Ethnography on People Who Do Hot Yoga
Yogis For many people with hectic, stressful lives, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of the day or getting some extra sleep at the end of the weekend, but for a certain group of people relaxing does not include this. These people are called yogis; those who achieve relaxation through the art of meditation, breathing, stretching, and finding inner peace. In today’s fast paced society it is hard to find a way to fully relax because people are constantly being forced to push their minds and bodies to the limit, which can result in high levels of stress.
Rather than fighting against life’s hardships, people who practice yoga value deep relaxation in order to be free of stress and live each day in peace and harmony without being thrown out of balance by the ups and downs life may bring. As a college student living in today’s fast-paced society life’s obstacles frequently challenge me, which usually leads to great amounts of stress. Watching TV, sleeping, and working out are all ways to help me cope, but these activities never seem to fully get the job done. I never thought that this horrible sequence of stress would find and ending, until I experienced my first hot yoga class.
I decided to do my ethnography on the subculture of yogis to find out how these people step out of society’s craziness and enter into a world of relaxation by connecting their bodies and minds. Lucky for me, one of my close friends, Jamie Mack, is someone who takes immense pride in yoga. I was able to talk to her about how yoga helps her free her stress and also get a first hand experience of a yoga session myself. It was like any other Sunday here in Lawrence; I woke up around 12:30 PM exhausted from the night before, and automatically thought of all the homework I had to complete.
One of the assignments I needed to get done by the end of the day was going to observe my subculture for my ethnography essay. In the interview I conducted with my friend Jamie, she explained to me, “Yoga I s the best remedy for stress. A part of the practice in yoga is clearing your mind, and it is a great stress relief. ” (Jamie Mack, interview) Like other yogi’s, Jamie practices yoga in order to be free from stress, and that was exactly what I needed. What could be a better day to relieve my stress than a Sunday? So, I picked up my phone to call Jamie and find out the name and directions to the place where she practices her yoga.
She told me that the yoga place was named “Bikram Yoga”, which is another name for hot yoga. She also told me that I should arrive to the class about fifteen minutes before the session started in order to stretch and relax my mind. Yogis feel that it is key to relax their minds before a session begins because it helps them later when they are trying to achieve their inner peace. At 2:30 PM, my friend Caroline and I left our dorm to go see what this whole “yoga” thing was about. We arrived at Bikram Yoga fifteen minutes before three just like Jamie told us, and saw that it was a small little place pushed into the corner of the shopping strip.
Caroline and I ran out of the car, and into the studio. We got in there and were automatically welcomed with big smiles and greetings from the two women standing behind a desk in the little room. One of the women asked us if we had ever been there before or if we had ever done a hot yoga class, but it was quite obvious that it was our first time since we both showed up with no mats or towels and everyone else who walked in seemed to have both of these items with them. When we explained to her that it was our first time, she introduced herself as Kimbo and handed us two forms to read and fill out.
One of the forms was asking who recommended us to Bikram Yoga, and the other was asking us to initial statements that proved we would be respectful throughout the session by not talking and not bringing in our cell phones, which are both actions that would interrupt the peace. The reason that we weren’t allowed to talk and bring our cell phones in is because yogis believe that one must forget about what is going on in the world outside of the room they are practicing and relaxing in. Also, the use of cell phones is a big contributor to high levels of stress in people. In an article, “ Stress of Cell Phone Use Disturbs Sleep, Mood,” Dr.
Z writes about the effects of cell phone usage and how it increases people’s stress. He explains, “A major prospective study over a period of one year of young adults who used their cell phones frequently reveals significant disturbances to sleep patterns, increased stress symptoms, and an increased incidence of clinical depression. ” (Dr. Z) A cell phone is something that pushes people to use their minds and can cause a lot of problems. People who do yoga don’t want this fast-paced society to get to their heads, so they choose to exclude anything that will stop them from achieving peace and relaxation.
We sat down on a colorful little bench to fill out our forms, and we both agreed to be respectful during the session. While Caroline was still filling out her forms I took a look around the entrance room. There were a lot of peace signs, Buddha’s, and flowers, which made the scenery calm and peaceful. These types of decorations are all a part of achieving inner peace. Peace signs stand for peace, Buddha’s are looking to achieve peace, and flowers are always peaceful and welcoming.
