It’s coming up for a year since I fell in love with hot yoga.
It wasn’t love at first sight though, that’s for sure. The first class I attended, in the iconic 1920’s converted perfume factory in Hove, was both physically demanding and emotionally intense.
Flooded with shame
As I watched my body in the mirror clumsily moving through the series, with none of the flexibility I had when I used to dance, the deep disgust for my body that had been bubbling away under the surface since my early teens really came to the fore.
I felt repulsed by the bulbous figure staring back at me and it took a lot not to roll up my mat and walk out of the studio before the warm up was complete.
I couldn’t focus properly; I was flooded with shame and also distracted by the other bodies moving gracefully around me.
It seemed that they were all at least half the size of me.
The slender toned limbs and torsos that moved fluidly through the poses, glistening with sweat, seemed like they belonged to a different species.
After an hour and half of feeling inadequate and grotesque I found five minutes respite as I sank into the floor in savasana, the corpse pose that ends the class.
Afterwards, in the changing room when a woman asked me warmly how I had enjoyed my first class, I couldn’t help but exclaim how disgusted I’d been by what I saw in the mirror. As I said it, I felt even worse – like I was bringing the mood down for the other serene and smiling women around me with my negativity and self-absorption.
I wanted the changing room floor to swallow me up.
But she wasn’t put upon by my honesty and responded kindly and calmly, saying that that must have been very hard for me. Then she said very simply that I must come back – yoga had helped her so much. I didn’t ask how or why, but I felt that I knew what she meant.
I’m not sure if it was her words alone, or her words in combination with the enormously positive energy I felt around me in the changing room, but by the time I left the studio I felt more comfortable and much calmer.
I decided then that I would come back and that I would make a commitment to hot yoga because I believed if I could manage to fall in love with it, eventually I’d start to love my body.
I’m delighted to say that over the past year, that is how it has played out – and then some.
Within a few weeks, I was looking forward to coming to class and I was leaving the studio with a warm feeling as endorphins flooded my system.
Within a few months, I was much more supple and able to get into the positions much more easily. Over the months since then my practice has continued to improve and I now I stay totally connected with my breath throughout.
Lost in flow
I am lost in flow throughout the whole class. An hour and a half passes in what seems like moments. And now, when I see myself in the mirror, the pit of my stomach doesn’t clench with disgust.
I don’t feel ashamed or repulsed, I feel accepting.
My body still doesn’t conform to how I’ve been programmed to think I should look (deprogramming a life time of body shaming, female objectification and unrealistic beauty standards will take more than a year, if it is even possible) so I don’t look at myself and feel satisfied as such, but I am much more comfortable with what I do see.
I can see that I’m strong, that I’m flexible and that I’m healthy. My body works and moves gracefully and I am really starting to feel warmth towards it.
The interesting thing is; my body really hasn’t changed much at all. I haven’t miraculously lost a stone, I’m actually heavier than I was (muscle, probably). I haven’t dropped several dress sizes but my smaller jeans do now fit slightly looser.
What has changed is the way that I see myself. I’m much more in touch with my physicality and I’ve achieved that through losing myself in breath and finding focus through movement.
That is what yoga is; a physical meditation.
This physical meditation has bridged the gap between my mind and body that had grown over the years of unrelenting negative self-talk – brought on by a constant assault of unrealistic images and unthinking reverence to these.
It has reintroduced my mind and body and made them experience one another through each other. My mind is shaping my body now.
What’s also clear, and is actually more wonderful, is that my body is now shaping my mind.
A new take on the world
The meditative exertion has lifted my mood considerably, but that isn’t all that it has done.
Yoga has opened me up and it’s relaxed me. I laugh a lot more now and I feel calmer. I feel more confident and in touch with my sexuality – yoga has even boosted my libido.
It has also made me open to new experiences and new friendships. It’s intensified the way I connect with music and with people.
I know this is gushy and it probably sounds like an exaggeration, but it honestly isn’t. Yoga has made me feel like my best self almost every day. It has made me curious, excited and hopeful about my life again – and this is why I’m compelled to write about it.
I went looking for a solution to address my body issues, but in turning to yoga I’ve discovered a form of physical meditation that has helped me fall in love with my whole reality, not just my physical self.