A whole bunch of years ago I used to teach and practice yoga in a fancy studio in Santa Fe. There was an interesting cast of characters that populated this period in my life and one in particular was an Australian man named Mark. Mark had many wonderful and idiosyncratic qualities but there is one in particular that is emblazoned on my memory for all time. And that is this: Mark always chewed gum during class. And I really couldn't get past it. Does he not know that this is YOGA? Is he not aware of the blantant disrepect that is implicit in his utter disregard for the applied and assumed code of yogic ethics? Not to mention how the hell is he even able to breathe with that wad in his mouth? To me that was such an obvious no-no that I was left with no other alternative to my difficulty with the situation than to file Mark away in a category labeled by me as "non-yogi".
Fast forward 10 plus years to a land where everything is much more grey for me than it once was. Certainly a lot of growing up has taken place not just within my life of practice but also within my humanity and the expanded perspective afforded by time and experience. Interestingly enough, in response to my last post I was contacted by a number of folks not regarding grief or loss but instead asking me about Bikram Yoga- or as it is becoming more and more commonly referred to in the current disenfranchising terrain, "Hot Yoga". In fact, I will from this point forward refer to it only as Hot Yoga but please know that I am not referring to flow or power yoga taught in a heated room. I am referring only to the 90 minutes, 26 poses and 2 breathing exersizes.
So I got a text from one of my close friends who lives in a far away city and whose life I imagine looks much like mine. She is managing a household and a family and teaching and practicing and doing her best to show up for all of these parts of herself with as much integrity and authenticity as she can. I love her. Anyway.
She asked: Is hot yoga real yoga to you or something else?
My response: Yoga Candy
I have actually been using that term for awhile to describe how I feel about Hot Yoga. I guess that it sort of suggests a break from my regular practice or a sort of treat within it. It definitely asks something much much different of me than how I practice on my own or even with the teachers that I choose to study with from other methods (or non-methods).
Remember that file that I put Mark in all of those years ago? Well, turns out that I have been putting a lot of things into that file. It has stopped functioning as a strictly non-yogi file and has morphed into an "I'm not sure what to do with this" file, but I will to continue to gather information in hopes that I will gain some sort of understanding at an unforeseen future time.
There is some interesting shit in that file. Recently, I was alone with one other woman in the locker room of the local hot yoga studio (which in not exclusively hot yoga- they do lots of other yoga in the hot rooms as well). She pulled something out of her bag and said these totally baffling words to me: mind if I hit my vap pen? Um...... Not only was I naked and covered in sweat and wielding a pile of heavily sodden undergarmets and towels, I truly had no idea the meaning of what she was saying in a realm so utterly out of context from where I am imagining theses words are normarily uttered. Take a hit? Of a vap pen? I really only even barely know what that is. So, I said the only thing that I could possibly say in this situation: Sure, go for it. I'm still sort of processing my response. But I mean really? Who the hell am I to set this girl straight when she is so clearly trying to set some kind of new course for herself wrought with all of the difficulty and complexity of her own unknown by me life? Smoke your freakin vap pen in the locker room of this yoga studio. But I have to ask myself a little bit at that point: do I think this is real yoga?
Perhaps even more alarming to me is this other happening that I have been filing away. Every few months or so, the stars align and Chris comes with me to take a Hot Yoga class and if we are real lucky we even go out for dinner afterward. There is this massive bowl of mints in the lobby of the studio. Chris loves the mints. They are cooling after all and as we all know it is hot in there. Like, epically hot. Lately however, he has gotten into the habit of bringing a stash of mints into the yoga room which he administers to himself over the course of the class. You can hear him unwrapping mints at all of the desigated water breaks and sometimes between other postures as well. This is my husband we are talking about here. My husband. But, it is fucking HOT IN THERE!
At this point, I kind of have to ask myself: why doesn't this bug me more?
And I guess that the answer to this question is really the whole point. I just care so much less now than I once did. And so much more. I recognize now in a way that was so impossible once upon a time, that there is a gift within yoga that is so much more vast and complicated than what have become the specific parameters of my relationship with asana practice. Thank God for that. Seriously. I think this really may be why I am so completely ok with not being connected to any one method or form. The possiblility of one way, and at the same time its opposite, suits me. It is so fantastic that the people for whom my teaching style doesn't work, have so many other options available to explore. I know that I ask my students to show up in a pretty awake and profound way in the yoga classroom. That is the lineage from which my seeds have most been sown. But I know that it is a lot to ask and I know that it is hard and good grief I know that it is not for everyone. As my teacher, mentor and friend Darren Rhodes has said: I am an aquired taste. And I have lightened up over the years. In my classroom, in my perspective, in so many things. That is not to say that I have stopped, or will stop anytime soon, asking a whole hell of a lot from myself and my students. And you know what? If were to see vap pen girl again in the future I may gently suggest a different option. Like, why not wait til you are outside? And in the meantime take some big breaths and a shower. Perhaps.
The rest of the text exchange with my friend went something like this:
friend: I've been (practicing Hot Yoga) several times a week since January but in my head I am still not practicing.
me: It is so different from regular practice.
friend: Some days especially when I do not vibe the teacher I allow myself to totally check out.
me: The checkout is sort of sublime.
friend: It is! I have way more compassion for those of my students who do that now.
me: Yep. Life is hard. Sometimes yoga is just about breathing and stretching and not giving a shit about progress.
When I moved from the SW back to rural Wisconsin, I also moved from vibrant yoga communities to a town with virtually no yoga other than myself. I have pretty much directed myself in practice in the decade since. I occassionally visit my teachers and drink from their well, and for that I am very grateful. But for the most part, I have been a self-generating one woman show of learning. When we moved closer to a city a few years ago, the idea of going to a yoga class instructed by: A. someone I did not know, and B. delivered in the consistent, dependable and structured form of a Hot Yoga class, I was all over it. It was like a break. Like a little bit of Yoga Candy. But it became so much more than that. It became a bit of a curiouslity to me as well as an opportunity for me to exersize in a rigourous way that is so completely different from my regular practice. It also connected me. The community of people that seek out that type of practice are so incredibly diverse and also so different from the people I usually see in my classes. And what I recognized in them almost at once was the shared understanding of difficulty. That practice is infinitely challenging. Just as much as it is totally and completely accessible to most folks. But it really does never get easier. What changes is our relationship to the difficulty over time. Our ability to stay with the breath even when it may very well be the final thing that we can possibly give ourselves to in the heat drenched final moment of the world.
Sometimes it is only survival in there. And Hot Yogis seem to kindof understand that. Beacuse you know what? Much of the time (or most of the time as it seems lately to me), it is only survival out here as well. Doing our best. To breathe and stretch and sweat into our very next moment of being.