hot yoga

As part of my new exercise regimen, I’ve been attending what is commonly referred to as “hot yoga” classes at a studio in Portland. This type of yoga is performed in a room heated to about 90-100 degrees. It is an intense experience to be sure. You sweat a lot, obviously, but after class is over you feel unexpectedly peaceful and at ease, as if you’ve survived a great ordeal. The studio where I do my yoga burns this wonderfully fragrant incense during class, and is painted in such a way that the walls give off a kind of diaphanous yellow-orange glow. Combined with the heat, it feels like you are practicing in the heart of the sun. For me, yoga and meditation have been the twin prongs of my spiritual development, although yoga has always been easier for me to do, since it doesn’t require peace and quiet, which is hard to find in a small house with two children under the age of six. I like thinking that Siddhartha Gotama, before he became the Buddha, must have been an accomplished yogi. The ultimate practice of yoga in Siddhartha’s day was not to look good in a swimsuit, but to train the body to be able to sit in meditation for long periods of time. We sometimes forget that there are many different kinds of yoga, not just the hatha yoga that we Americans are most familiar with today. Many accounts of his life tell us that in his quest for spiritual advancement, he practiced rather severe austerities like fasting. At one point in his practice he supposedly became so thin that when he placed his hand on his abdomen, he could touch his spine. After about seven years of practices like these, he realized that the mortification of the body that was so popular with other ascetics of his day was not the way to gain enlightenment. This realization led him to eventually develop the Middle Way to nirvana, indulging in neither excess nor extreme privation. When I’m practicing my yoga, I like to imagine myself in the India of his day, where much like today, it was extremely hot most of the time. Perhaps I’m creating my own little “Forest of Trials” every time I enter the hot yoga studio. But maybe I gain just a little bit of wisdom for every drop of sweat that pings my mat.

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