June 21

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From Killa Beez to Locked Knees: My Journey from 90s Hip Hop to Original Hot Yoga

By Erin Feid

June 21, 2024

blog, hot yoga, yoga, yoga for beginners

I’ve been a peace-loving hippie since childhood, always preferring a calm and quiet environment, so it’s ironic that I shied away from the yoga community for as long as I did. My confidence had been severely broken down throughout my ten-year marriage and so my default assumption in all scenarios was still I’m not good enough. I didn’t have a “yoga body” or a Lululemon budget so I wouldn’t fit in. I assumed that yoga was an elite club I wouldn’t be accepted into; just another place I didn’t belong. To avoid the rejection, I avoided the club.

I was eventually persuaded to try yoga in 2019 when a friend told me about a 90s hip hop black light class at Raffa Yoga in Cranston. 90s hip hop? Now that is for me. As a kid, I used to mail unhinged love letters to LL Cool J, handwritten on my Lisa Frank stationary. I have a Wu-Tang tattoo. I’ve been listening to the same playlists since high school, since they were burned CDs in my Discman. Biggie, Nas, The Fugees, Gang Starr, Lil Kim. 90s hip hop? Say less. I was willing to give this one class a try, if only for the soundtrack and glow sticks. It was the theme that sucked me in, like a nostalgic house party.

I paired my Wu-Tang racerback with bright white leggings to glow under the blacklight. I showed up early and surveyed the parking lot for all the Range Rovers, but I didn’t spot any. In the studio, I scanned the room for all the perfect “yoga bodies” to compare my FUPA to, but soon realized that wasn’t a thing either. There was no particular body type in the room, and nobody was looking at me anyway. Okay, maybe yoga is inclusive and welcoming for everyone, even broke bitches who drive banged up Hondas and binge-eat raw cookie dough. Much like the noticeable rip in the crotch of my cheap new leggings, discovered by a breeze in Happy Baby pose, yoga had caught my attention.

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I became what I refer to as a Groupon Yogi. If I found a fun themed class on Groupon or EventBrite, something quirky or worthy of an Instagram photo op, I’d try it.  I didn’t yet have a consistent practice or a home studio. I only had two weekends a month to myself, so I didn’t want to waste that precious alone time on just any yoga class. The description had to offer something uniquely appealing, like 90s hip hop or baby goats, to get me there. In February of 2020, I saw a Facebook ad for Rhode Island Hot Yoga’s Leap Day special. They were offering free classes on the bonus day of February 29th along with a big promotion to purchase discounted class packages. In this case, it was heat and humidity in the dead of another New England winter that enticed me to try a themeless yoga class. 

I walked into Rhode Island Hot Yoga’s Olneyville studio for the first time on a frigid Saturday morning with my friend Krista, expecting to try hot yoga. I’d never experienced anything quite like the hot room. It was crowded, smelled a bit funky, and my inner germaphobe was anxiously warning me about my neighbors’ sweat flying all over my mat. It turns out the class we took that day was not even yoga. In our hasty excitement, we had failed to pay attention to the class description, which was actually Inferno Hot Pilates (now known as Core Fire Conditioning). I had never attempted a burpee in my life – and especially not in a 105° sauna. I certainly never anticipated becoming certified to teach the class two years later.

leap year yoga

A glutton for punishment (or possibly just manic), I immediately wanted more- so I bought the discounted pack of 29 classes right there on the spot. That same night, I put down my deposit for Rhode Island Hot Yoga’s 2021 Costa Rica wellness retreat. When I told my friends I was traveling to Costa Rica “with my new yoga studio,” no one batted an eye at my impulsivity or questioned my commitment to yoga. After all, I was the same girl who had eloped to Vegas with my first boyfriend when I was 20. All or nothing had kind of been my lifelong schtick. 

I made it to my first actual Original Hot Yoga class soon after. My prior knowledge of hot yoga consisted only of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in which Larry was chastised for his refusal to say “namaste.” At Rhode Island Hot Yoga, we weren’t required to say anything. We only needed to listen as the instructor on the podium talked us through two rounds of twenty-six postures and two breathing exercises. We started with Pranayama breathing, and I thought This is easy enough. I soon realized that the 90-minute sequence was far more rigorous than my previous experience practicing a gentle vinyasa flow in a brewery – but this didn’t even include a free beer! 

