I’ve been practicing yoga regularly since I moved to Los Angeles two years ago, because it’s the law here and also because one of my best friends owns a yoga studio where I work part-time. I haven’t yet become a full-blown yoga person, in that my social media accounts are not flooded with pictures of me doing poses on rocks with waves crashing in the background. I’m not saying that with any judgement, other than jealousy. Rest assured when I can do those poses, I know exactly what rocks I’ll be squatting on.
My first yoga class was in Philadelphia, and it was hot yoga. I was working at Teach for America’s summer training institute when a friend invited me to try a class with her downtown. “No matter what happens, just try and stay in the room,” was the only piece of advice she threw at me as we climbed the stairs to the small, sparsely decorated studio space. I hadn’t been worried, but now was instantly consumed with the image of me being carted out on a stretcher as bystanders murmured to themselves, “if only he had left the room. What was he trying to prove?”
Determined to stay (alive) in the room, I ended up really enjoying myself. A natural (read: disgusting) sweater, I loved the fact that no one could accuse me of being overly sweaty; we were locked in a hotbox bending and twisting like drunk toddlers, of course I’m going to form a sixth Great Lake on the hardwood floor around my mat. I had zero idea what we were doing with our bodies or why any of it mattered, but I was able to do most of the things and at the end of the class my friend was impressed, which I was pretty sure was the goal of this whole yoga thing anyway.
It took me a solid two years to take another class, this time at a hot yoga studio in Manhattan shortly after ending a long-term relationship. I needed to sweat out some pretty big toxins, and from what I could tell from Yelp, this was the place to do it. When I arrived and checked in with the friendly man-bunned yogi behind the desk, he asked if I had practiced hot yoga before. I smiled and confidently told him how I dominated a class in Philadelphia that one time two years ago.
“The most important thing is to just stay in the room,” he replied, waving me through to the studio and moving on to the person behind me. Oh don’t worry BirdSong, I thought as I headed in, I got this.
I did not, in fact, have this. I discovered what had looked like hardwood floors in the pictures online were actually floors covered in a thin layer of carpet that only looked like a hardwood floor, which meant by minute seven of class I was audibly splashing around in the back of the room, wondering how many different strains of staph infections I was picking up. Man-Bun up front was nowhere near as nice as the flowing goddess I remembered in Philadelphia, and I decided it was his fault my legs weren’t cooperating and spent the rest of class hurling insults at him in my head, exactly how the ancient yogis intended.
I’ve learned since that hot yoga, carpeted or otherwise, is not for me. I’ve also learned “staying in the room” is advice you can apply across most areas of your life; when things get challenging, if you put your head down and ignore the urge to blame the Man-Buns around you, you can get through just about anything. And once you do, you can leave that weirdly carpeted room and never, ever go back.