30 Jun 2020
I started practising hot yoga exactly ten years ago, on the 30th June 2010.
Bikram teachers often say to new students ‘you never forget your first class’. I wish this was true but I have barely any recollection of mine, except muddling up where I was supposed to practise as a new student and plonking myself in the centre of the room in front of the mirrored wall, which has been my favourite place to practise ever since. Other than that, my next memory is going home and eating an entire pack of pasta because I was so hungry, sleeping really well and feeling an amazing deep ache in every muscle the next day. I was hooked.
I had a regular practice within a couple of months and noticed physical changes quickly (muscle for the first time in my life!) but the mental changes crept up slowly until the realisation I was thinking differently would suddenly dawn on me. I noticed I had more awareness of other people and more tolerance and compassion. Sometimes I would lie on my mat after class and would find answers in the stillness because yoga was teaching me to listen to my inner voice, whispering in the silence. It was fascinating seeing how my attitude in a yoga class mirrored my attitude in life. Early on I’d sometimes get competitive with the person practising next to me and try to be ‘better’, I’ve been through perfectionist phases of doing every posture in class and telling myself the class was a waste if I sat out for a minute. As I practised more, I realised there wasn’t any point in being competitive because whether or not someone else was ‘better’ didn’t make any difference to what I was doing, and that I didn’t need to beat myself up for listening to my body and being nice to myself. This reflected into my life. When you’re dripping with sweat, feel like you’re overheating and all your muscles are on fire in a class, the way you react says a lot about how you deal with uncomfortable or difficult situations. Do you run away to find a more comfortable place, huff and puff and complain so everyone knows you’re working hard, or do you breathe, pull on your internal strength and know you’ll get through it?
Remember how my favourite place to practise is front and centre? Well, I learnt that I like to lead. I draw motivation from motivating others, and I like to feel that slight pressure of responsibility of having a strong practice that may help somebody else push their limit a little further.
When I think back to my life a decade ago, hot yoga is pretty much the only constant. In that time, I’ve practised obsessively, I’ve practised sporadically, I’ve finished classes feeling like I could fly and finished classes feeling like I could die! I’ve practised through the happiest times and I’ve leant on yoga though the darkest depression, when I felt like I was being pulled apart it put me back together.
But it’s not all serious self-reflection, it’s fun too! I’ve made friends and felt like part of a community. My first studio, where I practised for years, had a tradition of Birthday Triangles - every time it was somebody's birthday, the entire class sang happy birthday while holding triangle pose. I loved this and still practise on my birthday every year. The first time it was at a new studio my boyfriend, knowing the ritual, quietly sang next to me while I attempted to stifle uncontrollable giggles and the people around us looked totally bemused! He had a high bar to contend with as the year before, my 30th, there happened to be a famous, well-respected actor in class, who sang with gusto… until the ‘dear….’ bit and, well, who hasn't had that horrible moment of forgetting the name of the person they're singing to?!
Seeing celebrities in class always adds an extra zing of energy. I once started a class, glanced up and realised a Pussycat Doll was on the mat next to me (with the best abs I’ve ever seen!). But what’s great is that it doesn't matter one bit because once you step onto a yoga mat, every one is equal. You are a part of a group of focussed, determined, possibly slightly mad (!) people standing sweating in 40-degree heat doing their best to improve their minds and bodies with yoga.
So here’s to the next ten years….!