It smelled awful.
… like, who would dump expired eggs into the exposed rays of Houston’s sun?
Turns out, no one. It was just the raw, human stench of determination and bliss — and this was my introduction to Houston hot yoga.
I was 15 years old. Naturally, my first impressions were heavily influenced by my emotional responses to the superficial qualities of the hot yoga studio. However, committing to the experience I spent my tutoring money on, I pressed on passed the steamy, sliding doors.
Everyone was naked. Or so I thought.
Forgetting your contacts the first time you take a hot yoga class can get overwhelming when a room full of adults appear to not be wearing any clothes. Luckily, the further into the blistering heat I stepped, the more Athleta sports bras and Lululemon biker shorts began blurring into vision.
Alright, we’re safe. Everyone is clothed. The smell isn’t nearly as bad. And, I found a comfy spot close enough front to see but back enough to not kid anyone I knew what I was doing.
Every anxiety was at the forefront during this initial class. New experiences have a way of heightening our perceptions and shoving every fear to the surface. Worried about other people, confused about the new space, and overpowered by the internal baggage spilling out — things were not going very well.
Until I heard a voice: a soft, strong, welcoming voice. It was one of those voices that make you feel like you’re being swaddled in front of a Christmas fire.
The tension did not immediately pass. My reservations about what was to come remained fierce and unrelenting. This voice, however, enabled me to stand up on my now soggy yoga mat and give it a go.
Reaching my arms towards the heaving air vents, I officially began the class.
Inhale (probably the largest one of my life). Exhale. Haaaaaaa.
I had never “haaaa”ed before but I surrendered to the voice anyway, repeating this breathing sequence 11 or 12 times. The result was unexpectedly powerful. Suddenly, I felt simultaneously more calm and more energized with each out breath. I was sinking deeper into my body, becoming more present and more accepting of the heat.
Beginning with what I later learned was called a “standing sequence,” every pose brought deeper reflection. Some were incredibly hard or painful. And I hated that. Some were more effortless and liberating. And I loved that.
Biologically, we’re engrained to prefer things that are easy and resist things that are tough.
Yet, what I found most enlightening was the peace that followed softening into the poses of anger and pain. Encouraged to remain in what made me horribly uncomfortable, my mind was inspired to travel down one of two paths: of compassion and radical acceptance or frustration and defeat.
Depending on the pose given determined the path I chose. Sometimes carving a pathway of acceptance felt possible in the queasy face of prevailing pain. Other times just standing there was the best I could do.
Learning the internal cues of push and pull, give and take, go and surrender, allowed me to begin developing an ever-expanding relationship to my mind, heart, soul and body.
I started to understand that I could take the class one pose at a time, and each posture a fresh experience to meet with an uninfluenced perspective. Right or left, tree or forward fold, was an opportunity to start again — to forgive, to accept, to cherish.
I think I was in an extended side-angle pose. Reaching one palm up and placing the other on the inside of my too-slippery-to-grip ankle when I was suddenly crushed by incredible anger. I hate this pose. This pose is stupid. I hate this class. Why did I pay for something so stupid? And the mental loops kept coming, escalating in frustration.
My most beloved phrase in those 50 minutes.
Somehow, with the release of the pose, my anger subsided with it. My thoughts and emotions ebbed and flowed with the movement of my body. All were utterly fluid.
All were impermanent.
How could I be experiencing so much in such a short period of time? I’m just doing yoga poses, right? Why would this be happening? What is my body trying to share with me? What is my heart trying to reveal to me?
Finally laying in savasana, or corpse pose, I felt gratitude.
Not the forced or should-be gratitude, but the gratitude that follows sorrow.
The stored emotional pain and its corresponding thought entanglements were given space. In the heat and sweat and anger, I was able to feel and move through what had been trapped in my body.
And I felt grateful.
Grateful my body was able to let go of what was no longer needed. Grateful I survived up until this moment. Grateful I was capable of such profound physical, mental and emotional strength. Grateful for the life behind, ahead, and existing in front of me.
As I continued to lay there in the collective egg-rotting funk, I discovered a new path of healing. One of many but one just as meaningful, significant and pivotal along my journey as the sun itself.
There will always be another tension to ease, muscle to release, emotion to soften, and thought to unknot… but no matter what, I truly see I was doing the best I could in that (and every) moment.
And that, that was enough
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