Left, Hot Zen owner & teacher Kathy Ran; right, teacher Kirsty Sadler

Begin Where You Are

3rd January 2014

Jill Glenn heats up and slows down…

i turn up for my first session at the newly opened Hot Zen Yoga & Pilates Studio on Bushey High Street somewhat grudgingly. I’m not feeling great; I’ve ‘far more important’ things to be doing, and, anyway, I don’t like yoga…

…but it would be churlish to back out now, so it is with reluctant acceptance of my own limitations that I throw on some ragged old leggings and a t-shirt and stand on a borrowed mat. And it turns out that acceptance is a pretty good place to start.

‘Begin where you are,’ says Hot Zen’s owner, Kathy Ran, an American with an easy, welcoming attitude; a flexible way of moving that I can only covet; and around 15 years experience in teaching yoga, in the UK and back home in Florida. ‘Begin where you are’ is one of those deceptively simple statements that contain some real truths but to the uninitiated can come across as psychobabble. On this occasion, though, I appear to be ready to hear and internalise and just do it.

You see, this is not yoga as I’ve known it before (and that only in limited fashion, to be entirely honest). This is not yoga in cold church halls, where your limbs never warm up, and the only reason to move is to avoid the draughts under the door; this is not quasi-competitive yoga with serried ranks of stick-thin women all doing better than you. This is, Kathy is keen to stress, yoga without ego and ‘the prize is in the process.’

The Hot Yoga 60 ‘routine’ that I’m trying out is an hour-long class of 26 poses, plus breathing exercises and ending in savasana (total relaxation). It’s based on the series by Bikram Choudhury who devised the concept of hot yoga. It takes place here in a studio heated to 38º, so that the muscles are more supple and the inside and outside of the body are brought into balance.

And I love it. I don’t particularly love the sight of my red-faced ungainly self in the mirror, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m suspicious of the heat but I soon find that the heat is not my enemy; far from it. The heat is my friend: loosening me up, warming my muscles, increasing flexibility.

The hot yoga experience challenges all my preconceptions. Slow? Meditative? This is effectively a workout: surprisingly fast and instructional, and, quite frankly, way more demanding physically than I’d anticipated – but it’s a workout that acts on your mind as well as your body; it’s a place to be yourself, to find inner strength. As we stretch and hold and bend and breathe, Kathy rattles through the names of the poses and their benefits: there’s the Half Moon Pose that trims hips, thighs, buttocks and stomach, and improves the flexibility of the spine; there’s the Eagle Pose that flushes out the kidneys, the Half Tortoise Pose that’s great for the digestion, the Rabbit Pose that releases tension in neck, shoulders and back. Overall, it’s a prescription for health – and a revelation.

Since my one-to-one session with Kathy I’ve signed up, and taken part in several classes, often with mixed emotions. The postures can be hard and a voice in my head repeatedly asks me what on earth I think I’m doing there – but almost without exception the first thing I think (and frequently say) when class finishes is ‘Oh, I enjoyed that.’ It’s utterly beguiling and I can feel it doing me good.

‘Yoga is a practice and the more you practice the better you become.’ I can’t think of a more suitable philosophy with which to start this New Year...

See www.hotzenyoga.co.uk for more info. Kathy has a range of membership options to ensure that classes are available to all.

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