Head First: Burning up to wind down

Mia Warren

The room is heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Moisture hanging in the air comes from a small box near the ceiling that puffs out steam like it’s breathing.

“As we transition into the next pose, focus on a point,” the instructor says. Her name is Sunflower, or Gopal, or something as equally nonconformist. The members of the class are all older than 30 except for Brian and me. I guess we’re the only young people dedicated enough to get up before 11 a.m. on a Saturday.

Now we flip over to our stomachs – “Put your mouth on the mat” – and I kiss the foamy mat, my lips smooshing into a puddle of my sweat. The man next to me extends his foot, and little drips fall off his big toe.

It’s not as pretentious as it looked from outside, where a cooler sits filled with bottles labeled “Function: Urban Detox and Vita Coco – drinks that sound nothing like drinks. And the colorful 30-day challenge chart (attend a class for 30 days straight and pay only $50!) tacked to the wall is inspiring. But who the hell has time to do this for 90 minutes a day?

It’s my first time and, like other first times, is filled with discomfort. The middle-aged people surrounding me bend and flex. Their legs stick out steadily. Their middles twist like soft pretzels. They’ve grasped onto their chi in a way unknown to me. The instructor circles the room.

“It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be challenging – to hurt, even! Focus on your task and clear your mind. Concentrate…”

Despite her unique name, Odathi (or maybe it’s Lotus?) looks about as WASP-y as they come, with chestnut brown hair and a smattering of freckles. She refrains from posing and instead watches to make sure we don’t slack off or drink water at non-designated times. I’m surprised by the authoritarian nature of the class. Maybe we’re supposed to be functioning on a higher level of consciousness. I’m not there yet; I can’t suppress a smile during Khapalbhati, the last breathing exercise. The man next to me sounds like he might need a C-section soon.

It’s hard to concentrate when my nostrils feel about one-quarter their actual size. The humidifier on the wall is sucking all the air out and replacing it with wet. During tree pose, I look around and see everyone’s having the same problem. The right foot is supposed to lock onto the upper part of the left thigh, but the sweat running down our legs causes our feet to slip and smack against the ground. We rest on our fronts between poses, pressing our ears against the mats. My right ear squelches, becoming a suction cup. When I raise my head, my ear sucks and pops angrily, and the instructor’s voice returns in full force.

“Let’s hold off on water, everybody,” she says. “It’s too distracting to the people around you.”

The poses come to a halt, finally. I dread standing up, but the cold promise of the lobby convinces me otherwise – a gust of cool breeze rushes in through the door as someone exits. Our instructor takes her place behind the front desk. She’s barely sweating and looks unnatural sitting in an office chair.

Her real name, as it appears on my receipt, is Aimee Van Roekel. How unlike what I’d thought. How Dutch.

It’s freezing outside, a temporary relief, and we talk about returning tomorrow.

“There’s an eight o’clock class,” Brian says. “We could go early.”

“Ha ha,” I say. I’m not that inspired.