The smell of sweet lemon grass immediately envelops my senses as I push through the glass paneled front door. The warm air wafting out of the hot room is a welcome relief from the brisk weather.

The entrance is bright and airy with a hot tea maker atop a refurbished chest of drawers against the far right wall — giving it a relaxing spa-like feel. It’s a small space, full of members sitting on the benches and chatting with one another like old friends while they remove their shoes before the class begins. The desk has a large computer for signing in members, but the instructor doesn’t need to ask for names since she knows all the regulars and greets them with a warm smile.

This feeling of belonging is why I come back to Hot Yoga on 17th every week.

“It’s a real pleasure to be a part of their journey, and to get to know people and see them coming back all the time is the most rewarding thing ever,” Andrea Naderi, a manager and instructor says.

Naderi fell in love with practicing hot yoga since she left her job after her first maternity leave 12 years ago. The owners of the studio then offered her full-time work as a manager and instructor at both locations. Naderi has been with the studios for the last five years.

I walk down the short hallway into the change room past the hot room and buckets of multi-coloured weights, all of which are illuminated by twinkling lights hanging from the ceiling. Once in the change room, I hang up my coat on one of the many hooks that are around the room above solid wooden benches. Unlike a typical change room, there are no lockers and everything is out in the open to symbolize the amount of trust clients have with one another. Grabbing my mat, towels and a huge jug of water, I head into the hot room.

Hot yoga is more than just a trendy new workout for me; it has become a place where I go when I’m feeling homesick, cheerful or stressed. It is a refuge where I can gather my thoughts and be with like-minded people. Everyone smiles and says hello, even though we don’t always know each other’s names.

In a city of roughly 1.2 million people, it can be hard to find where you belong — especially if you weren’t born and raised in Calgary. Coming into Hot Yoga On 17th is like visiting a small town; it’s where members from all corners of the city come to stretch, breathe and connect with one another.

The business has two locations: one on 17th Avenue and one in Crowfoot. Both offer a variety of classes for anyone looking for a new way to sweat.

“I just taught a class at Crowfoot,” Sukhwinder Uppal says. “It was amazing watching all these people from all different sort of walks of life and different stories and histories.”

Uppal is one of the instructors who teaches at both studios and has been teaching for a combined 14 years. She began her hot yoga journey before there were many studios in Calgary and now is exclusive to Hot Yoga On 17th and Crowfoot. She beams with excitement when talking about yoga and her two children. She says what she loves most about the studio is the energy.

During this particular Friday class there are members of all types attending. As I lay in shavasana or corpse pose on my mat, I notice a lady around the same age as my mom set her mat down behind me. On the other side is an extremely fit woman in her thirties stretching in ways that look incredibly painful, yet her face is a picture of serenity. I see an older looking couple helping each other to touch their toes. I have never been in a place that includes so many different types of people who all genuinely care about one another. There is something special about being part of a community, and the company really helps everyone feel as if they belong.

This large chalkboard sign hangs outside the hot room reminding members that hot yoga isn’t an indulgence, but a necessity. Photo by Alannah Page

“The yoga community is really accepting and so you don’t have to be fancy or really flexible or really anything — just willing to show up,” Uppal says.

I keep that advice in mind as I balance on my right leg and grip all 10 fingers around my left foot trying desperately to push myself into straightening my left leg all the way. My hands slip and I stumble, not so gracefully, out of the pose.

It’s that sense of community and acceptance that keeps clients coming back. Warren Phipps, 37, is a business owner and father of three who has been a regular after being persuaded by a friend to try the 30-day challenge the studio was offering. Despite being a hot yoga veteran from a different studio, he spent the majority of his class laying down on the mat. It’s that unique challenge that has him coming back five to seven times a week.

Hot yoga can bring up many emotions for people and not just the ones you feel from staring at yourself contorting in sweaty leggings for an hour. Hot yoga brings out a certain amount of vulnerability for each person that practices and it affects everyone differently. Phipps understands exactly what it means to come to terms with yourself through the practice of yoga.

“Going that much [to yoga] broke me down and built me back up again. There were days … I would lay on the floor of my house and cry after a yoga class,” Phipps says.

Sitting up on my knees with my head falling backward I reach my hands to the backs of my feet. I am entering one of my favourite poses — camel. With my chest facing the ceiling, I feel exposed and defenceless — emotions I would normally shy away from. If there’s anywhere it’s safe to be vulnerable it’s here because everyone looks out for one another.

In fact one afternoon following a class, a lady’s car was about to be towed for parking in the wrong spot in front of the studio. Everyone from the class was showering and changing, but one man happened to glance out the window and saw the blue hatchback about to be taken away.

“This gentleman who was standing with me ran out there, paid the fine for this gal and asked really nicely if they could not tow the car,” Naderi recalls.

As I roll up my mat and head out into the cool air of the change room, I feel lighter and more balanced, almost as if I can tackle any problem I will face today. Though everyone’s practice is different, what keeps me coming back is the familiar faces and the strong sense of empowerment I feel when I walk back out into a bright afternoon.

apage@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article was Tayari Skey, tskey@cjournal.ca