Hot yoga may seem like the latest and hottest fitness craze. Once students work through the poses; however, they are hooked by the enlightenment it brings.
After being misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis in my early 20s, Alicia McGarry was told to prepare mentally for life in a wheelchair. She remembered hearing the phrase, “Five years, tops.” When correctly diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, my symptoms receded.
By all accounts, scientific and spiritual, it was a miracle. I should have been elated. Instead, the psychological effects––anxiety, the occasional tendency to transform into a depressive minx––were unrelenting. I had post-traumatic stress disorder. Years of talk therapy with a psychologist, occasional “here, try this” pharmaceuticals and meditation attempts were of marginal benefit. I had resigned to the belief that nothing could quell my inner freak-out fire until I learned to fight fire with fire. That is, 26 hot yoga poses, each done twice, for 90 honest minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees with other sweat-soaked bodies. Hello, heat index.
Sound hellish? It’s not. Hot yoga’s popularity is reaching a boiling point, as more people are discovering its power to transform––and far more than body shapes.
“Many practice for different reasons, from physical health to mental release,” ~ Mary Horvatin, owner of Yoga Fix Studios
The memory of my first transcendental experience during hot yoga, some 10 years ago, still resonates deep within and has only unlocked through its practice. Having transitioned from camel pose into savasana, I was gratefully drinking in the newfound, indescribable energy when something else happened. At first, I thought another bead of sweat rolled down my cheek. I soon realized that the waterworks had turned on. I wasn’t just teary-eyed. I was all-out sobbing. But, why? I wasn’t sad; I was happy, enjoying the class immensely and totally in the zone.
What gave? One of my seven chakras, apparently. The camel pose, known in yoga to open one’s heart chakra, often results in intense emotional release––anger, sadness, jubilation, complete contentedness. Even ecstasy pushed to the point of climax. Yes, that really happened. And, yeah, I was obviously hooked. “There are many reasons for the sensations, enlightenment or releases we may experience,” says Jackie Jorland, yoga instructor at Yoga Fix.
Some yoga schools of thought attribute this response to the alignment of one’s chakras, while others believe it’s the body’s nadis, or channels, connecting. Still other yoga experts liken the effects of regular practice to the uncoiling of the kundalini, the symbolic serpent that is said to reside at the base of our spines. “Through yoga practice, the blockages in these pathways are released, resulting in all of these great rushes, sensations and moments of clarity,” Jorland says.
Jenny Smith felt downright battle worn before the age of 40 after beating breast cancer, undergoing a career change and a divorce. As chaos began to settle, Smith began to think about herself for perhaps the first time ever, but it wasn’t until seeing her only child off to college that she really found time to reflect, exhale and freak out.
“I now had time to do what I wanted to do, but no idea what that was,” Smith says. That’s when a friend proposed trying hot yoga at Yoga Fix. Smith remembers her first class led by Jorland. “Jackie wasn’t playing around, I loved the methodical approach and it felt more athletic.”
The caloric output is substantial; however, Horvatin says that hot yoga is not intended to focus on weight loss, but how we feel.
Smith enjoyed each class but began to assess her inflexibility and sense of imbalance. “You want me to bend what? How far, and hold it for how long? Then, stuff that used to hurt didn’t hurt anymore,” Smith says. Until camel pose.
“I sat on my knees, mentally hurling every curse word I could think of for not being able to do something that seemed so basic. Jackie stood in front of me, directing my posture,” Smith says. Then, Jorland asked Smith to tell her what she was feeling at that very second. “Dizzy, can’t hear, faint. Then she squatted down in front of me so we were on the same level––no inferior-superior posturing, and bam, there it was. It was not a physical thing, it was a feeling-small-in-my-life thing,” Smith says.
“Now, I view camel as my emotional barometer. If I find myself unable to make it through that pose without feeling lightheaded, I take it as a sign that something is bothering me and I figure it out.”