizzy or nauseous.  What we are supposed to do when that happens, is listen to our body, and lie down for a while.  It’s not a sign of failure when we do that.  It’s a sign that we are paying attention to what’s happening in our bodies, and we are congratulated for that.

Just when I think I can’t balance on one foot for another moment, there is this pose called shavasana that we are to assume.  For two minutes we lie on the floor relaxed and breathing.  Periodically between other poses, we are to go back to this restful pose.  Being still and completely relaxed is part of the workout…it’s not a break from the workout…deliberate and focused relaxation is part of the workout.

Isn’t that a good life lesson?!

2. “It’s normal to feel weird”

Isn’t that an awesome line?

As we are contorted this way and that, trying hard to do something that feel so unnatural, in a heat that let’s just say is completely unnatural to us ‘peggers…it feels weird.  At various times, I was a little light headed, a little frustrated, a little perplexed, a little dizzy.

And when the instructor normalized weird, there was something right about that.

It was almost like there was this little sacred hush when she said it.  She felt it too…and she repeated it once more for us all to have it soak in.

Don’t we all need to hear that’s it’s normal to feel weird sometimes?  I think that line is something we should all say to at least one other person sometime this week.  Put it in your back pocket for use when needed, k?

Mebbe even say it to yourself–try it out–and see what happens? Lemme know how it goes!
Poster by Bergen And Associates It's normal to feel weirt said by my yoga instructor
On second thought,  maybe it’s worthwhile hanging in there  It’ll still be hard, but maybe it’s less about my physical flexibility and balance, and more about learning some lessons about grace, self-compassion, humility, gentle perseverance and patience.
Apparently, it was a good idea after all!

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