The (Danger) Zone

I participated in a hypnotist show in my senior year of high school. If you’ve never seen a hypnotist show, it looks something like a charismatic zookeeper directing a slapstick improv show with a loyal cast of obedient monkeys. Except the zookeeper is a certified professional, and the monkeys are high school students who have actually volunteered to publicly humiliate themselves. Believe me, there aren’t a lot of things funnier than one of your good friends threatening to pull his pants down in front of a packed auditorium. (Sorry, Mike.)

But what does this have to do with yoga, you may ask? Well, a state of hypnosis and a state of meditation are more or less the same state of mind. One may lead you to believe you can dance like Shakira, while the other may lead you to personal discovery and peace, but they both start off with the same goal: complete mental stillness.

Mental stillness has never really been my forte. You see, my mind is a bit of a spitfire. She never shuts up, she sounds like the rejected bits of a subpar comedy routine most of the time, and she really, really likes fart jokes. But I’ve always welcomed her comments because after all, she is me, and I’m pretty awesome.

So when the hypnotist told all the girls onstage, magnificently slumped across our chairs in a state of hypnotic sleep, that we would find our first names hysterically funny when he snapped his fingers, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that my mind rebelled. A familiar voice broke through the fog of hypnotic tranquility. What the hell? My name isn’t funny at all. Maybe if I were named Eugene, or Beatrice, or Olga. Heh heh, Olga.

And just like that I was back in my own busy head, all hope of properly disgracing myself in front of a crowd of my peers totally gone. I quickly exited the stage to join my friends in the audience and figured complete mental stillness probably just wasn’t for me.

In the Bikram studio, the instructors are kind of like our hypnotists- the charismatic zookeeper to our crazed monkeys, if you will. In a perfect yoga world, we would hear the teacher’s words, moving only when we are cued to do so. We would find stillness in each posture at the deepest point we could possibly reach, breathing steadily in and out through our noses. We would think of nothing besides those words, our movement, and our breath. In the real world, I’m usually either swearing to myself or trying to decide what to eat for lunch.

But there have been moments, gloriously magical moments, where I’ve glimpsed the universe beyond my mind’s persistent (and usually wiseass) personality. It’s like a peaceful field of lilies swaying beside an infinite blue ocean of serenity. It’s a place where a Bikram practice doesn’t feel like three years in a wormhole, but 90 satisfying minutes in a hot room. It’s a present, relaxed, aware state of being that my good friend and fellow blogger Mandy likes to call “the zone.”

(I understand if the Top Gun theme song just started playing in your head, and if it didn’t, you’re welcome for the reminder that this cheesy-awesome 80’s masterpiece still exists.)
In the zone, there are no complaints, no anxieties, no judgments. There aren’t even any fart jokes. There’s just you, your breath, and your body. It’s a hard place to find, and it’s an even harder place to stay. But when you’re in the zone, you’re free.

Class on Day 21 started with a lot of complaining. I had woken up before 7 AM, worked in the (unbelievably hot and humid) sun all day, and eaten a lot of junk food while pondering my own sticky misery. By the time I got to the studio at 4:30 that afternoon, I was anticipating Bikram Armageddon. There was no way class could go well with all the shit I’d just eaten. It’d be a wonder if I could stay awake for 90 minutes after baking in the sun for so long, let alone partake in strenuous sweaty exercise. The humidity levels in the hot room would probably be something approaching a scene from Dante’s Inferno. But I trudged into that studio anyway, dragging my mat, towel, and mother along with me because that’s what I do now. I go to yoga.

Standing on a locked knee some time later, trying to extend my other leg toward the front mirror while holding my foot, I could have been miserable. There was a small and familiar voice telling me how hard this pose was, how tight my hamstrings were, how I’d probably never be able to extend my leg even if I practiced for years. The voice was tired, and she was complaining, and she had made a joke about how frizzy my hair had gotten in the humidity. But she didn’t have to be there. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and shoved her aside. All my energy went into my focused gaze at my locked knee in the mirror. I grabbed my foot, extended my leg, shook a little, and breathed through my nose. Sweat dripped onto my towel. My eyes didn’t blink. Push. Breathe.

I stood with one leg locked and the other almost fully extended for exactly three seconds. I was in the zone, and it was incredible.

(I know it’s not technically the danger zone, but how awesome would that be if next time I was in the zone Tom Cruise was hanging out in there too? And Goose? And maybe Iceman?)

So whether you’re sweating in a hot yoga studio or prancing around like a hypnotized chimpanzee onstage, it’s nice to take some time every now and then to really check in with yourself. Maybe you call it the zone, or mindfulness, or meditation, or even voluntary hypnosis. But no matter the name, I would recommend giving it a try. You might be surprised at what you can do when your mind isn’t being a huge asshole.


You’re Going to Live Through This

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

”It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!”

”It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.


Things had been going so well. I had been practicing with the elites in the front row. I had started embracing the sweat. I had even been wearing my super tiny Bikram jungle get-up outside of the house, and nobody had arrested me for public indecency.

But then came Day 10.

