Hot yoga

Flexible people amaze me. The ability to touch your toes without bending your knees, do a split with ease or arch your body into a bridge seems painful to me, and completely unobtainable.

Any flexibility I had was lost a long time ago. Once kindergarten gymnastics was over, so was my ability to twist my body into strange positions. So naturally yoga seemed off limits.

It just wasn’t an area that catered to my skills. But I’ve always made the mistake of thinking that when you’re really good at something you don’t have to work too hard. It’s an unhealthy thought process that leads to negativity and you eventually reach a point where you’ve just had enough of it.

So when a friend told me about a hot yoga class she took I was intrigued. Yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit- how could I not be?

So throwing away negativity and willing to give flexibility another try I went to Yoga Union, a place where the goal is for students to connect with their bodies and, most importantly, to learn how to breathe.

I arrived early for instruction. With yoga mat, towel and water bottle in hand I was told by owner Julie Wagner to operate at my own skill level, take a break if I needed to and not feel pressured. There was no expectation other than to try. That was comforting.

After taking my shoes and socks off, I entered the room that students were already occupying, their mats laid out and bodies facing a mirror-covered wall. They were stretching and breathing, the air pleasantly warm.

I went to the back of the room, my safety zone, and watched others for pointers. OK, hands on hips, bend left, bend right. Move your neck. Move your shoulders. Touch your toes. And breathe, slowly and deeply. The instructor came and said to breathe in and out like this, the depth of his inhale and exhale amazing me.

I tried to mimic but failed miserably with something like a gasp. I couldn’t breathe deeply and was angry at my lungs, imagining them to be shriveled raisins in my body, half the size they used to be before they were exposed to harsh elements.

The room was calm and quiet, students deep breathing the only noise as the instructor began to speak in a smooth and meditative voice.

He led us through a series of poses that seemed quite simple. Bend your knees slightly and hold your arms out in front of you. Raise your leg, knee bent, and hold. Then slowly raise the rest of your leg up and hold. Squat, knees bent, back straight, arms out in front of you.

The instructor performed the poses or walk around, gently repositioning your body if you were a little off.

The warm room helped my body sweat. Sweat poured from my body, leading to the occasional annoying drop of salty liquid into my eye or off my nose.

The reason for the heat is for the increased humidity in the room to increase flexibility in the muscles and joints and keep oxygenated blood moving through the body. The goal is to restore your body to healthy and working order.

As we moved through the poses, I realized they were harder then I first thought.

I held my limbs in certain positions for extended periods of time and could feel my muscles burn and I would begin to shake with the pressure of holding a position.

The pace was slow, giving one time to focus on the body and the breath. I tried to exude an aura of calm as I tried to breathe deeply and forget the stress of the week. Breathe, hold and be calm. As the class progressed that became easier to do.

After more standing poses, such as the tree pose, holding one foot against the thigh of the opposite leg with hands held together over the head, we moved to poses on the floor. This was the cool-down session, where our bodies could rest from the surprisingly difficult yoga poses.

I lay down on the mat, feeling my burning muscles relax.

I couldn’t touch my toes without bending my knees – or do a split or a bridge pose – but I could try.

For more information call Yoga Union at 503-235-9642 or