Yogis value peace because they are people who are always striving for harmony and balance to reach inner peace. When we were finished paying her for the session, we were given a mat and a towel so that we could properly participate. People who do hot yoga value their mats and their towels because these are two things that serve as artifacts that the value as a subculture. Without the mats their feet would slip al over the place since the heat makes their feet sweat and it would make it a lot harder for one to reach a level of relaxation that will help relieve stress.
The towel is necessary to have by their sides at all times in case they need to wipe their faces off when their sweat gets out of control. As we walked down the narrow hallway to the room Kimbo had directed us to go to we heard he shout, “don’t forget to leave your shoes, coats, and any other belongings outside of the room. Oh and go in with as little clothing as you feel comfortable in. ” I looked at Caroline and we both didn’t understand what she meant by that. As little clothing as possible? But why?
We knew it was going be hot in the room since it was called “hot yoga”, but I guess we just didn’t understand exactly how hot this room was about to get. We opened the door to the room, and right away I thought I was going to pass out from the smell of dirty gym socks and sweat that circulated around it. The room was bright orange. Not the kind of orange that would make me sick looking at it for the ninety minutes I was going to be in there for, but the kind of orange that made me feel like I should be lying out in a tropical island.
A very relaxing room besides the smell, but no one else seemed to care about it so I just chose to ignore it. The people didn’t care about the smell because they were there for one reason and one reason only; to relax their minds and become free from any stress they were having. It didn’t matter to them that this building was small and ugly, or that the room was hot and smelly because when they go there they are doing something that most people don’t, and that is not letting society’s fast-pace get to their heads. There were so many people in his small room. There were both men and women, tall, short, skinny, fat, eighteen or sixty with just one thing in common besides the fact that they all love yoga; they were all wearing very minimal clothing. Caroline and I were the two with the most clothing on and all we were wearing was spandex shorts and tank tops. This was a place where no one was judged on what their body looked like and every single person was respected for why they were there, not what they looked like. Everyone was talking to each other as if they had known each other for a while.
Caroline and I placed our mats down close to the door we had walked through and the looks we received were nothing but nice. This made us feel welcome in a place where we knew no one. I loved it there already, and couldn’t wait for the instructor to come in, and for the session to start. After about ten minutes of waiting for the instructor she had finally arrived. It turned out that Kimbo, the nice lady from the front desk, was the instructor for that day’s hot yoga session. She opened up the door to the room and shouted, “hello my lovely people! I was amazed by the spirit this woman had running through her because it gave off a positive vibe. It is important to stay positive throughout a yoga session because people who do yoga feel that the positive energy is another way to relieve stress and bring harmony. Everyone in the room turned towards the front and smiled back to her as she walked up there to lead the class. Caroline and I just followed everyone else’s lead by also turning to the front. Kimbo started off by asking Caroline and I to move to different spots of the room so that we would be surrounded by people knew what they were doing.
We moved our things and ended up on opposite sides of the room. My new neighbors all introduced themselves and smiled to me. Their positive attitudes towards me made it clear that they wanted me to succeed in my first session. These people are all very caring and would be happy for anyone who gives yoga a chance. They are a rather inclusive group of people as the want everyone to experience the goodness of letting not letting stress get to the head. Kimbo raised her arms high up in the first position, and everyone knew to stand up; the session had started.
We began by reaching up for the sky, exhaling and inhaling deep breathes. These are the breathing routines that start off each session to get the body relaxed and ready to start. It is crucial in yoga that one keeps breathing and knows how to control their breathe because it is key to connecting the body to the mind, which results in high relaxation. I was now ready to go, and so was everyone else in the room. There were many positions that we covered, and for each one there were two sets which helped because I was able to watch the experienced yogis do the first one and then join in on the second set.
From the book written by the creator of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury write, “Through the practice of yoga, you integrate your body and mind in a perfect union. ” (Bikram, 32) He created these specific positions so that people who practice yoga will use their bodies as a way to connect to their inner self. These positions we were doing required a lot of flexibility. In my interview with Jamie, I asked if this yoga class required flexibility, and she responded by telling me, “You don’t have to be anything to do yoga, you just have to be willing to try it. I didn’t quite agree with her statement because I thought that the positions would be very hard to do if one isn’t flexible enough. What I came to find out was that even though these positions required flexibility, it was something that one would have to work on. In yoga you aren’t pushed to the limit like you are in our fast-paced society, rather you are told to preform everything to your own comfort zone, and that helps people who do yoga free their stress.