For starters, I had procrastinated doing my laundry (which, with the pile of sweaty clothes I accumulate on a daily basis, requires doing every three days or so) and was forced to delve into my sister’s closet to find a pair of spandex shorts. The shorts that I grabbed were just a smidgen too small and created a most unbecoming layer of belly fat overhang that I was forced to stare at for the entirety of the 90 minute practice. So confidence wasn’t at an all-time high.

I hadn’t slept very well the night before. A lethal combination of M&Ms and Gossip Girl had kept me up far later than I had anticipated (I’m too addicted to be ashamed), and my alarm that morning had been greeted with a mumbled string of expletives. So energy levels weren’t exactly optimal either.

I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that practice felt longer than usual, but it was more than just longer than usual. The class was endless. It’s possible that the room doubled as a wormhole and held us sweaty hostages for 3-4 years while normal time-goers only noticed the passing of an hour and a half. It’s also possible that the studio was actually an Inception-esque dream layer where five minutes in the outside world translated to an hour in the heated yoga room. There is just no way in hell that practice only lasted 90 minutes.

Every posture felt like a scene out of a sweaty nightmare. My thoughts were miserable and panicked, racing between get me the hell out of here and ohmygodI’mgonnathrowup. I tried to breathe and remember something a Bikram instructor had told my friend Meg during her first practice: “Good news, new students, no one has ever died doing Bikram yoga, so rest when you have to, but you’re going to live through this.”

After consistently reminding myself that puking in the studio was frowned upon, letting out several embarrassing groans, and successfully blinking sweat into my right eye, I collapsed into the practice’s final resting pose. I had survived the 90 minutes (or several years, depending on which of my theories you choose to believe) and did somehow manage to leave class feeling better than I had at the beginning. I could see more clearly, breathe more deeply. The lead in my limbs had turned to a relaxed tingle. Nausea had given way to serenity.

That Bikram is an evil genius.

So I guess it’s all part of the process. Some days will be glorious, some days will be miserable, all days will be unbelievably sweaty, but it’s all in the interest of making peace with yourself. My mom has always described yoga as the few precious hours a week she can truly focus, clear her mind of to-do lists and anxieties, and I’m finally starting to see what she means. There’s something spiritual to be found underneath all this sweat.

My mom, the experienced yogini herself, actually came to class with me quite a few times this week. We shared some sentimental moments. A few highlights:

  • She called me a “wuss” to peer pressure me into setting my mat up on the side of the studio closest to the heater. (It worked. We sweated like UFC fighters.)
  • I fell out of triangle pose and smacked into the side wall. The thwack of my flailing elbow making contact with plaster was graciously ignored by everyone but my mom, who laughed so hard I’m pretty sure she farted.
  • We practiced next to an impressively slim and gorgeous pregnant woman; she was far better at pregnant yoga than we are at normal yoga. My mom, who describes both of her pregnancies as the most swollen and miserable times of her life, compensated for her jealousy on the car ride home with a long list of things she could beat the beautiful pregnant woman at. (Bike race, heavy lifting competition, fight to the death, etc.)
  • We finished out the week with a glamorous post-practice photoshoot, the results of which you are welcome to admire below.


Camel Pose, voted “Most Likely to Make You Wanna Vomit” in its high school yearbook.


Floor Bow Pose: “Your butt should be a pillow for your head.” Gettin’ close.


Shavasana, or Corpse Pose. Impeccable form.


Setting up for Triangle Pose (I’m excited though I swear)


Full expression of Triangle Pose, more commonly known by its street name:
yup, this is where I’m gonna die


My forehead will, eventually, touch my toes. Or elephants will fly, either one.

My goal for week 3 is to start adding running workouts to my challenge schedule; as much as I love my heart for keeping me alive 90 sweaty minutes a day, I think it needs a little more exercise. And if there’s one thing I’m more impressively bad at than touching my toes, it’s running. So this should be interesting.

Until next Monday, my darling yogis and yoginis.


Something Adventurous

“That is perfection in Yoga, the best you can honestly do on any given day.” -Bikram Choudhury

I did something adventurous in the studio this week. Something daring. Something even the wingsuit base jumpers of the world would’ve been proud of.

I set up my yoga mat in the front row.

I’ve climbed Mt. Washington, flown a small airplane, and danced to Ke$ha in front of my entire high school, but this might have been the boldest thing I’ve ever done. The front row is reserved for the experienced and the flexible. Instructors will tell new students, “just look to the people in the front row if you’re having trouble, they’ll show you what to do.” It’s the inner sanctum. The créme de la créme. So naturally I got into the habit of setting up my mat as far away from the front row as possible. I imagined someday receiving a prestigious invitation in the mail from the deities of yoga themselves, their words handsomely engraved in a bar of gleaming gold: WELCOME TO THE FRONT ROW, HANNAH, YOU’VE MADE IT! But as it turns out, the admission process isn’t quite that elaborate.

I walked into the studio, looked around like a bank robber about to commit a poorly-planned heist, and laid my mat down in the front row next to my mom’s.

That was it. No alarms sounded; no yoga deities appeared to curse me. I half expected someone to spot me and shout, “HEY! She can’t even sit on her knees! Haul her away from there!” But miraculously, that didn’t happen either. I just did what I always do before class: sat with my legs crossed, discreetly admired myself in the mirror, and waited for practice to begin.