Also, where were all the Downward Dogs and Warrior poses? I didn’t recognize most of these postures, and my legs shook through Utkatasana as I attempted to mentally tally how many sets we’d gotten through so far. I was relieved when the teacher announced it was “Party time!” but it turns out that only meant a quick water break between the warmup and the actual class. 

I felt like I was failing a field sobriety test through most of the standing series, and there were a few poses I couldn’t grasp at all. Standing Head to Knee pose? Absolutely not. I simply lifted my knee and stood on one foot like a flamingo, anxiously awaiting a public callout of my blunder. It never came. Nobody was corrected or shamed for knowing their limitations and doing their own thing. A nervous glance around the room proved that everyone was at different stages in their practice, in their flexibility, and it didn’t actually matter if we completed the posture exactly as instructed. Some people were even lying down in their own savasana. “Do what you can with the body you have today,” we were told. That advice has stuck with me ever since. 

I liked tree pose and repeated an extra set instead of attempting toe stand. My favorite part was the two minute savasana that followed – and all the mini savasanas in between the floor postures. I especially enjoyed locust pose and bow pose in the spine strengthening series. Those made me feel incredibly strong. I didn’t understand what the hell was happening with the final breathing exercise and all the clapping, but the teacher promised this was the last of it. By the time class had ended, I was exhausted and drenched in sweat, but I felt invigorated and accomplished; prepared to do it all again the following week. 

There would be no following week. The world, including Rhode Island Hot Yoga’s studio, shut down. Their Costa Rica retreat was indefinitely postponed. I had twenty-something remaining classes on my promo pack and nowhere to go so I borrowed a space heater from my neighbor and turned my ex-husband’s former man cave into my own little hot room. I ordered my yoga décor and pimped out that space with Buddha statues and colorful chakra tapestries. I burned incense and applied an oversized decal to the wall; a silhouette of a woman in lotus pose alongside a mantra. I was going all in. I was a yoga bitch now, pandemic be damned, and so I attended Rhode Island Hot Yoga’s virtual classes on my ancient Mac desktop in my own private sanctuary.

erin virtual yoga

The world was in complete disarray, but I spent my unemployed summer days hiking and swimming with my kids, reading at the beach, connecting with nature and feeling confident in my body again. On a personal level, I was thriving. I landed a new job and truly felt that 2020, despite all the universal fear and tragedy, was my own best year. The Universe then said SIKE when in the final quarter, my dog and my dad both died, back-to-back. My grief was all-consuming, my self-loathing immeasurable. I didn’t return to the yoga studio, or do anything productive or healthy for that matter, for a solid six months.

By summer of 2021, Juliana was now teaching a Hot Yoga Mixtape class, and the concept of practicing Original Hot Yoga set to music for a change caught my interest. That minor update on the class schedule finally got me back to the studio on a Friday evening after work. Lying perfectly still in a final savasana, the distinct sound of Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice filled the room. Only a few notes in, I recognized What a Wonderful World and panic set in. Oh no. Not now. Please not the song I danced to with my father. My grief came rushing back with a vengeance in the form of a panic attack in a yoga studio. I struggled to catch my breath through my sobs as I frantically rolled up my mat and scurried out of the room, careful not to step on anyone in corpse pose. 

Juliana exited the hot room to check on me, understandably confused but always gracious. Between sniffles and gasps, I managed to summarize my musical meltdown while smearing mascara around my wet eyes. I was disgusting and smelly, an absolute mess, but Juliana’s kindness was pure and instantaneous as she offered me a big sweaty hug. This is the community I’d once avoided due to my crippling fear of rejection. This is the place I assumed I didn’t belong. Juliana’s simple gesture of comfort meant more to me than she would ever realize. While I would typically hide in shame after a publicly vulnerable moment like that, I wasn’t afraid to come back. I felt welcomed and supported here, and so I returned on a regular basis. I began to feel at home at Rhode Island Hot Yoga. These were my people. I had found my community.

