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Tom Matlack

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Unplug and Recharge with Hot Yoga

Posted: 05/06/10 03:00 PM ET

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Eight years ago, I was a burned-out, divorced venture capitalist with two kids and a pathetic love life. As a last-ditch effort at getting a life, I decided to try something that faintly reminded me of the workouts I did as a collegiate rower, despite the fact that the activity also reminded me of my mother who has been a yogi for years (I could digress into deep Freudian theory here, but that would hardly be relaxing).

So I started doing hot yoga at a studio a couple blocks from my office. At first it felt uncomfortable and made me dizzy, and sometimes I did little else but go in and sweat while doing child's pose. But from the very start I noticed unexpected changes.

I slept like a baby. Seriously, when I got home after doing hot yoga I had to get into bed early. The sleep was blissful. No nightmares, no clenched jaws, just pure relaxation.

I felt more at ease with myself in my day-to-day interactions with people in my life. The people who always bothered me bothered me just a little less.

Kind of like a sweat lodge, the process of going into that hot oven and moving my body felt like cleansing in some deep way that left me lighter and freer than I had ever experienced before.

I realized that during the lunch hour class, my brain had turned off. For once I wasn't thinking about my deals, my kids, my ex-wife's anger, or the women I wished I could date. I listened to my breath, in and out, and that was it.

I started practicing in February, 2002 and in June of that same year I met Elena. I am sure that there were many things that went into the significance of that event. I'm not prepared to give hot yoga ALL the credit. But it provided me with a foundation; a place to go in my soul, when confronted with the woman of my dreams sitting literally across the table from me.

We were married that December and are coming up on eight years together.

Doing hot yoga can be very intimidating, depending on the exact form you are undertaking. So here are a few helpful hints to get you past the initial few classes so that you can reap the benefits. Who knows, maybe you will meet the man or woman of your dreams as a result!

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It's a good idea to drink water, or better yet, a sports drink, before going to class. Bring water into class with you (it's usually for sale there too) and drink water from the beginning of the class to the end. Then drink tons of water afterwards to replenish. Novices don't understand just how much water your body will lose. Dehydration is danger and will make it impossible to enjoy any of the benefits of hot yoga.

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An hour or an hour and a half doing yoga in a hot room when you are not used to it is a very long time. If you start too fast and hit the wall, there will be no coming back. I have done it more than once and it's no fun. So just do a little the first few classes. If you are there on your mat, everything else is gravy. Learn child's pose first and revert to it often to regroup. If all you do is child's pose that is great.

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If you need to follow someone else to figure out what the heck is going on, that is fine; but in the end you are going to want to keep your eyes focused internally. Every body is different, so every person doing the same yoga pose looks different. There is no right way. Your way is the right way. Alignment comes from just breathing and listening to your own body.

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This comes over time, but the natural tendency is to keep making small movements to distract ourselves. The idea is to cultivate stillness on the mat. The end of the practice is always a resting pose lying on your back. One instructor told me that the hardest thing for him was to be still during the restorative poses. I agree. But this is also where the relaxation of the mind begins. Yoga was in fact invented as a way to allow deeper meditation.

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Everything in yoga is about breathing. The poses are just an excuse to breathe. That's why doing an hour of child's pose is just fine, as long as you are breathing. Try to increase the volume of air coming in and out of your lungs. If you can, close the back of your throat to give the sound an oceanic quality. During yoga, you literally want to focus your attention on the breath coming in and out of your nostrils. The feeling, the sound, the sensation of that air traveling to your lungs. Nothing else matters.

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Some people love hot yoga from the very first class. For others it takes a little time. I hated my first couple of classes because I tried to do too much. But by the third class I realized that something profound was happening in my body and I began to do less and feel more comfortable in my ability to make it through the flow.

When you are done, there's nothing to do but drink lots of fluid, eat good food, get an amazing night's sleep, and wake up refreshed.

Namaste (I honor the light within you).

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