Hot Yoga

by Lon Wagner
photography by Marcus Holman

I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go.

To yoga. Yeah, I’m stressing about yoga.

I have to do a story, and deadline is coming up, and you can’t really do a story about yoga if you haven’t done yoga.
But it’s raining. Saturday morning. 7 a.m. A great day to sleep in. The early bird kids aren’t even up yet, but I can’t sleep, because I’m stressing about yoga.

I am not, as the yogis might say, “being where I am.”

I don’t want to go. I’m thinking that might be a good mantra – is it yoga in which they have a mantra that they chant over and over again, or is that something else? If it’s yoga, I’d like mine to be “Idon’twannago.”

I’ve never yoga’d before. My wife has, and says I’ll probably like it, and occasionally has said that I “need it,” which I take to be some sort of comment that I tend to STRESS TOO MUCH.

The magazine folks don’t even know my wife, but for whatever reason decided I would be a good human foil to cast against yoga. Specifically, a version called “hot yoga,” in which – according to a quick Google dive – participants not only do yoga but do yoga while sweating their meditations off in a 100-degree room. The idea is that the heat enhances your flexibility. And I’ll need lots of enhancement.

So, for some reason (a check), I agreed to be the George Plimpton of yoga. Plimpton was a famous writer who reported a football story in 1963 by going to pre-season training camp with the Detroit Lions as a backup quarterback, then writing a book, Paper Lion.

Plimpton tried a lot of other stuff, too … hockey, bridge, high-wire act in a circus … so if he were still doing that stuff in 2012, he’d probably be doing hot yoga. Hot yoga’s become very popular.

All of this races through my brain as I lie in bed listening to the rain and practicing my “Idon’twannago” mantra. Dang, I can’t sleep. I might as well go yoga.

When I got the story assignment, one of the first things I did was call up Chris Yax. The Yax family is to hot yoga in Hampton Roads what the Manning family is to quarterbacking in the NFL. Of seven Yax siblings, five are involved with Hot House Yoga.

Chris is a nice, calm guy, and after a tour of the Norfolk Hot House building and an hourlong talk with him, I felt more calm, too, about doing yoga.

“However flexible you are, however strong you are, however much your mind strays,” he advised, “just let yourself be where you are.”
Since it’s my impression that doing yoga is kind of a womanly thing, I made sure to let Chris know how manly I am by asking about the heating system: What kind of heating system do you need to keep a room at 100 degrees?

It seems a 250,000-BTU Reznor furnace does the trick. It seems that there’s a fine science to hot yoga, and Chris said they keep the room at about 40 percent humidity – and about every 12 minutes, the oxygen in the room is replenished.

Chris also gave me a few tactical pointers for my first class: No heavy foods two hours beforehand. If you drink coffee, don’t drink it beforehand (which means I’ll be performing yoga for the first time ever as a giant grouch). Make sure to drink plenty of water, and we require that everyone bring water, because they’ll need it.

Finally, for guys, shirts are optional, but he recommends “lined shorts.”

“Sometimes, we have some large men doing the classes, and with the 100-degree heat and the sweat…”

Oh, Lord. … Idon’twannago, Idon’twannago.

Over at Hot House Yoga, I walk in the rain across the parking lot and in the front door. It’s 8:10 on Saturday morning, and the place is bustling. The 7 a.m. class has let out, and people are flowing out from that and in for the 8:30.
I tell the woman at the front desk what I’m doing – story, magazine, never done this before. She tells me where the mats are, and the mat covers. Hot House provides them, because, again, due to the sweat, if you didn’t have one of the nice soft covers on your mat, it’d stick to you like Saran Wrap.

I don’t really feel like talking to anybody, so I grab a mat and duck into the locker room. Maybe I could just hide out in here and pretend I did a class. There’s nice soaps, pleasant music, high-quality tile showers. …
I briefly engage another guy to ask if I should go with the long black sweatpants (my preference) or LINED shorts?

“You may want the shorts…it’s HOT in there.”

And … bare feet?

He nods.

I keep on the optional T-shirt, because I’m not one of those comfortable-walking-around-the-yard-shirtless guys.

Into the room. The light is dim. Bending my inflexible limbs into unnatural poses immediately leaves my mind when I’m enveloped in the hot air. It’s hard to breathe. I’m not sure I can be in here for the next hour and 15 minutes.

