I began hot yoga back in March of 2016, mere days after I had been medically cleared to exercise again following Iris’s birth. I was in a complete fog, on antidepressants, and going through the motions of the days without caring about much.
I was unprepared for my first Bikram class, overdressed in a t-shirt and yoga pants. The heat was stifling in the intensity of 105 degrees and 40% humidity. Even with years of practicing yoga, I struggled not to fall over or pass out. And in that 90 minute class, the focus required cleared my head. I went back, over and over, completing a challenge to newcomers to practice 15 times in the first 30 days.
Less than a week into my Bikram practice, I shed my tank top, practicing only in my sports bra. Many women do this, since the heat is so extreme, but I had been uncomfortable baring myself in that way. I wrote: My stomach shows all of the signs of previous pregnancies. The stretch marks are a road map of the journeys I have been on. For the first few minutes, standing there in my pink sports bra, I was self-conscious and unbalanced. Eventually I realized that no one was looking at me: they were all focused on themselves.
Practicing lately has been a challenge. I was on hiatus for 18 months, first while pregnant with Autumn, and then until I was done breastfeeding, not wanting the heat to interfere with milk production. Since then, it has been harder to fit into the day… in the evenings I am tired; on weekends I know that I am asking a lot for Ger to watch all of the kids. My work schedule is flexible enough that I could go during the day, but I have found that the demands of my job have made this harder – losing the time during the day means finding that time elsewhere. I had discovered a perfect time: Fridays at noon, in a condensed 60 minute class. But then the teacher switched to one I do not care for, so that was no longer an option.
A few weeks ago, while on bedrest from the throes of pneumonia, Ger was texting me “Do you know that hot yoga is a way to treat trauma and depression? There have been studies done. It is like being the ultimate warrior, the body fighting a challenge with itself.” Why yes, I am fully aware of the benefits. Which is why I have been trying so hard to carve out the time in my days to go, and just not finding a rhythm.
Yesterday, I was determined. My Saturday morning shopping trip was a quick one, and I arrived home shortly after 9:00. Plenty of time to put away the groceries and hydrate before a 10:00 class. Then Ger came downstairs and I could tell he was not in a good mood. Despite my repeated questions of “What’s wrong?” he insisted that it was nothing. I finally told him to go back to sleep. I know from so much experience that he functions very poorly when he does not sleep well. Telling him to go back to sleep meant missing my yoga class. But I had to weigh that against the rest of the day, knowing that the day would be much better if he were rested. He came back downstairs, more than an hour later, a completely different person, and I knew that had been the right decision. Even if it meant missing my yoga class, again.
In the early afternoon, he asked me “What time is yoga?” I didn’t say anything about how I had missed the morning 60 minute class. I replied that the next class was at 4:00. “You should go,” he told me. I pointed out that this was going to be a full 90-minute class, not the condensed version, which meant that I would be arriving home right at the time we normally eat dinner. He assured me that it was fine and he would have dinner ready.
In class, I felt the effects of being such an infrequent yogi. Poses that used to be easy were hard. The loss of some of my flexibility was obvious. Back bends, forward bends all felt stiff. Not only did I blame the lack of a regular practice, but also the aging that I have felt speed up in a way that I had never acknowledged previously, during those two years in which my life was on hold after Nelle and Iris died, until Autumn was born.
The last few classes I have attended have made me feel self-conscious. I know that no one is looking at me, but I see my reflection in the enormous mirrors on the front and side walls of the hot room. After Iris died, the fierce regularity with which I practiced yoga shed the pregnancy weight from both the pregnancy with her and Nelle. I was almost back to “normal” and then became pregnant with Autumn.
And now I struggle in a place that feels foreign to me. It was hatred of my body, hatred for my inability to care for my babies, that drove me to hot yoga for those six months after Iris died. These days, somehow care for myself has taken a backseat. I have stared at myself in the mirror the last few classes – lack of tone, lack of flexibility. Even more stretch marks around my middle, now marking five pregnancies.
The result of all of this discomfort with my body in new ways, meant that I did not shed my tank top, for the first time in the nearly three years since I first started practicing hot yoga. I could tell myself not to care about what other people were thinking, but the truth was I cared and I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to spend the class staring in the mirrors at every imperfection, magnified. Keeping my tank top on meant an adjustment to wearing the clothing, especially in the heat where having a bare midsection would have brought a slight relief. But soon the tank top was soaked in sweat and it did not matter much.
Yoga is one of the few places where I take off my rings. When I have to grip my fingers together tightly, I can feel the metal digging into my palms and it can hurt. After I enter the hot room, I slide off my wedding ring, the two hearts I wear for Nelle and Iris, and the infinity ring encircling the birthstones of my living children. I place them next to my water bottle, so they are never far and cannot be misplaced. I don’t even wait for the end of class, but instead slip them back on when we go into the final breathing exercise.
As I put the rings back on my fingers yesterday, I made a promise to myself – again – to find the time to come to yoga. The frustration with my body – over its many shortcomings – was not a good one. The care needed to extend not only to my mental health and prioritizing myself in my days, but also in acknowledgment that my body will get older and a regular practice could help to keep me in a place I enjoy.