My first hot yoga class

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 09:59 19/10/2012

I suppressed a giggle as I glanced around the room.

An elderly woman in a crop top had her legs spread-eagled up against the wall and was quietly humming to herself. A sweaty young man had his head between his legs and a slightly constipated look on his face.

No-one else blinked an eyelid at these sights.

I was at my very first yoga class.

Usually, my exercise routine consists of a few swims or runs a week. I've always been a bit dubious about yoga/pilates/tai chi/passive exercise. Fitting exercise into my busy schedule is tough enough, so I've always tried to be as active as possible during the short space of time available.

But I had an epic fail on Monday which meant I couldn't complete my usual exercises. I packed my gym gear at 6am before my early morning work shift but when I got to Hagley Park after work for a run I realised I'd forgotten my socks.

Knowing if I went home to get socks I'd never make it back to the park, I went for my run anyway. It was hot and my feet quickly began to sweat.

About halfway around North Hagley, my feet ripped open in a series of searing blisters. I couldn't walk, let alone run, for several days.

So my friend convinced me to try a more relaxing form of exercise - yoga. I put my doubts aside and went along with her to a nightime hot yoga class.

She told me it was "baby bikram" and assured me the room would only be about 35 degrees, rather than in the 40s. I wasn't entirely comforted.

We entered a warm, dimly lit room where dozens of people were prostrating themselves on mats on the floor and a soft chant played on the stereo system.

"Am I supposed to take my shoes and socks off?" I asked my friend.

Shhhhhhhhhhh! A woman hissed at me.

"This is a quiet space! No talking!"

I quickly chastised myself and muttered an apology. 

I lay down on the ground and had to fight the urge to have a nap in the warm cosy room. This isn't so bad, I thought.

But I was forced to wake up as soon the teacher arrived to whip us "yogis" into shape (I have to admit I kept thinking of a rather cheeky bear stealing picnics every time she said this).

We started with some breathing exercises, but soon the sweat was dripping off my face and I was struggling to contort my body into different positions. There were some amazingly in-shape older people who put my flexibility to shame.

The teacher told me to find the "goldilocks stage" of "comfortable discomfort", where I wasn't too sore but also not just lying around either. I tried my best but I'm pretty sure I was eating the hot porridge for most of the class.

There were a few humorous moments throughout the hour long session. My friend couldn't quite master "happy baby" position - basically lying on your back, holding your ankles and opening your legs - and kept rolling over and hitting herself on the wall. I had to bite my tongue or face shooshing woman's wrath again.

I was also a little shocked when the teacher told me to pull up tight "through my anus and perineum". I don't think I have access to those muscles and I'm not sure I want to ...

When the teacher bid us "Namaste" and left us lying in the dark to "reflect" I realised that, despite my initial reservations, I had actually really enjoyed myself.

I felt incredibly relaxed and I slept like a happy baby that night. Plus, a few of my muscles did have a pleasant ache the next day, so it must have done something.

Although I'm still not entirely sold on some of the concepts they use, such as "harnessing my inner light" and "imagining my nostrils are on my tailbone and breathing backwards up through my body", but it really did help me de-stress after a busy day.  

I think I'll incorporate a few more classes into my exercise regime, even though - thankfully - my raw feet are slowly healing.

Have you tried yoga? What did you think? Do you think it has long-term benefits? Comment below email me at anna.turner@press.co.nz or follow me on Twitter.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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