Walk into the mirror
If you find the words “my yoga practice” offputting, bye!
In late December I decided to take a break from teaching yoga in favor of finding work that paid well enough for me to pay my bills and start putting a dent in the debt I’d accumulated while writing my book. I was lucky to find one, but the hours were long and I abandoned my yoga practice almost completely. Well, okay, completely. Sometimes I did a couple of sun salutations in my living room. I went to class twice in two months. I felt crazy and stressed out, but the same factors that were making me feel stressed were the identical factors that made it impossible for me to go to yoga class regularly or muster the self-discipline to practice at home for more than ten minutes.
Then in mid-February I went to L.A. and stayed with my friend Bob, who luckily doesn’t mind if I piggyback on his life when I’m there. (I hope.) I love Bob’s life. It strikes me as a good mix of hedonism and discipline, a balance that can be the mostly-freelance person’s biggest challenge. Bob goes to yoga every day. Hot yoga. I had never done hot yoga before, in part because my teachers, who ordinarily strive for nonjudgment of other practices and schools, have been clear that they feel that hot yoga is b.s. I mean, they haven’t said this in so many words (bc: they are yoga teachers) but “it’s very easy to injure yourself in a hot room” and “becoming dehydrated might give you a high, but it has no other benefits” and stuff like that.
So, I did hot yoga, in L.A., at 4:00 on a weekday in a room full of the exact beautiful L.A. yoga people you’re imagining. One wall was mirror and I was inches away from it and the room was huge and so crowded that everyone’s mats touched. We were encouraged to lock eyes with ourselves in the mirror. I found the mirror useful for alignment/reality checks but otherwise dispiriting. I kept catching a look of disbelief and disdain on mirror-Emily’s face, like “Are you fucking kidding me.” We did a sequence that would have been laughably e-z in a 70 degree room, but we were in a 100 degree room and everyone was moaning out loud and soaking their minimal garments with sweat. I was sweating like an anime character. I had worn non waterproof mascara, and it was in pools and runnels all over my face and neck. Hi, mirror! My heart was racing even though we were barely moving, which is the same feeling I get when I’m having a panic attack. Was I having a panic attack? No, I was just slowly rising up onto my toes in utkatasana in a 100 degree room. I had smoked a cigarette the previous night (hedonism!) and I could smell the cigarette oozing out of my pores. I had the thought several times that I was experiencing exactly what Dante had in mind re: the torments of damned souls. What sin would doing hot yoga inches from a mirror be an appropriate punishment for? Coldheartedness? Vanity? At the end of class I felt purged, scourged, and freed from any responsibility ever to try hot yoga again.
However: when I got back to New York, I found my way back to my mat and my practice — sorry, there’s no way to talk about yoga without saying stuff like that — and I knew I had the hot L.A. yoga class to thank. It returned me to my body in some way, and maybe proved to me that I could withstand the pain and annoyance that getting back into regular practice after a break always entails. I returned to the studio where I no longer teach and paid to attend class there for the first time in years, which felt good, and I bought discounted class packages at both of the studios near my office so I can sneak out at lunchtime, which I have done three times so far. (It feels like a lot.)
And then, this morning, in a spirit of perversity and also to prevent myself from spending the morning Pinning photographs of clothes I can’t afford to a Pinterest board, I decided to go to the free community class at the hot yoga studio that’s two blocks away from my apartment. Maybe I would hate hot yoga less the second time?
I felt like I was going to puke and die. The man next to me kept exhaling powerful gusts of air that smelled like how it smells when you sniff your dental floss after not flossing for a very long time. No one was exactly smelling great, least of all me I’m sure. The sequence was almost identical, very similar at least, to the sequence in the L.A. class. My fellow students were also extremely beautiful but in a different way from the L.A. freelance whatnot students. I was one of three white people including the teacher, which is anomalous in my yoga experience to a shocking extent.
I think I’ll probably go back, if only to figure out how and why I am able to trick myself into repeating an experience that I hate. Also because it’s two blocks away. And because doing something is always better than doing nothing, and because sometimes in order to do something you have to do whatever it takes.