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Susan Shinn column: Hot yoga

I recently learned about the creator of hot yoga. It’s Satan. Lucifer. Beelzebub. The Prince of Darkness. Yeah, that guy.

Now, before all you yogis out there sharpen your pencils and write a tersely worded letter to the editor — I’m speaking to you, Emily Ford — it was not that bad.

You know, the way people say labor is not bad. I’ve survived both.

I was visiting my friend Paige in Raleigh. I sat behind Paige for three years in homeroom at South Rowan High School, and when I ran I into her at Thanksgiving, she asked me to come and visit. “We’ll go out to eat and go shopping,” she promised.

Paige is a dental office manager, and she’s also a yoga instructor. She wanted me to try hot yoga. Now, one of the things you need to know about me at this point is that I do not like to sweat. I’m also prone to panic attacks. Don’t ask me why I thought I would have one doing hot yoga. But then she said, “It burns 500 calories an hour.”

To which I replied, “I’ll bring my mat.”

So I did to go Raleigh and we did have a wonderful time going out to eat and going shopping. The next morning, we went to the hot yoga studio-slash-cross training gym-slash-torture chamber for class.

We went in a room not unlike a really large oven, and put down our mats. On top of that, we put these damp, thin mats so we wouldn’t slide on the original mats. There were plenty of spray bottles around, so I figured I could douse myself with water if I got too hot. Surreptitiously, I grabbed one and put it by my mat.

Yeah, it was pretty hot when we got into the studio, but as they say, it’s a dry heat.

I should have realized I was in trouble when, a couple of weeks before, I’d been doing regular yoga in one of Emily’s classes, and was about to burn slap up. I asked her if she could turn on the fans. She said, no, it’d just push all the heat down.

“Susan,” she said, “it’s only 72 degrees in here.”

Paige said the hot yoga studio was set at 96 degrees.

Oh Lord.

We’d gotten there early and gotten our mats set up, when all of a sudden, all these people came pouring into class. Now, I like a certain amount space between myself and the next student. I believe it’s called yogic space. At least that’s what I call it. Luckily, I could slide closer to Paige and then a big and tall guy came and set up beside me. Yeah, you can see where this is going.

One of Paige’s fellow instructors was there. You know the type. Friendly. Skinny. Swingy blond ponytail. All black cute yoga clothes.

“The first time I did this, I had a bit of an anxiety attack,” she said, smiling and swinging her ponytail.

Oh Lord.

We finally got started. I quickly realized that I could either concentrate on the poses or the heat. So really, it wasn’t so bad after that. Really.

We went through this fairly fast series of poses called havasthana or Hiawatha or Husqvarna or something like that — I never have been able to figure out how to spell that. Emily will know what I am talking about. I made it through the first set but then I just stayed in down dog after that. The thing about yoga class is if you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to.

(When I went to Emily’s class this weekend, she reminded me, after laughing her head off, that it was called vinyasa. Oh, yeah. That.)

Finally, finally!, I felt the heat go off and cold air pour in. Well, maybe not pour in but at least the heat was off. We went through our cool-down poses and the class was over.

When we walked outside it was snowing. I had done hot yoga. Clearly, it was a cold day in hell.

“Why did I have to be beside the sweaty guy?” I asked Paige.

“There’s always a sweaty guy,” she said.

For 500 calories, it seemed a small price to pay. Maybe I can get Emily to crank up the heat the next time I go to yoga class.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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