This time last year, a brutal heat wave was mowing down the city of Seattle. Unaccustomed to anything besides temperate and neutral temperatures, (much like their personalities,) the town's inhabitants ran for cover. Every major and minor department store was sold out of fans and air conditioning units for all of July and August, all espresso served was strictly iced, and commerce more or less ground to a halt. (And I couldn't wear my Ariat Rodoebaby boots, it was too darn hot!)
Not a stranger to heat but not particularly comfortable with it, I did an admittedly strange thing. I opted to seal myself into a rubber floored room, where the temperature, set at a beastly 104, was only a few degrees warmer (and on a few scorching days, a few degrees cooler) than the streets outside. I had come across the kind of unbelievable coupon that you simply cannot turn down: ten hot yoga classes for a mere twenty dollars. Total! The studio, I Love Hot Yoga in the Greenlake neighborhood, was hosting a grand opening promotional, after which classes would be set at twenty five dollars a piece.
If you live in the United States, than you've heard of Hot Yoga. It's the obnoxious exercise craze in the same vein as yogalates, pilates, and plain old for-the-wimp-normal-temperature-yoga. Hot yoga makes you sweat so much that it has the power to radically reshape your body and knock out the deep seated toxins that chew on your kidneys. It's a panacea for those with chronic illnesses and a speedy (but not easy) highway to getting in shape. I was neither sick nor particularly out of shape, but I did have my face to consider.
I have a round face, something that strangers of all ages feel compelled to point out to me. "You look like my camp counselor," a little girl said to me the other day at the ice cream shop. "I am a camp counselor," I responded indulgently, leaning over to be at the level of the little girl, adorably dressed in polka dot stirrup pants and a rainbow patterned t-shirt. '"Yes," she said, flashing a sweet smile. "You have a circle face, just like her." I straightened up. Little girl just brought up my biggest insecurity about myself. And by the way little girl, polka dots and rainbows look stupid together. Choose one or the other.
The truth is, I'll never achieve that high cheekbone, doe eyed, mysterious look that I feel I should look like -being a writer and all. At least not until I lose a few pounds off these cheeks. Which was exactly what I planned to do at Hot Yoga. The fact that all of Seattle was slow-roasting just made it easier to sign up. Since I'd be suffering either way, I may as well get some good out of it.
What surprised me about my first session was how much I truly enjoyed it. I am chronically inflexible, but stretching is much easier when all your joints are piping hot. The yoga teacher was an attractive young man with an Australia accent, and the sheer volume of sweat that poured out of me was incredible. It ran in continuous rivers from my hands and forehead, saturating my brand new Whole Foods yoga mat. Because of the heat wave, I think he was a little concerned for our overall safety, and he treated us with extra compassion. We were allowed to drink water whenever and leave the room for a breath of fresh air as many times as we'd like. Each time the door swung open and shut, a heavenly gust of cool air swept through the room.
After the ninety minute class was up, I weighed myself on the scale in the studio's bathroom. My jaw dropped. I was two pounds lighter than I had been before the class. This was remarkable. In just nine more sessions, I could sweat my face off entirely! Ecstatic with achievement, I burst into the hot afternoon, feeling cool and elegant and toxin free.
Spurred by success, I enlisted my friend Kendra to sign up, and together we made a nice ritual out of it. An hour and a half of steam cleaning our insides, followed by cucumber sodas and a swim in Green Lake. We were both losing weight and, I must say, feeling really good.
And then, of course, things went south.
I was seven or eight visits into my ten pass visa when it happened. Kendra had to work so I went alone, and thank god, because if Kendra was present for what happened next, we would most certainly have lost our minds. Or at the very least, we would have made a huge scene in a very crowded yoga class, and public scenes are never as much fun in Seattle as they ought to be, owing to the bland nature of the natives.
I sat in the front row in my tiny little top, legs crossed, arms resting lightly on my knees, completely centered and ready to begin. Once the room was packed to capacity and all was quiet, the teacher walked in the door.
Because of the drop-in schedule, you never know which teacher you are going to wind up with. Which sadly meant I had never again seen the Aussie. The woman who walked in was one I'd never seen before, and she immediately brought a new, totalitarian feel to our normally mellow and democratic yoga class. "I will not be performing the positions, only explaining them." She said by way of introduction. "Therefore, it's no use to look at me, unless you find a pregnant lady enlightening."
Dang it. She's pregnant and she's smug about it. Steeeerike one. "You are not allowed to leave the room." She continued, sliding seamlessly into strike two. "Regrettably, the studio would not allow me to actually lock you in, but do be informed that if you choose to leave, you are not welcome back in. Your movement lets out the heat, but more importantly, it distracts the other patrons." She took a moment to let that settle in before hitting us with another. "We will take regular breaks for drinking, but other than that you are strongly discouraged from drinking during poses. This, too, provides a distraction."
And so we began. The teacher strolled the room in classic pregnant lady pose- hand rubbing her stomach in small circles. Her tight tank top and short Prana skirt were dark with huge patches of sweat. She told us to bend over, twist, reach, stretch, faster. Faster and faster. It felt more like an aerobics class in Hell than anything else. When at one point someone made a move for the door, she stopped the whole program. "If you wouldn't mind waiting till the end of class to leave..." she droned, "It's just that you'll really distract everyone by leaving."
As if the exercise and 104 degree temperature wasn't bad enough, now it was really uncomfortable in the rubber room.
Towards the end of class, she worked her way towards the front of the room and sat down, right in front of me, indicating that the cool down has begun. "The emphasis will now be on holding long poses to cool your inner kayarararmambamba," -something to that effect- "your core spirit." She leaned back against the mirror and spread out her her legs, as about to stretch her quads. "Now," she said, "Sit up with your legs crossed and face forward." I did what she told me.
And what do you know, for all her enlightenment, she had forgotten her panties.
No underpants. Sans panties. Without undergarment. Nothing. Just her little yoga skirt wide open, hands on her thighs, instructing us to "Look up now, and find a focal point." Oh god. Oh God! Where do I look? I understand that pregnant woman get all in touch with their bodies but this is absurd. She must know. I mean, there had to be a draft or something. Yet she appeared calmly oblivious as told the class, "You must look inward as you're doing this cooling exercise."
I don't seem to have a choice but to look inward.
This is when my brain snapped into what the girls at camp Onaway would refer to as 'full on waterfront emergency mode.' Look up, look down, look at the mirror, look at the walls, just do not look forward," instructed my survival instinct. "No- wait- don't look at the mirror, you might inadvertently make eye contact with someone. You must Get Out. Escape. Escape Immediately."
But what about my yoga mat? I can't roll it up...?
"Leave it. Take only yourself. Escape."
So I rose, as inauspiciously as possible, and made a beeline for the door, making an effort not to slip on the sweat-coated floor. The door swung open, letting in a cool draft and the sound of a siren from outside. Miraculously, I managed to get out of the building and onto the curb before the hilarity in its purest form burst forth from within. It took a full ten minutes until I could catch my breath again.
When the class finally ended, I ducked back inside, peeled off my mat from the floor and went dashing down the street towards the lake, never to return.
Yes, it was the last time I attended a hot yoga class. Hot yoga, where certain spirits flow just a little too freely for my taste. I'm willing to bet I wasn't the only one who didn't use up all ten passes. I mean, they tell you right there on the forms that it's not "for the faint of heart."