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Next, I fell deeply in love. When I wasn’t looking, true reciprocated love found me for the first time in life. I discovered a pure happiness and companionship that I felt undeserving of. Any opportunity to be with my soulmate overshadowed my free time for self-care, and so my yoga practice suffered. I prioritized my intense romantic relationship, planning a life and a future with the only man who’s ever made me feel safe, and Rhode Island Hot Yoga took a backseat to my love affair. The timing of their rescheduled wellness retreat, however, was my saving grace when fifteen months after my relationship began, I was coldheartedly dumped and blocked by my own emergency contact. 

Despite being a 36-year-old divorcee, I had not yet visited these soul-shattering depths of hell where heartbreak lives. I had assumed R&B singers were just being dramatic about this pain until I internally resembled a tormented Trey Songz in his Can’t Be Friends video. The sudden loss of this relationship compounded with my pre-existing grief and unhealthy relationships with men, and I could barely survive it. My only hope was this prepaid ticket to Costa Rica two months later.  

A week of serenity and holistic healing was exactly what my weary heart needed at that time; to be surrounded by nature and my fellow yogis, not by reminders of him. This was my condensed Eat, Pray, Love trip and it could not have come at a more crucial time for me. I found it difficult to ruminate on my heartbreak while white-water rafting and ziplining through paradise. Mother Nature had a beautiful way of putting life into perspective, reminding me that I can’t possibly attend my own pity party while hiking across suspended bridges in the Villa Lapas Reserve. I can’t focus on hating myself when there are baby sloths involved. For seven days, I was living high atop a mountain in Alajuela and 4,000 miles away from the man who broke my heart.

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Not only did this retreat with Rhode Island Hot Yoga reconnect me with nature, it also strengthened my commitment and passion for my yoga practice; my one constant in life. Classmates I had never spoken with back in Providence had become my close friends in Alajuela; fellow yogis turned confidants over glasses of organic wine in the hot tub under the stars.  I found my people. Inspired by a statue on Hacienda la Chimba’s 9k Mantra Trail, I added a dainty Buddha tattoo to my arm: a souvenir from my trip and a permanent reminder to embrace my suffering. On a continued journey toward spiritual healing, I meditated at the Providence Zen Center. I vowed to never again ditch my yoga practice, or my values, in the name of love. These postures may challenge me, but they would never hurt me like a man could. 

Back in the hot room full-time, my practice became an integral part of my life. I marked every scheduled class in my planner as an important healthcare appointment, and I began to crave it on the days I missed. My progress was visibly measurable in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, the positive effects of my consistent practice evident in my latest eagle pose. My strength was noticeably improving, my stamina growing, my tears subsiding. I threw my bathroom scale in the trash, along with my Apple Watch and every other gift from my ex. I focused only on what mattered in the present; moments like spending Thanksgiving morning in a Grateful Dead themed hot yoga class, practicing Trikinasana to Ripple with the people I am most grateful for. Moments like this are the culmination of what my yoga journey means most to me, my reminder that everything is going to be okay. 

Looking ahead at my reflection in the studio mirror, my eyes widened as I saw that I had both knees locked in Dandayamana Janu Sirsasana for the first time. I had completely missed the subtle progress I’d been making in this posture. I distinctly remember only being able to hold my knee up in Costa Rica. I was positive I hadn’t gotten my leg straight yet, and that was only a few months prior. I had gradually improved without noticing. My jaw dropped when I discovered that was me in the mirror. I experienced that “Holy shit. I’m actually doing it!” feeling, reminiscent of my inner child pedaling for her life without training wheels for the first time. That proud and terrifying moment of realizing my parent had let go of my bike and I’m in control now. This posture, much like that core childhood memory, becomes a metaphor for life.

erin standing head to knee

 Yoga: Come for the 90s hip hop and free beer. Stay for the self-love and empowerment. 

Erin Feid

About the author

Yogacentric freelance writer and soul searcher at stonedinsavasana.com. MFA candidate in Bay Path University's Creative Nonfiction Writing graduate program. Crazy Gemini.

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