105 degrees outside – as close as I had been to hot yoga before visting Sumit’s Studio. Photo by James Patrick Photography www.JamesPatrick.com
I step to the door and can see the condensation dripping down the windows. I remind myself, “It’s going to be hot, and you’ll be fine.” For some time I’ve been avoiding hot yoga, fearful of what I might experience. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2012 is a challenge to try a new sport or activity every month. I hope that my experience will not only help others find new activities to enjoy but also push me outside of my comfort zone both mentally and physically. It’s easy to become complacent with your fitness routine, and this goal will ensure that this doesn’t happen. Today, my resolution leads me to Sumit Yoga Studio in Arizona.
Sumit Banerjee, the Founder and Creator of Sumit Yoga Studios, and Danya Henig, one of the owners, greet me at the front door. Their smiling faces immediately put me at ease. I’m surprised at my nerves. I’ve grown comfortable in my fitness routine, knowing that whatever class I step into I will typically perform well. As a newcomer, I always get a bit nervous and I’m definitely new to this type of a class. I’ve been there before, though, and I know that if I work hard enough, I can eventually perfect my skills. So, I allow myself to be a novice, and commit to learning everything I can from the experience and the teacher.
Something’s different about this place compared to other environments in which I’ve exercised. There’s very little sense of competition, at least from what I can tell. This knowledge relaxes me. I feel more at home and supported and am grateful for this. I talk with Dayna as I enter the room. She shares with me how yoga has transformed her. “I have always been a person that has worked out”, she shares, “and my initial attraction to hot yoga was for the physical benefits. Over time though, I began to see how it helped me mentally. It provides a space for me, separate from all the other roles in my life. It helps me gain clarity and now I do it almost exclusively for that reason”.
With my water, yoga mat, and towel in hand I step into the yoga room, heated to 100 degrees. Summit explains to me that I should go at my own pace; this is my practice and I should be guided by my own abilities. I’m competitive by nature, so my urge is to do every move perfect. Most people are wearing a sports bra and shorts and they are all different sizes and shapes. My friend, Amy, tells me I can do the same, and she hands me a hair band to wear to help the sweat from dripping in my eyes during the class.
I can already tell the heat is relaxing my body. My mind is moving a mile a minute, making lists of things I need to do and goals I need to accomplish, as I move slowly into each pose. It doesn’t take me long to realize though, that hot yoga is a practice that forces silence of the mind. It asks us to stop, and be at peace in the moment. Sweat begins to drip from me and I’m forced to stop thinking about all the things I need to do, and instead, focus on my breathing. Deep breathes in and deep breaths out. I can only hear the sound of Sumit guiding me through poses, the soft music playing in the background and my own breath. Sumit shares with me that “yoga has the ability to transform the mind. While we begin somewhat self-conscious, yoga takes us to a place where we can appreciate our bodies. It demands that we focus on ourselves, slowly, methodically. It is the only discipline that tempers aggression. It is that element of yoga that gives us the life approach, it transforms us.”
I’m doing well and as the class moves forward I hear that we have completed the warm-up. In my mind I think, “That was the warm-up?” I’m sweating and breathing deeply, but push myself to fully commit to this moment and reap the benefits of this class. At one point, holding a pose, I’m concentrating so hard on my breathing and my form that I feel emotion rushing over me. I could smile, I could cry, I’m not sure which. I opt to just be present, to work hard, and to feel my body growing stronger, something in time I’ve grown to respect.
Although I’m impressed with those around me, I spend very little time over the 80 minutes I’m practicing focusing on them. The hot yoga experience is just me, almost like I’m in a room by myself, asked to leave all my baggage at the door. It will wait for me. As we near the end of the practice, my head feels clearer. I feel oddly at peace, an emotion that I’ve experienced before in yoga, but never quite so intensely.
Sumit opens the door at the completion of class, and a cold rush of air whisks through the room. It calms me. I made it, and am surprised with what I take from the experience. Fitness is a lifestyle. Whatever you do, you need to be able to connect with it. It should not only enhance your physical skills, but it should offer you something mentally. If you are practicing a fitness activity and only benefitting physically, then you likely won’t stick with it. Sumit tells me after the class that yoga is best practiced on a very regular basis. Those who incorporate it into their life gain the most benefit. Amy Pickett, a committed yoga student, shares with me that her 30-day challenge, “provided me with a sense of accomplishment. It helped become strong and greatly aided in my flexibility while helping me calm my mind”.
Hot yoga is an activity accessible to people of any age because of its low impact on the body. It aims to help us in developing strength, improving our mental ability, and providing us a high level of fitness. It also has great benefits for those people with an injury since it offers a method where you can work through physical ailments and decrease pain. Yoga is a healthy addiction, one that transforms you. In a world where we are continuously bombarded with visual, audio, and electronic stimuli, you need things that demand you stop, even if just for a few moments, and recognize where you are emotionally. Stopping for a moment, and being fully present in a meditative state strengthens your ability to appreciate life, to find happiness, and to gain perspective. Hot yoga offers this mental benefit, while providing you a host of physical benefits as well. I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience this. I think I might be hooked!