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My neck is stiff. It hurts to turn my head side to side. I have a splitting headache. My body feels like my muscles would rip if I reached down to touch my toes. So, I close my eyes.
AP tests this week, finals next week, grades are being finalized, Harbinger and STUCO and SHARE applications are due. The procrastination and the stress literally tighten my back and weave knots into my shoulders.
But I am here now. Breathing and being, right here.
I repeat this to myself, eyes remaining closed. Women and men in the room lie on their mats, palms face up, eyes closed too. The room is quiet and oven-like. But it isn’t muggy or hard to breathe, it’s dry heat – 118 degrees to be exact.
Hot yoga: my Sunday ritual, weekly goal, physical challenge and mental relief. Just lying in the sweltering hot room before class begins, my stress dissipates.
The heated room for hot yoga serves a purpose other than to saturate my body in sweat. It’s designed to extend flexibility, instantly warming and loosening muscles for every position.
The people that refuse to go to yoga because they “aren’t flexible” are doing themselves a disservice. The point in yoga is to better your flexibility, center yourself and relieve tension or pain. Since doing yoga regularly, hot yoga specifically, I am able to maintain my focus longer throughout the week and keep myself from attacking the kid in class that won’t stop clicking their pen.
I wait for my instructor with the russian accent to enter the room and demand focus. She calmly leads while telling us how hot yoga channels our “inner heat,” which accumulates in the muscles and then releases through your joints as toxins when you stretch and hold in pressured areas.
I feel a small fire strike inside my muscles and the heat radiate out of every inch of skin with each challenging position. She explains how inner heat makes my body release toxins and by the end, relax completely. This inner heat can’t actually be reached without a certain temperature and strain on your body as you feel in any yoga position, meaning most people won’t ever experience this kind of relief without hot yoga.
The yogi in the front of the room reminds the class we are here for one reason and that is to release. To release tension, stress, thoughts, energy and toxins. You are disconnecting from society to be centered, connecting your mind, body and conscious to one focus: you.
We all mimick her, reaching high up with open palms, chin up. I hold in my core and lift every muscle as high as they will go, flexing, tightening.
I lift my right knee up so that my quad is parallel to the floor and wrap both hands around it. My back remains straight, foot flexed. I reach down further. My weight depends on my left leg to keep me standing. My chest is flat against the top of my thigh – no air between them. Elongating my back, tension releases and my worries over the upcoming math test vanish.
Hands wrapped around my foot, I kick out slowly, my standing foot gripping the ground for balance. The stretch in the back of my quad pulls. My hands to my right foot are in a strong hold. I mastered the hand to foot pose. I can feel the stresses of studying and European history AP testing evaporate.
Most people underestimate the power in practicing yoga. They see it as more of a “stretch session” than a physical and mental release. Yoga made me understand breathing – with every inhale I breathe in energy and concentration and with every exhale I release tension gripping my ligaments and the pressure in my temples. My eyes refuse to stray from staring straight into the mirror at a bead on my necklace. I think of nothing.
In practicing, I literally force my anxiety out in a long exhale. Understanding the power of a deep breath is hard when you don’t set aside an hour and a half to do nothing but that exactly.
By the end of each class, I lay on my mat in Savasana, a position lying down with my chin tucked to keep the spine in alignment and palms face up on either side of my body, eyes closed. Sweat beads trickle down my neck onto the towel and mat. My beet-red cheeks have a pulse and my loose muscles lie limp.
The ten minutes spent laying in Savasana at the end of class are some of the most calmed moments I’ve ever experienced. I can feel my every muscle relaxing, free of tension, feeling heavier than a block of concrete yet mentally I’m as light as air.
And then, completely zen, everyone repeats after the yogi, “Namaste.”