“I’d try hot yoga, but I’m not good in the heat.” I’ve heard that at least a hundred times or variations on the theme.
“I hate heat.”
“I can’t handle heat.”
“No, really, I hate the heat.”
“I tried it and I couldn’t handle the heat.”
I am the bearer of both good and bad news.
These are not reasons. These are excuses.
The good news is that now that you understand it is an excuse, you can take action. The bad news is that this is just an excuse and not a reason not to go to class.
The human body has a tremendously efficient and responsive thermoregulation system. Except in cases of illness, it does a wonderful job of constantly adjusting to changing external and internal temperature changes.
Your body is no different than any of billions of humans on the planet.
All along the equator, humans live in climates with a heat index much higher than a Bikram Yoga class. People survive Texas in the summer. Just a few decades ago, most did it without air conditioning. You, too, could survive there.
“But I am a special case….”
My friend, John, has a spinal cord injury that severed communication with his sweat glands. He cannot sweat. He uses a spray bottle to mist his skin when he gets hot and the water causes evapotranspiration to cool his body, just like yours. John can do hot yoga. You can, too.
Being in a hot yoga class is uncomfortable.
It’s hard to do yoga. It’s hard to look at yourself. It is hard to feel a body you have been trying to ignore for decades. You are hot and you think you might suffocate. You think your body just can’t handle it. These are thoughts. That doesn’t make them reality.
The secret to it all is, you can do it. You can show up and learn to breathe and focus on your body and not your mind. You can acclimate to the heat and take it one breath at a time and become more comfortable in your body. You can learn to do what you can today and not what you think you should be able to do by now, goldangit! You can become more comfortable in this moment, even if this moment is uncomfortable.
“I am not good in the heat” is a phrase that means “I am not comfortable being uncomfortable,” and this is normal. The human brain is designed to avoid discomfort. Within a fraction of a second, your body can classify any sensation as one to avoid or to seek. Before you even have time to rationalize, your mind will lead you toward avoidance.
If you are chased by a tiger, Avoid! Avoid! Get away and get safe. If you don’t want to take out the trash, well, its time to learn to control the mind and get the job done.
Reason, logic and patience are all gifts of our higher brain function. We can use our brains to either help ourselves in the moment or to hurt ourselves. It is the self-awareness that yoga brings that helps us to experience the present moment and act from a place of understanding and reason.
This is one of the greatest gifts of a hot yoga practice. We train over and over, pose by pose, to pause and to breathe in conditions of challenge and discomfort. We learn to quiet the mind, control the breath and listen to the body. “Am I safe? Am I okay?” we ask our bodies over and over in class.
When the answer is yes, we induce neuro-plasticity and retrain our brains not to fidget, hold our breath, or increase our heart rate under stress. This is why, in scientific testing, yogis have shown significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol. This is why so many yogis report that yoga “reduces stress” even though their lives are as stressful as others.
Here are some other excuses, parading as “reasons”:
- I am too old.
- I am inflexible.
- I am too fat.
- I can’t.
- Yoga hurts people.
- I have __fill in the blank__ injury.
- I am tired.
- I have __fill in the blank__ disease.
- I don’t have time.
- My family needs me.
- I don’t know what I’m doing.
- I can’t afford it.
These excuses are all of the exact reasons that you need to do yoga. These are all factors in your life that yoga will help you heal from or deal with. I have never met a yoga studio owner who wouldn’t accept work/study or trade for yoga. If you are truly too busy to do yoga, you had better get to class before you die.
If you have seen yourself in one of those excuses, it may have started a diatribe in your head against me and how I don’t know what I’m talking about or, worse, about you and what a loser you are to have made an excuse.
You are not a loser; you are a human. While I take responsibility for saying some things that may have made you uncomfortable, I am not sorry in the slightest. That’s my job. I have made a career of helping people find comfort in their lives through uncomfortable acts and facts. I paid for the mirrors, but you’ve gotta do the work.
The payoff of all of that work is big. Peace. Well-being. Freedom from pain. Health.
In the words of my teacher, “You deserve to have the best life. I feel cry when I say that.” I feel a little cry myself, now that you mention it….
Sara Curry is the Owner and Director of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She is Vice President of Seacoast Area Teachers of Yoga in Action, a non-profit that improves accessibility of yoga to traditionally under-served populations. She is also one of the creators of the Sober Yogis yoga and recovery program.