I’ve spent a lot of my life self-medicating through exercise. I grew up with football, wrestling, soccer and skiing. In college I took up rugby and martial arts, then ended up doing marathons, triathlons and ultra-marathons. I wasn’t very good at any of it, but I always tried really, really hard. I sustained a lot of damage along the way, and now that I’m older all those injuries cause a fair amount of ambient discomfort. So after several years of having doctors, physical therapists and my wife tell me yoga was the best way to avoid being in pain for the rest of my life, I decided to give it a shot.

I did a lot of research. I was looking for a form of yoga that didn’t piss me off – something that emphasized the physical effort and minimized the kiss-ass second hand spirituality I’d (maybe unfairly?) associated with the west coast practice of the discipline. I’m not, you see, a Zen kind of guy. So I chose a form of hot yoga that sounded fairly mainstream and physical. I wanted less time contemplating the universe, and more time stretching and strengthening my body.

The kind of yoga I’d signed up for was practiced in a hot room. A very, very hot room.    Walking into the big, mirror-ringed yoga studio the first thing I noticed was the heat; a stifling, wet heat that felt like the inside of a tea pot. I don’t know how much time other people spend working out in humid, hundred and five degree heat, but for me it was a new and shocking experience.

The second thing I noticed was the smell. A lot of people sweat in that room, and even though they all have their own mats and towels it was obvious that an unwholesome amount of their drippings made it onto the floor. I revised my opinion. The studio wasn’t like the inside of a tea pot, it was like the inside of someone else’s armpit.

I had planned on wearing running shorts and a tee shirt, even though their website suggested men wear only shorts. A quick traverse of the studio floor convinced me to ditch the shirt. Unrolling my mat I snuck a glance at my fellow students, who were sprawled on their backs as though felled by a bolt gun or massive stroke. In that infernal heat, I had reason to worry about them. My own breath was labored, and even though I knew it was irrational I wondered if oxygen was being cooked out of the atmosphere. Like a man in a burning building, I dropped to the floor to find cooler air. That is when I noticed the fans whirling frantically above me, blowing the hottest ceiling air straight down on my singed nostrils. Panic tickled the corners of my brain as I lay on the mat trying to be peaceful. I fought the anxiety, breathing slowly with my eyes closed. I told myself I could do it. I did my Kegels. I pictured my muscles relaxing. Calm – or at least the absence of panic – came over me. I found my happy place. I smiled and opened my eyes.

As I fought my urge to flee, the studio filled up. Students were forced to lay out mats cheek to jowl. Most of the women sported spandex short-shorts and minimalist jog bras. The guys showed more variety, with some in running shorts while others tried knee length surf shorts and some disrespectful and vain bastards went for spandex.  One proud old dude rocked his tighty whities.

While I appreciated the desire to minimize clothing in that terrible furnace of a room, I gotta say that ninety percent of us should not have exposed so much of ourselves in public. Even if you’re reasonably fit, clothes go a long way toward hiding your body’s flaws; the saggy ass, the flaps of gut skin, the varicose veins, arm flab, callused knees, man boobs, bacne, c section scars, and the ubiquitous, wobbling, hanging curtains of fat. Looking around that room as class began and we all stood up I thought There is such a thing as too much knowledge. I caught a glimpse of myself in the front mirror, and my disgust turned inward. Do I really look like that?  Am I really that old, bald and stocky? Bummer.

My horrified contemplation of my own imperfections was quickly pushed aside by the exertions of yoga. The instructor said we would warm up with a simple breathing exercise that involved locking the hands under the chin and pulling our elbows skyward as we breathed in.  Simple, though I noticed everyone else’s elbows went much higher than mine on the in-breath.  No problem, I thought.

The instructor said, “As you breathe out, tip your head back and pull your elbows together in front of your chin.

Not so simple. Tipping my head back was fine, but my elbows stopped about eight inches apart. Shit, I thought, I can’t even do the warm up. My shoulders buzzed and twitched as I strained, but my elbows came no closer together. Sweat poured off me, stinging my eyes. I tried very hard not to grunt.

As the class wore on, I continuously failed to strike the poses described by our instructor.  In fact, I failed to even approximate most of the postures. My shoulders were ferociously tight, to be sure. My quads and hamstrings were also pretty bad. My wrists and ankles were laughably inflexible, and the lack of rigidity in my damaged back was just plain sad. But my ass was tightest of all.

My ass defined inflexibility. My butt cheeks were the Platonic ideal of tightness. Put coal in my bum and get a diamond? No problem. To say I had a tight ass would not even come close to describing the stone-like fixity of my gluteals; it would be like saying that lava is on the warm side, or that great white sharks are not very cuddly. My butt was hard and tight as a block of forged steel frozen in a glacier.

It turns out, yoga requires a bendable bum.

Still, I struggled through the class as best I could, keeping myself motivated by visualizing a return to total back health. I pictured myself playing with my sons, pain free – and salsa dancing with my wife without moving like a broken robot. The heat was a punishment, and on several occasions I got so light-headed I nearly passed out.

Over-heated and strained as I was, I still shamelessly oggled some of the semi-nude, glistening women around me. I’m not proud of that behavior, but there you have it; the human eye is drawn to beauty – which is why none of the women were looking back at me.

Not only am I stocky, old and hairy; I was also, at that moment, sweating so hard I was dribbling like an in-home water feature. After a few minutes of class I had noticed a steady dripping noise, as though someone left a faucet partially turned on.  Wow, I thought, somebody is sweating like a hog. It took me longer than it should have to realize that the faucet was me.

For a long time I thought the culprit was Underpants Guy. Whenever we stood up straight between postures sweat cascaded off his body, pattering onto his mat. His tighty whities were so saturated they’d become see-through (which was gross) and he’d developed a veritable wading pool around himself. The guy was practically swimming in his own greasy toxins. I decided I wasn’t the most unappealing guy in the room.

As I attempted to catch my breath after yet another failed attempt at a posture (my tree pose was more of a twisted little shrub pose) I watched Underpants Guy leaking onto the floor and smiled. At least I’m not as sweaty and gross as that guy, I thought. That’s when I caught a gleam of sunlight reflecting off my personal sweat pond. It was bigger than his.

While Undies kept up a steady drip drip drip between postures, I had an almost constant stream running off me. Sweat pooled up so badly in my area that my mat squelched and gurgled when I shifted my weight. Pale, hairy, and be-slimed as I was, I looked like some Neanderthal plucked from the mouth of a saber tooth tiger. I finally saw that Underpants Guy was not the most disgusting person in the room; that honor was mine.

As if it wasn’t bad enough to feel old and broken, I could now add disgustingly sweaty to my list of physical failings. I looked away from Underpants Guy and all the women in the room, and turned my gaze inward to the damaged and unappealing old man inside me. I realized that time was cruel, and though I would be increasingly old and ugly (and sweaty) I should at least do what I could to avoid being in pain all the time. If yoga was part of that effort, so be it.