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Dogma, Hot Yoga, And The Right Way To Do Things

Hi, Friend.

Earlier this week I saw someone post in the neighborhood FB group: “Would anyone be interested in a free yoga class? I have a big fireplace and want to see if I can make “hot yoga” happen?”. My yoga teacher self pipes up immediately. Hot yoga is where my yoga journey started. Hot yoga was my first movement practice. I taught hot yoga for years. I KNOW hot yoga. “Um. Fireplace in the basement is NOT hot yoga.” Traditional hot yoga uses ambient heat - something that can be evenly distributed across the space where yoga takes place. This can be done through ceiling panels OR heated floor. Most commercial studios use the ceiling panels, just because it tends to be easier to retrofit the box-like pick-your-own-adventure commercial units, that could have been a pet store OR a hair salon in their previous reincarnations. It is also cheaper than ripping up the existing floor and installing the required wiring for the under-the-tiles heating elements. The heat must also be somewhat humid - so, NOT like a dry sauna. Think of a warm bath kind of heat, not sitting in the direct sun kind of heat. A humidifier or two can take the edge of dryness, and then people’s breathing and sweating takes care of the rest. THAT’s the right way to do hot yoga. In other words:

- There is a right way and a wrong way to do it. - The way I know is the right way. - The way I’ve been taught is the right way. - MY way is the RIGHT way. But now for the plot twist… Traditional hot yoga is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as hot yoga in India, because it’s… well… hot already. Hot yoga has been primarily the invention of the West - because our individualist goal-oriented selves LOVE to feel like we are working hard, even when we are looking for peace and contentment on the yoga mat. So, here I am, judging the traditionalness of an already contrived discipline. The downside of joining a camp, a cult, a movement is just that - difficulty of seeing past the four walls erected by the leaders. Let us NOT discuss CrossFit, and what constitutes good pull-up form. Me and my yoga-teacher-ness makes a regular yoga class more stressful than it needs to be. The teacher inserts an extra breath into the sun salutation flow, and it fucks me upppppp. OMG. It’s “inhale, lengthen, exhale, step or jump back into plank”. NOT “inhale, lengthen, exhale, inhale, step or jump back into plank”. After hundreds of sun salutations, the breath/pose sequence is hard-coded into my body. There is the right way, and a wrong way, and this is the wrong way, damn it. When we get to the final yoga pose of the practice - savasana - the teacher asks everyone to lie back on their mat. The cue of lying BACK, has everyone lying with their feet pointing forward. Their FEET. Pointing FORWARD. Towards the teacher. In traditional yoga, pointing your feet is a disrespectful gesture. When you sit casually, you sit with your legs crossed or your feet tucked underneath you, so as not to point at someone. Savasana is practiced with your head towards the teacher, and your feet towards the back wall. Everyone knows that. Don’t they? I hesitantly lie back, and spend the entire savasana feeling uncomfortable. It’s like being asked to lie down, close your eyes, while showing your middle finger. And just like that, a yoga class is no longer a great way to spend thirty minutes, or a way to decompress, and get some tension out of your poor shoulders. No, no, no - it’s an opportunity to get things right and get them wrong. That’s dogma. Dogma is a principle laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. It is a belief that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. “That’s just how it is done."

Of course, nobody cares.

It’s me. I’m the problem. It’s me.

Sometimes, I joke that I am only dogmatic about being anti-dogmatic. Now, I watch my own knee jerk reaction of “that’s NOT how you do it!” with fascination.

“Oh look! Look, how I am under the impression that I know the “right” way!”

“Isn’t it so cute? So naive? So HUMAN?”.

I just want to pinch my own cheek.

Any time we learn a way to do something, we absorb that way as “the right way”.

My yoga training is in Hatha and Ashtanga.

Here I am at a hot yoga studio in a small suburb.

We are all just trying to escape our children for an hour.

No one cares about feet. Or an extra breath in a sun salutation.

I see coaches find a certain way of eating that worked for them, a certain way of exercising that has worked for their clients, and they get… stuck.

It goes from a tool to an ideology.

It goes from “here’s one way” to “here’s the RIGHT way”.

It goes from “this can work” to “everyone should do this”.

I did go to the neighborhood yoga class.

Maybe, it wasn’t THE hot yoga I used to teach and practice.

But it was lovely.



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