Look up! Spiderman will save you

During the Easter break I went hiking in the mountains. We did about five hikes, around 5 hours each. Not ridiculously long and not very strenuous. But still, it kept me in shape, more than if I would have crashed on some beach for a week. Or so I thought.

But after two weeks without hot yoga (one week facing deadlines at work and one week vacation), my body had all but relapsed into its ancient pre-hot yoga state of extreme inflexibility. Especially my hamstrings seemed to have shrunk back several inches – due to the hiking? – and during my first classes back it seemed incredible that I had ever been able to kick out in Standing Head to Knee pose.

Standing-Head-to-Knee-Pose_4

On top of that there was the muscle ache. Some people seem to be pretty much immune to this, but if for some reason I have to skip a week, by now I know what awaits me in the morning after my first class. Instead of energetically swinging my legs out of my bed, I have to make a kind of slow, rolling movement under my blankets to get my feet on the ground and, having reached the edge of my bed, I very slowly attempt to lift my upper body up. It’s painful, very painful. In my experience, the only thing that helps passing this stage is getting back to class that same day. And the day after that.

These classes can be very difficult. More than is normally the case, I have to consciously adjust the posture to what I am able to do that day. I try to take it easy, but I find that the class is somehow designed in a way that it is quite hard to make an effort that’s less than 100%. So halfway through the balancing series, my heart is racing, I’m getting desperate and start to feel weak and I find myself wishing that there’s a superhero that will come and save me.

Fortunately, there happens to be one just around the corner.

Let me explain.

‘Where your eyes are looking, your body wants to follow.’ This must be one of the most useful suggestions in class. In one way or another, all postures require us to lift our limbs off and up from the floor. We are stretching, balancing, working with all our muscles against gravity. Even though our gaze is not a muscle -well, I suppose it is in a way, but let’s not get too technical here -, I’m always amazed by the enormous physical and mental support you get from focusing on one point. By looking at the ceiling in Floor Bow or Full Locust, you can actually pull yourself up some inches.

fulllocust

The other day in class I was thinking: By looking up, it is as if you’re shooting a web up to the ceiling and pull yourself up. Indeed, just like Spiderman. Check out his focus, his backbend and how he works against gravity in the pictures below. Isn’t that a great example?

spidermanspiderman 2

So, in difficult classes I make sure that I keep my chin up and don’t drop my head. In a way of course, dropping your head is just a common reaction to being tired, but it doesn’t really give you much rest. It actually tends to make things worse. You loose your focus and it’s in itself a posture that increases a feeling of defeat. Instead, why not keep looking out for Spiderman? If you’re looking down you’ll miss the chance of ever making eye-contact.

Look up, spin the web to the ceiling, to your reflection in the mirror, to all points that give you support.

Focus your gaze. Survive class. Be your own superhero.

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Out of your comfort zone? : Surviving a foreign studio

The great thing about hot yoga is that you don’t have to miss out on classes when you’re out of town. Hot yoga studios can now be found in most large cities and their number continues to grow. The sequence of postures and the scripted text that teachers follow is the same everywhere, so there seems to be no obstacle that prevents you from walking into a different studio elsewhere in the world and join the class. Except, there is. Even though classes are indeed based on the same sequence and script, there are so many factors that vary from one studio to another that you’ll probably suffer from a minor culture shock. What to expect when you take a class at a foreign studio? Continue reading

Sip or Skip: Should you drink water during class?

Mary Jarvis was one of the early students of Bikram Choudhury’s yoga classes in the eighties. She gained fame as owner and teacher of the Global Yoga studio in San Francisco. Mary was interviewed by Benjamin Lorr, author of the book Hell-Bent, a highly interesting book on hot yoga, which I promise to write more about in future. This is how Mary explains to Benjamin why she does not sell water in her studio: “Don’t need it. Not in class. It’ll sit in your stomach like a pastrami sandwich. Have a green juice instead…and drink it after, when you’re not practicing something that requires stillness.”

There are fierce discussions about whether or not you should drink water during hot yoga practice, with opinions ranging from ‘drinking water puts out the subtle fires of your inner body’ to ‘drinking water is essential to prevent you from dehydration and heat exhaustion’. So should you, or should you not drink water during class? Continue reading

What is your excuse for not going?

The other day I went to a different hot yoga studio while being away from my home town. It’s always a special experience to catch a glimpse of the community in another studio.

Since I live in a university town, the crowd mostly consists of young women, in their twenties or thirties. But in this studio the crowd was much more mixed, both in age and in gender.

I was especially touched by the presence of two elderly women. Since they looked quite fit, it was hard to guess their age, but I estimate they must have been around eighty. Perhaps even older. Continue reading

26 postures: Always a different journey

‘So, the sequence of postures, does that never change? Doesn’t that get boring at some point?’ The question came from a fellow student in her starting week, while we were pealing off our sweaty clothes to get ready for the shower after class.

For me every class feels like a different journey. It’s also an often recurring topic of conversation amongst fellow students: It doesn’t matter how you feel, it seems almost impossible to predict what experience awaits you that day in the hot room. Continue reading

Breathe in deeply, exhale completely

They say that you cross the doorstep of your bikram yoga studio at exactly the time you are ready for it. Now that I’ve been practicing hot yoga for 18 months, and this practice has become such an important element in my life, I often find myself  wishing I discovered it sooner. But then I tell myself that there is a reason this saying exists. Maybe I was only ready for it when I entered the studio on that rainy day in September, in fall 2013. Continue reading