I stared up at the motionless fan blades, attempting to relax in what is called savasana, or dead body pose, trying my hardest to mentally will the blades to turn on their own.

I couldn’t focus on my breathe (which is what you’re supposed to do to keep your mind in the present, instead of drifting away) let alone breathe at all! I was starting to get angry about the heat, thinking the teacher was purposely trying to make us all suffer. I mean, why the intense heat; weren’t we working hard enough already??

Savasana

I finally couldn’t take it anymore and lifted my head up to meet the teacher’s gaze – I pointed my finger towards the fan and asked, “Please, can you turn on the fan? It’s so hot in here!”

That was the last time I asked that. I quickly learned that not only should you not walk into a yoga studio and ask them to change the environment to suit your personal needs, but that Bikram Hot Yoga is the original form of hot yoga that calls for strict heat and humidity settings – the following is from the official Bikram Yoga website:

The recommended temperature is minimum 105F degrees and about 40% humidity.

The room is kept at this temperature or more for the following:

• Keeping the body from overheating (contrary to popular misconception)
• Protecting the muscles to allow for deeper stretching
• Detoxing the body (open pores to let toxins out)
• Thinning the blood to clear the circulatory system
• Increasing heart rate for better cardiovascular workout
• Improving strength by putting muscle tissue in optimal state for reorganization
• Reorganize the lipids (fat) in the muscular structure

Ok, if you say so. Doesn’t mean I have to like it!

I would battle with this love/hate relationship with the heat for over a year of practicing Bikram.

I never thought I would get used to it. It was such a bother to me that I centered all of my focus on the temperature, unable to get past it and let the true yoga begin. Sarah, a huge inspiration throughout my yoga journey and director of Ganesha Hot Yoga St. Pete, would tell me over and over, mind over matter, don’t think about the heat; the heat is not going to change, but your body will change.

And she was right, because here I am today, finally having come to terms with the heat – maybe even as far as loving the heat (she said that would happen), and experiencing what yoga truly has to offer.

(I should stress here that not everyone has this much trouble with the heat; some acclimate to it very quickly. I just allowed my mind to psyche out my body for so long)

So what exactly has this yoga offered me so far, now that I’ve gotten the heat obsession out of the way? I’ve been experiencing a sort of peace and clarity I haven’t known in probably my entire life; I’ve lost weight and replaced it with confidence; I’m learning to love myself inside and out; I’m connecting with, and understanding my true inner self; my mind is getting stronger every day; I am more equipped to handle difficult situations off the mat; and so much more that I have yet to realize.

Sunshine

This is not just a trendy phase I’m going through either – instead, I have continued giving this yoga a chance for over a year now, with a few intermittent month-long breaks in between, I’ll admit. My recent feat of successfully completing a 30 in 30 yoga challenge in 28 days has bolstered me even further ahead in my practice; you could say I am reaping the benefits of my hard work and I truly believe in this “stuff”, as some may call it. And I realize there’s so much more to learn, as I still consider myself a newbie in the world of yoga.

You have to understand my history before being able to understand what a godsend yoga has been for me and how if I have been able to get to the point I’m at now in my life, anyone can. In short, I’ve gone through a lot – an emotionally abusive childhood, no parental support or contact since I moved out of the house at 20, alcoholism, severe suicidal depression mixed with bi-polar, social anxiety, weight gain, a role at a corporate job for 3 years during which time I worked in a very unhealthy, negative environment full of office politics, little exercise and a poor diet, and all while trying to support my very troubled younger sister the past 3 years as she has turned to drugs to cope with our childhood trauma.

I’m not saying all this to gain sympathy or play the woe-is-me card – no, I understand we all deal with our own demons and suffer from one thing or another that threatens to derail us from life. Rather, I am trying to relate to others going through hardships with the feeling that there’s no way out. I know how it feels to be in such a dark place wondering helplessly how you will ever make it out the other end alive. The only way I got out was my decision to make a change and make happiness a priority in my life – no one was forcing me to do it. Hence, I found yoga – or it found me – and with it came a world of exciting new possibilities.

rocks

Because of yoga, I have been able to integrate healthy lifestyle choices into my routine that have all contributed to my wellness today.

I realized I couldn’t drink and be able to make it in a hot yoga room the next day without passing out. I realized I wanted to feed my body healthier food so it could function better in class. I started to regulate my sleep without even realizing it – I had grown accustomed to staying up all night due to my restaurant job in my early twenties. I started drinking water like it was going out of style in order to stay hydrated with all of the sweating my body was doing. My dark moods started to dissipate until I got to the point where I was struck with the thought, ‘How did I ever feel as bad as I did?? I can’t even imagine how that must have felt now that I am happier’. I am a better partner to my fiancé, who has stood by me through all of my highs and lows, loves me for who I am no matter what, and inspires me to be the best that I can be.

Today, I am focusing more on my mental health and integrating a daily meditation into my life – and easily too, whereas in the past, it seemed insurmountable to meditate even once a week! I know yoga has been helping this healthier me come to fruition because the minute I take any sort of a long hiatus, I start to slip into old bad habits, imagine grey clouds in our clear, sunny Florida sky, and feel my most prized possession – my happiness – slip away.

I am most afraid of going back there, to that place where I don’t want to get out of bed, where my real smile is nowhere to be found, where all I see is a fat blob in the mirror in place of a strong, confident body, and where life is literally a living hell. I know I won’t though, because I have slipped enough times to where now, I know what my body, mind and soul need to function to the best of their abilities. And my body is in such a happy place with my yoga that I never want to part ways with it again.

I now make it a point to smile at myself in the mirror, breathe, meditate, be gratuitous, and treat myself with compassion on and off the mat every day.

In turn, I have been able to extend compassion towards others and get my thoughts out of the pessimistic black hole inside my mind. I have come to realize this life is amazing but fleeting, and I don’t want to miss a second of it. My old self would never have believed these words coming out of my mouth today, so this is a testament to everyone out there who may be scared to venture into a new world like yoga. I say give it a chance, because you’ll never know what it will do for your life until you try it. And don’t just try it for a month, but live it for longer – then decide if it’s not for you. That’s my two cents and I thank you for listening.

Namaste.

– Amanda Oneal

 

amanda