Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

In an attempt to sample on this trip the full spectrum of healthy to unhealthy activities, I spent this morning in a brutal form of self-flagellation known as Hot Yoga.

Earlier this week, when Jason’s wife Noriko mentioned it to me, it sounded like fun to try. But as I was to find out, regular yoga is to hot yoga as cooking is to cremation.

Noriko, a pretty and slight Japanese woman who looks like she would have difficulty walking a St. Bernard, told me that hot yoga (or yow!ga, as I now call it) was like regular yoga, with an emphasis on stretching; the Hollywood twist is that it’s done in a warm room that helps you to loosen up and stretch, letting you accomplish much more than you might in a normal (i.e. survivable) room.

Is it difficult? I asked.

You get used to it, she said.  You should try it.

So I thought, Hmmm, maybe I will, not realizing that Noriko must be promised seven virgins for each person she brings in, because why else would she do that to a friend.

Noriko said it had changed her life, and in fact, I did notice a change from ths last time I’d seen her in October.  She was cheery before, and fun to talk to, but she was charged up now, beaming, more outgoing, full of life.  Even her jokes were funnier.

Imagine that, I thought. Funnier jokes.  I gotta get me some.  I made plans to meet her at 10 a.m. the next morning at a local studio.

“You should be sure to bring a bottle of water,” she mentioned as I left her place.

That night, I told Martin and Tracy about it.

“You are going to die,” Martin said.

Tracy in fact had done it several times.  She advised me to take two towels: one to lie on, one to sop up the sweat that runs from you like spring thaw.

“Don’t overdo it,” she said, “Or you’ll be down for four days.”

How do you over do it? I asked.

“Breathing, standing, stretching, stuff like that. Basically, you’re toast. Burnt toast.  Dry burnt toast. Dry—”

“OK, I get the picture,” I cut her off.

I arrived a little nervously the next morning.

I introduced myself as a beginner and the well-made-up woman at the small counter tied a joyful little red piece of yarn around my wrist. She explained that this was so the instructor would be able to identify me as a first-time student, in case the stumbling and cursing and swaying wasn’t sufficient. In retrospect, red was a poor choice as well because against my skin, there was no contrast by the end.

She gave me a peppy instructional talk.

“Now, the most important thing is, don’t leave the room.  You know, unless there’s a medical emergency.  But other than that, no leaving. For anyone. For any reason.  You may encounter the panic reflex—you know, fight or flight—several times during the next hour and a half.  It’s important that, unless you black out or injure a limb or experience heart pains, that you stay in the room, and if necessary lie down on the mat until the nausea, vertigo and panic passes.  Breathe through your nose, this cuts down on the sense of claustrophobia or drowning that some people encounter.  And you might want to place your mat out of the direct baking heat of the multiple heater units.”

Noriko opened the door, and I slid in, pizza-like, to the room.

It was more than a little warm.  It was like when you open the lid of a bread maker.  Not too dry, but not swampy.  Not a sharp heat like returning to a car left in the sun, but more like a sleeping bag when you’re trapped inside and someone is sitting on you.  I suddenly felt like lifting my feet when I walked was an unnecessary luxury.

I laid out my foam mat.  It started to melt, oozing into the carpet like bubble gum.

The instructor came in and asked me to move further away from the mirrors, into the back row where she could assist me more and where I could see the other students and how they were contorting. This placed me about 4 feet from the largest heater, the kind they use to keep an entire patio warm on a cool fall night.  Only this was in a 30’ by 15’ room that was already at cactus-wilting temperatures.

Exercise one was a breathing routine. Each inhalation raised my internal temperature half a degree.  Then some stretching that involved me trying to grab my slippery, sweat-covered feet with my slippery, sweaty palms and try to pull my head around so it touched my spine.

The breathing routine went on for about 6 hours, and which point I decided to lie down.

Then they switched to another exercise, this one that simply required me to stand on one foot, hold the other foot up, and clasp my hands on my chest.

Which I did for about 2 minutes, and then lied down again.

Lying on my stomach, I had to lift my right leg.  That lasted about 22 seconds.

Squat down, arms out in front.  A think I managed a bold 40 seconds on that, though my legs were jittering so much that I tore a seam.

Then I lied down again.

It was at this point that the instructor, who had been walking around the room primarily at the back, giving soothing instructions like “hold it, a little more, hold it, relax and hold (WHAT?), now lift another six inches.  And hold. You’re half way there. Stop screaming, Travis.”

She paused for a second, walked over to open the door and reached outside, and I swear she walked back in holding a blended ice frappuccino mocha grande with whipped cream.  I swear.

I was meanwhile pouring slightly warm water into me at a slow but very steady rate, trying not to trigger that darned vomit reflex.

Some spine stretches followed, my favorite was the one where she asked me to wrap the towel over my feet.  Uh, no.  Even pretending to wear an extra layer at that point was unimaginable.

The rabbit and camel positions, direct opposites, which is weird, because neither one eats the other.  I tried gallantly and even held the pose for a moment or two.  But apparently I was not balancing the “right” way , because the instructor came over and told me to raise my chin more.  This made me fall over, and I took advantage of the opportunity to lie still again until my heart beat returned to distinct, if rabbit-like, beats.

The session ended with a breathing exercise that, near as I can tell, was designed to mimic hyperventilation.  You were supposed to breath out sharply, repeatedly, until you lost the need to breathe or something like that.  I just pretended by inflating my cheeks; I was already dizzy enough to be an Olympic figure skater.

Later, outside in the blissful crisp air of the downtown, I saw Noriko in a new light, and it wasn’t just the hyperventilation buzz glow.

Noriko now goes every day.  While I watched from behind bleary eyes, she did every exercise, never passed out even once, and did them at a level of strength and flexibility that made my eyes cross.  On the other hand, I barely had the strength to lift my towel by the end.  Sure, it contained 42 pounds of sweat, but still, that’s not good.

I wonder what would have happened if I overdid it…


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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