Five other people are in here already. I stake out a spot in what appears to be the back. I lie down perfectly flat, close my eyes and pretend to be leaving my worries behind, but really, start thinking how long I have to catch a nap.

Only minutes pass before I feel sweat forming on my head. Not perspiration. Not glistening.
People keep coming and coming into the room – women, men, all shapes and sizes. A guy walks just past me and – dude, really, that close? – unrolls and places his mat like 2 feet away. I change my mantra to Ihopehehaslinedshorts,

Nice music starts playing, not overly New Age, just the musical equivalent of a trickling stream, and our instructor begins.

“Hi everyone. My name is Jill, and I’ll be guiding you through your practice today. Stand up and come to the front of your mats.”

Jill says we’re going to start with “Mountain Pose.” I don’t know any yoga positions, and I know only a few yoga position names, so I’m going to have to imitate a person in whichever direction we are being asked to face.

“Bend the knees a little … shins move forward … engage the front of your thighs to straighten the legs … careful not to lock your knees. … Pull the lower belly in and up … pull the ribs back and down.”

I’m not sure what she means by this, but I am pretty sure Governor Bob McDonnell just signed legislation outlawing this very thing.

This is the tough thing about yoga, hot or not, and it’s probably not fair to restrict it to yoga, but you can’t just go out and start doing it. It would take a while to really get competent enough at it. To equate it to a sport I’m more familiar with: If you were playing basketball with someone who had never played or watched it before and you told him to go “run a pick and roll,” that probably wouldn’t work out.

Jill keeps going. Yoga moves a lot more quickly than I ever imagined. I imagined a lot of lying down on the mat, and we haven’t even gotten to do that yet.

“Create an upside-down V with the body … hands shoulder-width apart … index fingers pointing forward … separate the fingers wide … core strong … long spine … feet hip-width apart … heels behind second and third toes. … Long breath in … long breath out.”

I keep trying to mimic what others are doing, looking around while trying not to look like I am looking around. There are some people, quite a few actually, who swoop and reposition themselves from one movement to the next in such a graceful manner.

Mr. Ihopehehaslinedshorts isn’t one of them, but he’s way better than I am.
I have no access to a clock, but at what seems like 20 minutes in, my eye itches and I put my index finger into the corner near the top of my nose. It is so full of sweat that it makes the sound of someone trying to pull a foot out of mud.

I wonder if there will ever be an official drink water break, but I stop and take a
few sips.

Jill pushes on: “Step your right foot forward 2 feet … lift and extend your left leg … point your toes … square off your hips and your shoulders … strong core. Stay here … or … hinge at the hips … body down and leg up … keep your arms with your ears … gaze forward underneath your hands. … To deepen … bring your body level to the floor … left hip rolling down … hold for 4 … 3 … 2 … extend … and release.”

I absolutely can’t do some of these, but I am trying.

I can see that if these instructions become second nature, if you improve your flexibility, get your breathing right, this could really help a person, I’m thinking.

I am often the human embodiment of stress: looking calm on the outside, worried about everything on the inside.

I remember what Chris Yax told me: “If you think it, you are experiencing it.
If you’re stressed in the mind, your body listens to it.”

I did have one point of mental release during the class. It was about halfway through, and sweat poured off my head and down into my face. But the heat no longer mattered. Some automated physical adjustment had occurred. I felt pretty good.

There was even one point when I swore I felt a cool ripple of air.
Jill: “The body is soft … the mind is clear … the breath is your focus. … As you feel the breath … notice the stilling of the mind … embrace the moment. … If thoughts come in … the mind moves … just notice … come back to the breath … back to the moment … into stillness. Thank you for sharing. … Namasté. ”


Wait, I know that word. They say that at the end. I’m done! I did yoga!

I was feeling pretty good, until I mentioned it to my 9-year-old daughter about a week later.

“YOU? You did yoga? I would pay however much money I have to have seen that,” she says.

Well, I did do it.

“I’d pay however much money I have, PLUS 10 dollars if I could have taken pictures,” she says.

The magazine’s going to take pictures of me trying to do it. You can see those.

“I bet they’re going to sell a lot of those magazines – and I’m going to be one of  the buyers,” she says.

Be where you are, I tell myself. Just be where you are.