Being so close to my own sweaty reflection for 90 minutes was both exhilarating and horrifying. I noticed that the redness in my face made my eyes look greener than usual. I could count the beads of sweat on my own shoulders. I came to terms with the fact that no matter what exercise regimen I employ, a friendly layer of stomach flub will always fold in on itself when I sit down. But superficiality aside, I also found that the physical closeness to myself actually brought me closer to my practice. It’s difficult to avoid your flaws when they’re staring you straight in the face, and the front row made me focus longer and push harder to try and correct them. (I still struggled to touch my toes in that last stretching posture, but hey, they tell me it’s a process.)

My thoughts still wandered to a world where yoga includes nap time. I still made lists in my head of possible sweat-related deaths. When the instructor announced that it was time for wind-removing pose, I still thought to myself, “oh, she means fart pose.” But overall, I felt stronger and calmer in the front than I ever had cowering in the back corners of the studio. From now on, I’ll have a front row seat to the sweat show, no golden ticket necessary.

A few other tidbits I learned in my first week of the 30-day challenge:

  •  The word “yoga” actually means yoking, or “connecting.”
  • “Namaste,” the sentiment used to close every yoga practice, means “the light in me honors the light in you.”
  • A male yoga enthusiast is called a yogi, while a female yoga enthusiast is called a yogini. (Ladies, we’re only two letters away from Voldemort’s killer pet snake. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.)
  • The Sanskrit names for yoga poses are formed by adding a deity’s name to the word “asana,” which means a kind of prayer. (Of course I immediately began brainstorming ideas for the “Hannahsana” pose, which I’ve decided would look something like the way your body recoils after you accidentally walk into a door.)


The Bikram outfit my mom got me for my birthday scares me a little bit, but I told myself I’d be allowed to wear it in public after at least one week of the challenge. It’s been 7 days, so maybe I’ll unveil this baby tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.



A Snort in the Studio

Before I first experienced Bikram yoga, I thought I knew sweat pretty well. Sure, I don’t run marathons or throw boulders in my spare time, but when I’m not devouring M&Ms or living in my Netflix queue, I like to consider myself an athlete. I can ski moguls until my knees beg for mercy. I’m pretty feisty with a tennis racket. I once biked 84 miles in a day. So with athletic prowess as stunning as mine, you’d think I’d be something of a sweat connoisseur. That’s what my pre-Bikram self thought anyway. But less than five minutes into my first Bikram yoga experience, I realized that my pre-Bikram self could not have been more wrong.

I didn’t know sweat. I didn’t know sweat at all.

My shins, my elbows, my knees, the tops of my feet… no nook or cranny was safe from the sweat tsunami. My mom had warned me that the class would be hot, 105 degrees to be exact, and that it would be long, 90 minutes on the dot. But no warning could have prepared me for this kind of perspiration. It poured out in buckets, rained upon my towel as I contorted myself into repetitive, painful positions. And that was just the first breathing exercise.

Half-moon pose. Eagle pose. Tree pose. Camel pose. I gasped for air, completely ignoring the instructor’s cues to breathe in and out through our noses. My muscles powerfully protested the unfamiliar pain of each new posture, but I tried to keep my sweaty self composed. This proved incredibly difficult when, on top of holding each new excruciating position, I had to start dodging the rogue sweat bullets being launched from the hairy chest of the man to my right. Once or twice I desperately contemplated the consequences of a fart in the studio. (Which would be worse, the humiliation or the smell?)

I somehow managed to maintain an illusion of graceful composure until one of the very last poses of the class. We sat on our mats with our legs extended as the instructor told us to grab our big toes with our thumb and index fingers. While most of the sweaty people around me latched onto their sweaty toes with ease, I could only reach my sweaty fingers towards my sweaty toes with an air of sweaty desperation. I clenched my teeth, trembled from head to toe, felt another wave of sweat slide down my back. My hands just barely began to graze my feet. Pull, pull, pull, the instructor chanted, lock the knees, lock the knees, lock the knees. And before she finally told us to release, the instructor uttered this beauty:

“Your forehead should, eventually, touch your toes.”

I couldn’t help myself. I snorted. I actually snorted, completely abandoning any appearance of composure that I had managed to feign for 85 sweaty minutes. My neighbors didn’t seem to mind, but I figured they were just too sweaty to acknowledge me.

After such an endless and painful ordeal, you might have expected me to leave the studio with some sort of bodily injury, or a defeated limp at the very least. But as I walked out of that first class, sweaty and miserable as I may have been just minutes before, my entire being felt inexplicably awesome. My mind had cleared. My body had relaxed. And despite all life-preserving instincts advising me to the contrary, a part of me wanted to march right back into the studio and try it again.

So, ladies and gentleman, this month I am participating in a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge. It starts this week and continues until I complete 30 classes in 30 days, or melt wicked-witch style into a puddle of my own sweat, whichever comes first. If I survive the first week, you’ll hear from me again next Monday. I’m sure my forehead will be touching my toes by then.