As we would reach our arms up high, Kimbo would peacefully repeat, “You are a flower blossoming in the midst of a beautiful summer,” which kept everyone happy and in the mind state of peace. As I mentioned before, positivity is key in yoga. These words that Kimbo kept repeating kept the positive energy flowing throughout the room. This kind of language is what gives yogis the strength to balance out their down sides in life. The heat in the room was getting higher and higher, and I wasn’t sure if my body could handle it.
I plopped down on my mat to take a quick breather, ripped off my tank top, and joined the rest of the women in the class who were wearing only a sports bra and spandex shorts. The scorching heat made it clear to me why people weren’t wearing a lot of clothes in the beginning of the session, and it seemed to me as if sweating was the main goal of this class. I looked around the room and noticed that everyone else was also dripping sweat. There were times where I would look around the room and see people raising their arms for a position, and sweat would drip down from them just like a shower head drips water after you turn it off.
Every time I would sit down on my mat to take a break and wipe off my sweat, Kimbo would look at me, smile, and say, “You’re doing great! ” She was one of the greatest motivators I had ever met because she did it in such a peaceful manner. Though my face was beat red, my eyes were basically tearing from the heat, and I thought I was going to faint, her positive attitude is what kept me going and even though I wanted to bee-line straight out that of that door, she gave me the strength to stay and finish the session.
It was finally 4:45 and though it had felt like I had been in that room for hours, it had only been for ninety minutes. Kimbo turned off the lights and told us to lay straight on our backs with our eyes closed. Two minutes later she left the room and said, “Namaste,” and everyone replied back in unison, “Namaste. ” Unaware of what this word meant, I just decided to go along with it, but didn’t say anything. In an article titled “The Meaning of Namaste” Aadil Palkhivala writes about and explains the deeper meaning of the gesture Namaste.
He let his readers know that, “Usually, it is done at the end of class because the mind is less active and the energy in the room is more peaceful. The teacher initiates Namaste as a symbol of gratitude and respect toward her students and her own teachers and in return invites the students to connect with their lineage, thereby allowing the truth to flow—the truth that we are all one when we live from the heart. ” (Palkhivala) Basically, this gesture ends the session and creates the final connection of peace to the mind while the mind is fully relaxed.
While everyone was still lying there, I immediately sprinted out of the room to grasp a breathe of any kind of air besides the air in that room. Never in my life has room temperature air felt so good, and I was able to breathe normally again. As I waited for Caroline to come out of the room many people who had just left the session approached me, telling me that I did a great job for my first time and that I should definitely consider coming back because yoga is one of the best things that has ever happened to them.
These people enjoy yoga because they are able to step away from their hectic lives, and go into a place where they can fully relax their minds and not think about anything that would be getting was one of the most challenging, yet relaxing and peaceful activities I have ever experienced. In my interview with Jamie I asked her what one could expect in a typical yoga class. She told me, “Expect to sweat, but mostly expect to doubt yourself during the session and to feel absolutely incredible once your done. (Jamie Mack, interview) It turned out that she was exactly correct. In a short period of time I was able to achieve inner peace and full relaxation by doing yoga and trying to connect my mind and body. All of the stress that I had when I woke up earlier that morning had quickly vanished as I felt like I was on top of the world. Homework usually brings me down and puts me under a great amount of stress, but the yoga class took that negativity away. At that point I was living stress free, just like a yogi.
People who practice yoga live life to the fullest while not letting their negative stress get to their heads. Most people in this fast-paced modern world we live in would appreciate time to fully relax their minds and bodies that are constantly being pushed to exceed their limits, the only problem is they don’t know what the real meaning of relaxation is. Yogis understand the concept of relaxation and value it as they strive everyday to be free of stress to live life in harmony. Works Cited: Choudhury, Bikram.
Bikram Yoga: The Guru behind Hot Yoga Shows the Way to Radiant Health and Personal Fulfillment. New York: Collins, 2007. Print. “Stress of Cell Phone Use Disturbs Sleep, Mood. ” Stresshacker. Web. 09 May 2012. <http://www. stresshacker. com/2011/04/stress-of-cell-phone-use-disturbs-sleep-mood/>. “The Meaning of “Namaste”” The Meaning of Namaste. Web. 09 May 2012. <http://www. yogajournal. com/basics/822>. “Why Practice Yoga? ” Why Practice Yoga? Web. 09 May 2012. <http://www. abc-of-yoga. com/info/why-practice-yoga. asp>.