Walking into one of the studios at Hot 8 Yoga in Santa Monica, I feel like I've crossed into a different latitude. The temperature is 100 degrees, and the moisture in the air is palpable — think tropical rain forest or Southern bayou. Everyone is lying on mats, eyes closed.
The instructor, Carmen Guerrero, a striking woman with floral tattoos that curl up her arm, encourages us to feel our breath throughout our bodies, preparing us to "awaken the fire within."
Though I've practiced yoga for several years, this is my first foray into a heated studio. The receptionist described this class, hot power yoga, as "an intermediate to advanced class for yogis who really want to work out."
We begin with core exercises. The heat feels heavy like a blanket as fatigue starts to set in after only a few crunches. When we stand and begin flowing from downward dog to chaturanga — a hovering push-up position — the sweat starts to pour. Everyone's yoga mat is covered with a towel drenched in a pattern that approximately matches the size and shape of his or her body. And all the glistening bodies in this room are amazingly fit, most of them half-naked — the men shirtless, many of the women clad in yoga bras and booty shorts.
I have to admit it feels warrior-like to see liquid squeezing from the pores of my arms, shins and ankles. (Who knew I had sweat glands on my ankles?) In the heat, I'm definitely more open and limber. When I curve into a back bend, my spine feels as pliable as Gumby.
Still, I can't sustain the same level of workout I normally do. While the rest of the class flows through another sun salutation, I opt for a child's pose, curled into a ball with rivulets of sweat drizzling into my mouth.
"Stay connected with your breathing," the instructor prompts, though I don't know how you could stay connected to anything else in the intense heat. Whereas I often find my mind wandering during yoga, here I'm focused on nothing but my breath and body sensations.
Deanna Ainsworth, yoga director at Hot 8 Yoga, had explained that this concentration is one of the benefits of a heated practice: "You can't be anywhere else but right here in your body in this moment."
When the instructor dims the lights and says it's time to relax, I know this to be true: I immediately fall into a deep and blissful meditation.
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Hot 8 Yoga has two locations, in Santa Monica and Hollywood (see hot8yoga.com for class descriptions and schedule). Drop-in fee $25; new students' introductory rate, $45 for unlimited classes for 30 days. A variety of other options are available.