I often joke that if I did not do yoga, I would be incarcerated. I came to Pure Hot Yoga in 2007, at a difficult time in my life. I had a career I loved, but a boss so awful that I fantasized my escape from my job daily. I was struggling physically with plantar fasciitis, and emotionally with infertility. I was frustrated, overweight, unmotivated, and wound too tightly to feel productive in virtually any area of my life. On most days, for one reason or another, I was screaming inside.
My sister introduced me to the Bikram method while I was visiting her over Thanksgiving. I don’t know what it was that made me take to it right away. The kick-your-ass heat, the concept that aerobic exercise could actually be slow and challenging, or the fact that for 90 minutes I had to just deal with myself in perfect silence and stillness. After just one class, I immediately went in search of a studio in St. Louis and was lucky to find Pure Hot Yoga less than a mile from my home.
My first class at PHY was brutal. The room was packed, and it was hotter than I remembered feeling in the studio in Connecticut. The instructor was a man named Angel who joked about finding ways to make yourself bleed to have a legitimate excuse to leave the room. I struggled. And yet, returned. Again and again and again. More hard classes. More teachers that challenged me be uncomfortable and okay with it. Initially, I found “things” that made me feel in control. My favorite spot in the room, a posture I would skip, a prescribed number of sips of water at prescribed times. I needed those things.
Still, despite my efforts to do less, I found myself coming more frequently and doing increasingly more, and not just in the hot room. I started to notice my reactions to things that would normally irritate me–inside and outside of the hot room–changing. I found myself looking for Bikram studios on the road. I went from a 10-class package to a 30-class package and then to a monthly auto debit. My body changed, too. I was leaner, longer, stronger, and more flexible. I started to think of my body as something with parts that “worked” in connection with one another. I craved healthier foods. And water. God, so much water.
About five years ago, I made a commitment to this yoga and for the past several years I’ve averaged about 180 classes a year. I aim to practice daily, but with other obligations and days spent out of town, it ends up about a class every other day. I have celebrated special occasions–Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, my birthday, my wedding anniversary, and many more with this practice as a gift to myself.
I have an official “anniversary date”, but I always think of Thanksgiving as my unofficial anniversary, which is fitting, because this yoga has taught me gratitude, and for that I am truly grateful. It’s also taught me to be patient, kind, aware, and compassionate. To listen, evaluate, and respond deliberately and in a manner I can be proud of. I notice when things bother me, and I also notice that I don’t indulge those things. There have been times when the calmness of my reaction has been a surprise even to me. And I’m free–literally and figuratively.