A small sign pointed the way to the hot yoga studio. I stepped into the reception area and the scent of lavender and eucalyptus assaulted my nose. Soft music hummed from speakers in the ceiling. I filled out the registration form requesting information about my personal and medical history – under reasons for taking the class, I wrote, “recommended to help with arthritis” and handed it back to the receptionist.
I sat on a long wooden bench outside the studio. A rhythmic clapping seeped out from behind a closed door. I pulled a fluffy towel over my bare legs; another one hung over my shoulders, veiling my tiny half top. Men and women streamed in and out of the dressing rooms. Friends sat on the bench and chatted about their day; the receptionists laughed behind their desk. The carefree atmosphere helped alleviate my doubts. Every time another person entered from outside, a blast of cold air poured in and produced goose bumps on my skin.
The studio door opened and a swell of hot air burst from the room; the humidity penetrated my pores and chased the goose bumps from my skin. People emerged, dripping in sweat, drenched towels wrapped around their bodies; they dragged their weary feet across the tile floor. A feeling of unease crept down my spine. I trundled in behind a line of students who scattered the moment we entered the room, scrambling to claim their spots in front of a mirrored wall. I chose an inconspicuous place in the second row, spread out my yoga mat and lay on my back, conscious of the moist rubber stroking the back of my bare legs. I took a few deep breaths, acclimatizing myself to the high temperature in the room. Bleak light from an overcast sky poured through the windows of a skylight. People moved quietly, respectfully, trying not to ruffle the calm silence. My joints gave in to the soothing warmth, and the soreness that plagued me for most of the day petered out along with my initial doubts. I closed my eyes, and drifted away beneath the dim light, shutting out the world.
The instructor entered, clapped her hands and flooded the room with bright lights – I jolted out of repose and struggled to my feet. She demonstrated a quick breathing exercise and told the new students to follow the more experienced ones. She barked out instructions like a military leader for the next ninety minutes. My initial misgivings returned as she led us through a series of ridiculous poses, all the while touting the benefits of each pose to the body. I attempted to twist and mold into the distorted positions and wondered what I had got myself into. Ninety minutes later, I lay dripping and exhausted on my rubber mat, breathing in and out, my weary muscles sinking into the floor. I had doubts about attending another class; to my surprise, as I slowly got to my feet, I noticed much of my arthritis pain had diminished.