Hot Yoga Ain't Hot: An L.A. Story

The first and only hot yoga class I ever took was in West Hollywood, which might come as no surprise, though it was more of a coincidence than one might pre-judge.

I didn’t have my first kale Caesar salad, nor drink my first green juice in L.A. I was already a douche bag when I landed. I was already a licensed acupuncturist, had already been to "energy healers" and psychics, and been struggling on the yoga mat for six years… though I surely had never slipped on it so much.

I think if ancient Indian yogis came back and saw what we many of us Anglos are doing in these studios it would look to them sort of how it would to us if we could go back to their time, introduce them to the automobile, only to later see four of them trying to push the huge mass of steel, engine running, gear in neutral, one of them carrying a boom box on his shoulder, getting yelled at by the others to change the station, then calling up the F.C.C. on the cell phone we gave him to ask if they could please change the station.

I love yoga, like I love watching sports, but hot yoga always had about as much appeal to me as watching college sports, which in my opinion is barely a similar experience to watching (professional) sports. The reason I finally ended up in the mustiest room in Southern California is because I needed a job.

I had a pleasant interview with the owner of a yoga studio, who asked as sort of a “follow up” that I come in for a free class and meet the rest of the staff so they might assess my character and our personal compatibility within the brief dialogue exchange normally possible in a first meeting with people at work. Strange? Of course, but hey, it’s an L.A. yoga teacher, and I was in no place to say no to anything that didn’t involve selling my body or stock investments. What I hadn’t realized until arriving at the studio was that it was hot yoga, and this would be the most I’ve ever sweated in a job interview.

I felt like I did very little actual yoga in the 60 or 90, or 1000 minutes we were in that God-forsaken room. I mean sure, we tried busting out some doggies, down and up, fucked with some Warrior 1 and an embarrassing charade of Warrior 2, as most stances were compromised by the Slip-and-Slide posing as yoga mat beneath my feet. At one point I had to give up jumping back into plank lest risking the lamest broken nose of all time: “Yo, what happened? You got in a fight?”

“Nah, yoga, son.”

There were a few moments where I thought I might have a heart attack – moments I thought I’d pass out, instead taking the appropriate breaks as needed. "Hot child's pose." I looked up at the poor souls pushing forward – faces red, as soaked as if they’d jumped into a pool (as was I), and wondered if I might be the only actual human being on Earth.

What happened to Yoga? What happened to holding postures and deepening the breath… stretching without having to monitor the moisture beneath our feet sliding us into some crippling injury? It is unfortunately fascinating – sort of an “anti-yoga” – a wonderful oasis in which we can get away from our exhausting jobs to overwork our bodies and drain out all those pesky, nourishing fluids that think they’re being so helpful by feeding our organs and tendons and shit.

Sweating is healthy, yes, just like drinking water. Drinking four gallons of water in a day is not healthy, nor is losing that much. In Chinese Medicine sweat is considered “the fluid of the heart channel.” Tears are of the liver, and urine is of the kidneys.

Every organ has its “yin and yang,” the latter or which offers its fire and energy. The yin, conversely, provides the organ its fluids and cooling mechanism. When we don’t sweat enough we might suffer from excessive heart yang, or “heart fire,” showing symptoms of agitation, insomnia, etc. However, by sweating excessively we risk burning out the heart’s “yin” by generating too much heat. For people with very cold physiological constitutions this can be good… in moderation. Take caution not to create too much heat in the body during the summer months, also to not open the pores to excess in the winter. Obviously sharing information like this would make for a poor business model for hot yoga studios.

I think some hot yoga newbies fall in love with it for the same reason some people feel amazing when after a lifetime of pizza and fast food they try (green) juicing for a week or two . Of course any kind of vegetable intake is going to initially benefit them, but eventually the body will request balance. Chinese Medicine condones more balanced (and cooked) meals - also more balance in exercise.

I approached the owner after class, half joking: “Did I get the job?”

He looked as amused as I was sold on his form. I never felt like my humor was understood on the west coast.

He offered some story about the guy he’d wanted me to meet not being there as expected, and some other guy being too busy to talk. It sounded like the end of most of my dates in L.A.

Driving home, marinating in my own filth, I wondered if this “follow-up interview” was really just some promotional tactic to transform job rejects into hooked hot yoga students. I also wondered if maybe my class performance did actually have anything to do with his decision, and should I have been less scared to break my nose in "wet plank?" Finally I realized that the whole experience was worth 1000 times what any job he could ever offer me was. A "Zen moment?" Hot yoga...?

Later that night I had awful insomnia. Too much heat.

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