I'm more patient. I'm a better listener.
When was your first class, and how did it go?
My first class was on a packed Saturday morning in March 2016. I wore baggy cotton shorts and a cotton t-shirt. I couldn't straighten my arms over my head in half moon. I couldn't get my hand anywhere near my foot in standing bow. I could barely put pressure on my knees during fixed firm. I got nauseated during camel. As I lay drenched in sweat during final savasna, I was amazed by two things. One, I had made it through the entire class. And two, I couldn't do something as simple as straighten my arms over my head. So I came back the next day. And the next. I made it a goal to do three classes a week. Now I do four classes a week, and it took more than a year before I could fully straighten my arms over my head in half moon.
What first led you to start hot yoga?
I wanted to be healthier. I work full time and I freelance as an event photographer. When you photograph events you're running around with two or more heavy cameras, lenses and flashes strapped to you. You're up on a ladder to get some shots and down on one knee to get other shots. It used to take me several days to recover from a shoot, and I'm not that old. The other thing that led me to start hot yoga was I wanted to stay in shape to take care of my partner, Michael, who was born with cerebral palsy. As he gets older his mobility is more challenged.
So how to get healthier? I never had the discipline to work out on my own. At the gym I’d make half-hearted attempts on the elliptical machine or treadmill and maybe pick up a few weights, and I’d leave disappointed in myself. What I really needed was a class. A friend recommended I try hot yoga. I loved it from day one.
What was your life like before all this?
I had aches and pressures in my body from long hours at work. I dieted and lost 40 pounds (to look good in my wedding photos) prior to starting yoga, but the aches persisted. Since I was maintaining a healthier weight, I thought the persistent aches must be due to stress. For me, yoga neutralizes stress. It's the only time of the day that's just for me. Occasionally I may be sore after a class, but I can honestly say I'm pretty pain and stress free.
What health benefits do you PERSONALLY get from hot yoga (mental / emotional / physical etc)
I noticed physical benefits right away, but I was not prepared for the long term mental and emotional benefits. I used to hold on to anger and resentment, and the meditation in yoga has made that go away. I'm more patient. I'm a better listener. I rarely get frustrated by anything. By learning to focus on what “is” rather than what “should be,” I’m able to take a step back and remain calm in any situation.
How does your life OUTSIDE the yoga studio benefit (work or family etc)?
There really is power in starting each day doing something difficult (90 minutes in the hot room!). It makes everything else easier by comparison. I've gotten two promotions at work since I started yoga and I know that has something to do with a changed attitude. Photoshoots are easier: I'm able to bend WAY WAY back to get everything in a shot (thank you, half moon pose!) Traveling is easier. I'm not sore after a long plane ride. Michael and I spent a week in New York City, where most of the subway stations don't have elevators. I was able to schlep his wheelchair up and down those subway stairs all week, once carrying a whole pizza at the same time.
What is your favorite thing about the yoga and/or the studio community?
I love how it’s a very individual practice, but you can draw on the energy of the group. I'm inspired by everyone around me but don't feel the need to compete with them. It’s the most non-judgmental environment I’ve ever experienced.
What advice do you have for beginners who are working up the nerve to get started?
Just show up. Don't worry about how you look in the mirror; no one will judge you. People are very kind to newbies and EVERYONE has been where you are. More importantly, find a class time that works for you and stick to it. Evening classes would never work for me because I'd dream up excuses during the day to skip. But the 6 am class is perfect. I load my gym bag, mat, and work clothes into my car the night before. When I get up, I just need to grab my lunch and backpack and I head out (still half asleep!). Find a way to work it into your schedule.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The best advice I received was from a teacher who was helping me straighten my arms over my head. He had me compare my progress to tearing a single page out of a phone book. If you tear out one page, it doesn't look like you've done anything. But if you tear out a page every day, over time that phone book is going to lay flat. I thought about that a lot and it inspired me to always keep trying. Some days you may not feel as if you're making any progress, but you can always reach in that direction.