Task 1) Stay inside a room that is kept at 105 degrees Fahrenheit for 1.5 hours.
Task 2) Breathe only through your nose for the entire class.
Task 3) Bend your body into unnatural shapes using muscles you never knew existed.
Task 4) Try not to drink water.
Task 5) . . . don't pass out.
Over the last few months, I have attended hot yoga classes a number of times, and I can tell you from experience that it doesn't get easier with practice. You may be able to stretch and extend farther in the poses, but it never ever feels easier.
Some days you feel like you're going to faint from heat and exhaustion the moment you walk in the room. Other days, you breathe smoothly and have no problem standing through all 12 poses (you stand/balance for 12 poses and then sit/lay down for 14 poses). Occasionally you can trace your bodily sensations back to sleep or diet, but most of the time, how you feel is simply . . . how you feel.
Whatever kind of day you're having, however, you're always going to feel hot and sweaty. Period.
Now, I understand that the purpose of yoga is to meditate, to focus one's attention inward. However, I'm human, a competitive human, so I sometimes can't help letting my eyes roam across the mirrors in front of me to see how others are doing.
The level of performance differs from class to class, as does the demographic. There are only two constants: the average age of any class probably lands somewhere in the late 20s, and if someone is going to "fail" the practice, it will be a man.
There is no real definition of "failing" a hot yoga practice, so I will tell you what I think qualifies:
- Trying to leave the room. Newcomers are told repeatedly that regardless of how they feel throughout the class, they must stay in the room; it is healthier for their bodies, and the abrupt change of temperature will actually make them feel worse if they leave.
- Sitting or laying in a non-yoga pose, panting through the mouth. Newcomers are told repeatedly that it is normal to feel overheated or woozy. If the sensation is too much, they are told to stand still and breathe. If that is too much, they should sit down on their knees or cross-legged. If even that is too much, they should lie on their back with their legs together, arms at their sides, head to the front of the room and feet to the rear. At all times, they should take small sips of air through the nose. As the instructor repeats time and time again, breathing through the mouth will actually make them feel hotter.
- Requiring the teacher to come to their aid. This can mean the teacher escorts them back to their mat if they try to leave the room, pours water on their pulse points to cool them down, or otherwise attends to them considerably more than anyone else in class in a way that does not advance their yoga practice.
I would very much like to be more sympathetic toward these men, but they are almost always young, physically fit specimens who look like they could lift a 50 lb. dumbbell with their ring finger. When I see them outwardly displaying the same suffering I feel, I like to imagine that the girl on the mat next to them is their girlfriend, and that after class she'll shake her head and say, "See? And you said yoga wasn't exercise."