I have struggled for years to find some balance between a healthy workout routine, pursuing my creative passions, and the demands of a 40-hour work week. More often than not, I feel like my own ambitions are constantly butting heads with the restraints of time. So about a year and a half ago, I tried something new. I started practicing hot yoga once a week. It was something I had been doing off and on for a couple of years but had never been consistent. The goal was simple enough that I was able to easily build it into my routine. Over the last year and a half, it has become the foundation for maintaining my physical and mental well-being.
I practice at Hot on Yoga, which is a part of Yoga to the People. I like their mission of keeping yoga affordable and accessible to all. Classes can get crowded, but I usually don’t mind. The technical name of the class is Traditional Hot Yoga; it takes place over 60 minutes in a heated room of 105-108 degrees. The classes are not Bikram, and given the recent downfall of Bikram Choudhury, it’s just as well.
I never know who the instructor is going to be when I show up for class, which is by design. I’m not showing up for them. I like getting a variety of different perspectives and approaches to the same set of postures. I appreciate the way students are encouraged to sit and breathe when they need to rather than push past their limits. Part of the practice is getting to know your limits. There’s a strong emphasis placed on showing up; on being present and that being enough.
“Quiet people have the loudest minds.”
Here is what I like best about hot yoga: it is equal parts brutal and elegant. It demands that I shut out the rest of the world and exist only in the present. I excel at dwelling on past mistakes and embarrassing moments. I have folders in my Google Drive for at least five different comic projects that I won’t be ready to write for at least a few years. I’ve never been good at living in the moment. Anyone who’s ever seen my color-coded planner can attest to that. But as I balance on one leg for standing bow, sweat covering every square centimeter of my body and dripping down onto the mat beneath me, I don’t have room for other thoughts. The only thing I can think about is exactly what I am doing.
At some point, yoga ceased being something that I dragged myself out of bed for, and became something that I actually look forward to. This came into sharp focus when I was running the Kickstarter for Dream Crasher last year. I was so stressed out and overwhelmed that I decided to stop going to class. In retrospect, that was a huge mistake. Shutting my brain off to all of its trifles and scattered to-do lists has a lasting effect beyond the hour of class. I don’t buy into the Bikram claim that hot yoga helps you sweat out toxins, but I do believe I can sweat out a whole lot of anxiety and stress. As my body slowly cools off and thoughts of the outside world drift back in, everything seems smaller. The more anxious I feel during the week, the more important the practice becomes.
The practice itself is equal parts graceful and ruthless. This dichotomy has come up numerous times throughout my life. It’s what attracted me to rowing in high school; that balance of strength, drive, and technique. It’s what I love about listening to metal; the raw irregular rhythms and riffs scraping up against the barest hints of melody. It’s a balance of mind and heart that benefits both my physical and mental health. It’s a reflection of the human condition. Life is beautiful and cruel, and we’re all just finding our own way through it.
In closing, here is a picture I took of myself in the immediate aftermath of one of my practices. I took a few, most of them were way more flattering, but this one was the first and the most raw. I wanted to capture the quiet intensity of the immediate aftermath. Besides, it’s not the sort of practice one can take selfies during, so this is what I’ve got.
I’ve only missed a handful of weeks since the beginning of the year; almost all of them due to traveling. The studio has 20 classes in 30 days challenge that I am contemplating for January. I’ll be looking to fill the void left behind by not being able to bike during my winter hibernation, and I’m curious to see what the challenge might bring out. Regardless of what I decide; I know that yoga will remain a constant.