I’m by no means a yoga connoisseur. I’m no spiritual gangster, and I’m hardly a yogini. At best, I’m a person who enjoys doing yoga.
I like yoga because it feels like a good stretch after sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen for eight hours. It makes me feel relaxed, and when I keep at it consistently, I feel stronger and more flexible. In the always-relevant words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?”
Last night, I attended my first class at Yoga to the People, a studio with locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Yoga to the People hosts donation-based classes, so you can attend and donate an amount you feel is appropriate. Usually, people donate $10 or less, or more if they borrowed a mat or other equipment from the studio. On the subway to work yesterday morning, I browsed through the Yoga to the People website on my phone. I mapped out the location closest to my apartment. Again, I thought, “How bad could that be?”
My lovely roommate, Sammi, had been to Yoga to the People before, and she warned me that the class was filled with “really granola, in fact, really crunchy granola” attendees who practically moaned with every exhale. I figured that would just be part of the experience.
Turns out, I was right.
I turned the corner of Bedford Avenue and spotted the studio’s half-opened door. As I trotted up to the entrance, I felt kind of professional with my rolled-up yoga mat in my tote bag. I noticed people exiting the studio from the 6 p.m. class that just ended. I did a double-take at a girl whose hair was so drenched, she stood on the sidewalk and rang out her ponytail.
I really hoped she just put her head in the bathroom sink, or that maybe she just took a shower. Some workout studios and gyms have showers where people rinse off after class, I told myself, even though I was fully aware this place probably didn’t have a shower.
I entered the vestibule and made my way up a set of narrow stairs. Then, I was hit with an odor I can honestly say I’ve never experienced before. The space smelled kind of like my old synagogue combined with every essential oil from the Whole Foods “beauty and wellness” aisle trying to mask an extremely strong, underlying layer of stale sweat.
Seeing mobs of people who looked like wet rats that raided Lululemon’s sale rack flooding out of the room labeled “Vinyasa studio” was not exactly endearing — or encouraging to someone like me, who’s been doing POPSUGAR 15-minute workout videos in my bedroom for the past month.
I frantically pulled up the website on my phone and double-checked that I wasn’t about to walk into a hot yoga class. Is this hot yoga? I desperately wanted to yell at the spaced-out looking people sitting at the front desk. I thought the website said vinyasa!
Being my usual punctual self, I arrived to the 7:30 p.m. class a safe 15 minutes early. I wasn’t the earliest, though. Like most yoga classes, there were a few other people already on their mats, bent and contorted in intimidating positions no one asked them to do.
As soon as I unrolled my mat onto the hardwood floor, I realized every class at Yoga to the People is hot yoga. They just don’t specify that anywhere on the website, but that’s fine, the voice of my type-A personality echoed in my head. Although the studio has air-conditioning units and multiple fans scattered around the room, they’re apparently just for decoration. Because God forbid the sound of a fan mess with our chakras.
The instructor, who looked like a mashup of about five of my former camp counselors, entered the room and closed the one window that provided what I (dramatically) convinced myself would be my last breath of fresh air. Well, this is it, I concluded. At least if I pass out, I don’t have to finish the class.
“Start in child’s pose. And let’s set an intention,” the instructor’s voice filled the room.
What is usually one of my favorite yoga poses became my worst nightmare; I was skeptical to put my face to my mat because I didn’t want to inhale the scent of the floor. And as far as my intention, all I could think of was that I intend to bring a towel, or maybe an industrial-grade chamois, the next time I do this.
I could’ve easily left. The classes are first-come, first-serve, so I could’ve walked out without paying a fee. The other yoginis in the room were totally in their own world, so it wouldn’t have made a difference to the class if I got up and left. But I didn’t give up, and even amid my stagnant, smelly surroundings, I found my flow.
I lunged, I stretched, and I managed to inhale through my nose without cringing.
Though I found myself getting distracted, whether it was from my extreme perspiration (which made my hands so slippery, I could barely hold a downward dog pose without, well, going down), the studio’s musty aroma, or the other attendees’ exaggerated exhaling sounds my roommate Sammi warned me about — something kept me there for the whole hour.
Before last night, I considered myself well-versed in sweaty situations, but when I finally peeled myself up from my mat, I felt as if I had sweat out every toxin that’s been in my body since 1996.
Standing on the L train back to my apartment, I caught a glimpse of my shiny forehead in the window reflection. I, too, looked like a wet rat that raided Lululemon’s sale rack, and admittedly, I felt good — or, at least as good as one can feel when they’re sweaty on the subway.
Not every moment in New York City, or anywhere, for that matter, is glamorous. My hot yoga experience reminded me that situations where I feel out of my comfort zone but decide to persevere anyway are just as, if not more, important than the moments where things are effortless or perfect.
Plus, there’s not always going to be another person or a cancellation fee holding me accountable for anything. I shouldn’t back out of something just because it’s hard or uncomfortable, whether it’s a sauna-like workout class or something bigger in life or my career.
And now, the answer you’re probably waiting for: Will I be going back to Yoga to the People? Maybe. It’s not out of the question, as long as I bring a towel and refrain from chugging half my water bottle before the class even begins.