Bodies lay splattered across the darkened room as I maneuver around them to an empty spot along the far wall. Unrolling my yoga mat, I notice a man on the floor in front of me, his fingers reaching for the front mirror in a wide-legged child’s pose, his hair pulled into a Samurai top knot. Although yoga has been practiced by men in India for at least 5,000 years, women make up 80 per cent of classes in the Western World, and my Saturday morning warm and gentle is a perfect example of a man-led, all-women weekend warrior practice.
I join the other relaxed corpses in Shavasana, close my eyes and fill my lungs with air, exhaling deeply, evenly, emptying my mind and melting my body into the earth. The air still stinks from the previous hot yoga class, but I know the temperature will quickly drop from the sweat-inducing 39C to a more comfortable 30C.
The door clicks softly closed behind our instructor, but it is a woman’s voice that floats above us as she crosses to the centre of the room: “Welcome to this special hot core power yoga class. My name is Cynthia. I am your guest instructor today and will be guiding you through your practice for the next 60 minutes.”
Hot yoga is the same dish baked at 40C for an hour
OMG. Did she just say Hot. Core. Power. Yoga. I feel my breath shorten and my pulse begin to throb in my fingertips. Power yoga is a challenging, high-energy workout, combining Hatha poses with continuous movement and deep breathing. It requires strength and stamina. Hot yoga is the same dish baked for an hour at 40 degrees. It kicks up your heart rate while your higher body temperature helps stretch muscles even further. I tried hot yoga once, but had to get out of that kitchen. I’ve even tried iron yoga, that’s power with dumbbells, but couldn’t keep up with the instructor.
Serves me right, I think, as we wiggle awake our ankles and wrists. I forgot to check the monthly calendar this morning. I have shown up before only to discover the class was cancelled for teacher training. Had I checked before dashing out the door, I would have saved myself the gas and grief.
We begin with hot breath breathing to warm our bodies, although my clammy palms would suggest this isn’t really necessary. Cynthia has placed a rectangular yoga block beside each mat and we are told to put it between our ankles for a series of straight leg raises to be held at a 30-, 60- and 90- degree angle from the floor. Then we place the block prop between our thighs and continue the stomach- contracting leg raises while keeping our lower backs flat on the floor. By now the class has found its rhythm, exhaling in unison. Three more breaths, says the instructor. Forcing out our collective ujjayi breath, we sound like a strong wind whistling through a narrow opening.
These core strengthening exercises remind me of Pilates, and the time my husband joined me for a year, seeking relief from work-related tension in his neck and shoulders. And to think I had almost convinced him to attend this class because a) it was led by a man, b) it would provide a remedial hour of gentle stretching and c) chanting at the end is an option. Thank goodness he had a golf game, I smile to myself, as we take our first of several breaks to slurp water from plastic bottles. The Samurai wipes his bearded face with a towel. The skin on his back glistens with newly-released toxins.
Yoga teaches you to listen to your body. And my body said no.
We move into the Sun Salutation sequence and, according to our instructor, we are going to jump our legs back to a high plank position, drop to a Chaturanga low plank, swoop to a cobra and then hop our feet forward to the top of the mat – all while holding this block between our now trembling thighs. Over years of yoga practice, you learn to listen to your body to avoid injury, and my body is telling me it has no intention of doing this. It says I couldn’t do these three sequential moves if my legs were tied to the block. And judging by the he-grunts and rapid expulsion of breaths that follow this series, I am not alone in my struggle to keep up.
Catching my breath in the restorative child’s pose – knees together, arms by my side, cheek pressed to mat – I check out the other yoginis. I see two long ladies (they’d be tall if we were standing) to my left, their young, fat-free bodies hovering above their mats in a low bent elbow plank. The white team headbands and smooth dark ponytailed hair give them away. They’re yoga plants, I decide, students recruited by Cynthia to a) replace the warm gentle no-shows who looked at today’s revised class calendar, and b) provide an example to the warm and gentle regulars like me.
You get what you need
At the end of the class, while spraying my mat in the hallway, I overhear a curly-haired blonde with flaming cheeks telling the instructor she thought she was coming to the warm and gentle class. “So did I,” I pipe up. Another freckled redhead I recognize from class chimes her agreement. “I guess you get what you deserve,” the blonde concludes wryly, which I take to mean she didn’t check her calendar this morning either. “No,” said the Samurai, from behind me this time: “You get what you need.”
Our thoughts are energy magnets seeking a match in the universe
Walking to my car, the breeze chilling my sweaty skin, I realize there might be some truth in what the man had said. I’ve read about the universal law of attraction, which, simply put, means you attract what you think about. By giving your attention to something, you can begin to attract that something into your life. Like thinking about an old friend and the next day she calls you. Or thinking about your deceased dad and seeing the colour and model of the car he used to drive pull up to the intersection with an elderly man behind the wheel wearing the same cap your dad always wore. We are connected by our thoughts, and our thoughts are like energy magnets, seeking a match in the universe. By focusing your thoughts positively on what you desire you will begin to bring the essence of that subject into your experience. (This universal law applies to negative thinking too, so focus your thoughts on what you do want. If you keep saying you’re broke, or fat, your life experience will keep trying to match that thought.)
Hadn’t I also read that the universe is always answering your questions, through people or circumstances or events, but that we aren’t always aware that we are receiving the answers? Wasn’t I telling myself all winter I should be doing more core exercises so I can play better golf this summer? And wasn’t I just thinking how convenient it would be if my yoga class incorporated some hard core Pilate moves like the scissors and corkscrew?
Back home, I check my yoga calendar and sure enough, my regular class had been replaced by an introduction to hot core power yoga class. And because I was running late, I didn’t confirm with the girl at the front desk that the class was warm and gentle when I flashed my token. I was meant to take this class.
Yoga acknowledges the divine in each of us
Each yoga practice — be it relaxing and meditative or a full body workout –encourages a deeper physical-spiritual connection through the calm and focused coordination of movement and breath. By leaving all external stressors and distracting mind-chatter (still working on that) at the door, yoga’s mind-body practice helps reconnect us to the universal spirit, or life force, in all of us.
And give us the answers we need.