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Yoga: New Years Resolution or Long Term Commitment?

In the days following my ego-shattering first hot yoga class, I wrestled with a thorny, nagging question. I called my friend Kerri, who had been practicing hot yoga for ten years.

“Hey, can I ask you a quick question about hot yoga?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, “What’s up?”

“Well, I did my first hot yoga class on Monday…”

“You did hot yoga?” she managed to ask before collapsing into hysterics on the other end of the phone.

“Yeah,” I continued, “It was brutal. I nearly killed myself. But I’m wondering…”

“What?”

“Well, is it safe to do hot yoga twice in one week?”

When her laughter subsided, she assured me that yes, it was entirely safe to practice hot yoga not only twice a week, but every day.

At the time, the idea of subjecting myself to five, let alone seven, days of hot yoga in a single week sounded as prudent as beating the tops of my feet with a ball peen hammer. One would surely have to be seven shades of crazy to do that...

The next day however, I did go back to Yoga Tropics, and then two days later I went again. Before leaving, I bought a month membership. That was five years ago, and in the years since, I have rarely gone a week without at least two classes, and more often than not, my practice consists of four to five classes.

Can we talk about resolutions for a second? If you have ever struggled with a New Year’s resolution, raise your hand.

Good. You’re just like me.

I’m the worst New Year resolver of all time. I have never carried a New Year’s resolution past Valentine’s day. I am so bad at sticking with these annual pledges that last year I decided to make a resolution so simple—so utterly attainable—that I felt guilty for even making it: I would not purchase any black concert t-shirts at any heavy metal concerts for the entire year.

Did you see what I did there? My resolution did not involve me doing a single thing. I had to simply refrain from doing something. Easy peasy, right?

By the middle of February, my resolution, like Lucca Brasi, was sleeping with the fishes.

Sigh.

As the swollen class sizes of January suggest, the new year brings a lot of new faces to Yoga Tropics by way of resolutions. Unfortunately, many new students taper off before the good stuff starts happening, while others stick with it (an infuriating number of these people quickly surpass me in the execution of virtually every pose).

Consequently, I found myself wondering, why do some people stop practicing while others keep going?

I decided to ask around, so I approached Carol Agriesti, one of my favorite teachers at Yoga Tropics and a longstanding practitioner. In response to the question, “Why do you keep coming back?” Carol explained:

“I like to maintain a touchstone of sorts for attracting peace and a sense of homecoming throughout the many areas of my life. Let’s face it, things on the outside change and shift all the time. I thrive on being in nature and exposing myself to creative outlets because those experiences touch a place inside where I stay grounded. The discovery of yoga brought this communion under one roof; it allows me to unify myself from within and I’ve found that the benefits of my practice are that I function better as a friend, parent and person to the all those I live beside, work with, and learn from everyday.”

Looking for the perspective of a new person, I found a young woman after one of my recent classes who confirmed that this was in fact, her first month of hot yoga.

“How do you like it so far?” I asked.

“I love it,” she said, burying her face in a massive, fluffy towel.

“Think you’ll keep going?”

“What, do I plan on doing this regularly? Oh yeah,” she said, smiling.

“Why?”

“Because it makes me feel good,” she replied matter-of-factly. “When I run, I feel tired and sore when I’m done. When I finish a yoga class, I feel great. Never sore. It’s totally relaxing.”

Unsurprisingly, the two women offered two very different levels of benefit; one hewed closer to a spiritual and emotional foundation while the newer student embraces the physical benefits.

This falls in line with virtually all of my yoga friends, who tend to have a wide range of motivations for going, and often these motivations change from class to class. Some practice to manage weight. Others supplement their exercise regimen with a few classes each week. Quite a few are drawn to the spiritual and emotional dimensions of practicing. There are those seeking to learn while others practice for mastery. Most yogis are motivated by various combinations of the three.

Out of curiosity, I called a buddy of mine who accompanied me to a couple of classes and who hasn’t returned since. I asked why he stopped going.

“I don’t know, man.”

“Was it too hot? Too hard?”

“No, the heat was OK and I figured out how to follow people during class to figure out the poses. I didn’t want to go by myself and look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I guess I didn’t really give it a shot.”

I commended my friend’s honesty before lambasting him for being afraid of looking like a novice. If there’s one place in California where it’s OK to be a novice, it’s Yoga Tropics. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know I speak from personal experience…

What about me? Why do I keep doing yoga?

Admittedly, yoga was never a resolution for me. It was a curiosity that became a hobby and that eventually flowered into a white hot passion.

But I love it. I love the heat. I love the feeling of that first stretch when I’m folding forward. I love the peaceful environment, I love getting good adjustments during class and I certainly love savasana.

But really, when I think of all I’ve gleaned from hot yoga, and when I consider what so many others get from their practice, I realize that the question isn’t “Why do you keep doing hot yoga?”

It’s “How could I not?”

One of the easier ways to meet some new people and enhance your practice is to check out one of the many workshops the studio holds, like the one this weekend, where Pradeep will be leading a series of workshops focusing on the flow, poses, breathe and approach to the basic practice.

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