Two years ago, a clueless, wide-eyed girl clutching a second-hand yoga mat and a Groupon entered The Hot Room studio. I can still remember Mary Beth’s warm voice encouraging me in that first class to “go back, fall back, way back, more back,” and the panicked voice in my head responding, “THAT’S NOT PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE.” Hot yoga was supposed to be a six-week placeholder in my life; a way to lose a couple pounds and improve flexibility while I healed from a running injury. Hot yoga was not supposed to become a daily practice and it certainly wasn’t supposed to develop into a character-building lifestyle that would challenge and change every aspect of my life.

Yoga has taught me how to read myself. My mat has become my barometer. How my body feels during a class tells me if I’m drinking enough water, eating enough of the right foods, and getting enough sleep. I’ve learned how to interpret if the shaking is my body saying, “We’re growing stronger, get it girl!” or “We do not have that capacity today, dial it down.” I’ve gained an ability to decipher the pain of “Uggggh, I don’t wanna do that,” versus “You’re going to hurt yourself; stop, breathe, adjust.” Surprisingly, there’s even something about struggling through class that often reveals where I’m struggling in other areas of my life. The practice of yoga can be weirdly clarifying. I’ve lost count of how many sweat-induced personal epiphanies I’ve reached in the middle of a Chaturanga.

When my friends ask why, as a poor starving medical student, I’m willing to commit so much of my budget to a yoga membership, I laugh and tell them that hot yoga is actually cheaper and healthier than drinking my way through my problems.

Like most good things in life, yoga will only help you if you choose to let it help you. I came to The Hot Room at a time in my life where I was not taking care of myself physically, mentally, or emotionally. I thought I could compartmentalize everything into separate boxes, and I approached yoga with the same attitude. I spent MONTHS egotistically trying to push and pull my body into poses for the pure purpose of looking like I was strong and sexy and “mastering” yoga. David was the first one to actively challenge my approach. Instead of merely reciting the OHY manual, he would non-judgmentally walk around the room and work through specific poses with individuals – deepening not just their practice, but every practice in the room. It was through these gentle observations that I realized in my efforts to compartmentalize looking good on the outside, rather than work on the inside, I was coming at it all wrong. It was deeply humbling to realize that I had to go back to the very beginning – my breath.

Yoga has also taught me how to look foolish. I have a tremendous fear of failure. I would admiringly watch other yogis try on poses I was far too scared to attempt. Laurie was the first to help me overcome that hurdle. She didn’t just give me windows of time to play in vinyasa, she made me actually try ‘scary’ things like Bird of Paradise and Side Crow. She talked the entire class through the steps to make it less scary and warmly reminded us it was okay to fall on our butts. She gave me both the knowledge and courage to try new things as well as the grace to not mind if I looked foolish while trying.

As a hardcore introvert, I am easily intimidated by beautiful, talented people – so I was essentially scared of the entire THR team when I arrived. It took about a hundred classes to start emerging from my introverted turtle shell. When I finally did, however, I was amazed by the warmth with which I was met. Now, when Katie or Regan ask at the front desk how I’m doing, I know they’re not just being polite, they’re kind, genuine people who actually care.

When Caitlin yells “Yay you’re here!” in the locker room or Lukas begins class with “I’m excited you made it,” I know those aren’t just words from a script, they really mean it. When back-row warriors: Tammy, Roger, and Mary Beth yell out encouragement during pilates, their energy keeps me going when all I want to do is collapse. When Libby or Katie G. offer assists during vinyasa, they’re not silently judging, “Wow this girl’s hips are all wonky.” they’re celebrating with me if my practice deepens by so much as a millimeter in the right direction. When Lindsey and Laura challenge my mentality with sentences like, “acknowledge the distraction and then let it go,” or, “Krista, you need to trust the teacher and stop bringing a stopwatch into pilates to track how long the planks last,” I know those words come from a genuine desire to help me grow.

Thanks to the environment The Hot Room has created, almost every time I push out of my turtle shell and engage with neighbors on my mat, in the locker room, and at the front desk, I am met with success. (One time I’m pretty sure a guy thought I was hitting on him instead of trying to encourage him in his practice – but hey, you live, and you learn).

Now I belong to an entire community of people encouraging and supporting one another. Honestly, I don’t even know many of their names, but I know we are all a part of my community – a community that is there for each other in the good and the bad.

CJ never complains if I call and ask him to switch my class schedule at the last minute. When I confessed to Stephanie that I couldn’t figure out how to sign up for March Madness, she didn’t just tell me what to do, she pulled it up on her phone and walked me through it step-by-step. After my mom drowned last year, Hye Jin caught me at my very first class back in the studio and pulled me into a tremendous hug. Erin kept a quiet, watchful eye on me for months after the funeral, and when I broke down crying in the middle of her class, she was there in an instant. She not only took care of me during class, she took the time after class to sit with me in the grief and the pain so that I wouldn’t have to face it alone.

So here we are, today is my 500th class. I’ve lost a lot and I’ve gained a lot more. Falling ‘way back, more back’ still isn’t my favorite pose, but I’m not afraid of it anymore. The Hot Room has equipped me with the tools to replace fear with curiosity, unhealthy compartmentalization with mindfulness, and pride with humor and grace. Plus, hot yoga has given me abs. Character building and core strength, what more could I ask for?

Krista Jackson, Team Hot Room Member.