There are pod people among us.
They come from across the city and congregate near the lakeshore. Inside the pods, their bodies, lithe and slick with sweat, twist and contort with synchronicity, hived-off from the dangers of the pandemic. Like hamsters inside invisible wheels that go nowhere, they do mountain climbers, jacks, burpees, sweating singularly, inside the safety of their pods.
No, this is not “The X-Files.” This is Lmnts Outdoor Studio at Stanley Barracks near Hotel X at Exhibition Place. It’s yoga, Pilates and other fitness classes inside a clear plastic dome, one person per dome, 50 domes available per class. The idea is that it allows for safe, socially distanced classes with the benefits of a hot room. Those who are used to the benefits of practising in a hot room haven’t had the opportunity since yoga studios closed in March due to COVID-19.
The clear plastic domes are large enough for one person, and their mat, towel and water. It creates a greenhouse effect, light and heat go in but don’t go out. Domes are preassigned and classes are prepaid, so there’s no wandering around looking for a spot, potentially spreading germs around. Everyone has their temperature taken as they go in and entry is controlled so everyone always keeps a safe distance.
My first class was called “Full Body Sweat,” described as “full body circuits involving bodyweight, light resistance training and cardio.” I was worried about visibility but since the domes are clear and the teachers are elevated on a stage, you can see everything.
It was an intense workout, fast-paced with lots of cardio, working out different areas; arms, legs and abs. I was sore the next day, always a sign of a good workout but though I haven’t been in a hot studio since March, I found the heat totally manageable.
But I was really looking forward to the “Original Hot Yoga” class I had scheduled for the following day. I wanted the sequence with which I’m familiar. For this class my dome was in the shade, but since it was during a heat wave, and it was high noon it was still hot, (though I could have handled hotter.)
I’ve been practising hot yoga in various forms for more than 15 years and I’ve found it’s improved my chronic back pain by promoting flexibility. I love the heat and find health benefits in sweating it out. So while I’ve been doing Zoom classes in my living room, the opportunity to get in a hot room, or something like it, was appealing. But what I didn’t realize I missed the most was my yoga community. I’ve been going to Beaches Hot Yoga for about five years and I take Inferno Hot Pilates, a HIIT (high intensity interval training) class that uses Pilates principles, as well as Hot Yoga, a series of 26 postures with two breathing exercises. Teachers there know me, they know my injuries, they know what weights I should be using and where in the room I like to put my mat. And when you go to the same classes each week, you start to know your fellow students and you develop friendships that go beyond talking about yoga and Pilates.
As I settled into my dome I spotted someone I recognized from my Beaches studio. She wasn’t someone I ever talked to but I knew the face and wondered if she recognized me. I never managed to get her attention, and we were asked not to congregate after the class, but I realized that I was missing that interaction. And being in a dome, in a sea of domes just makes the sense of isolation we’re all feeling, all the more palpable. Like if something is completely off-limits you can accept that, but if it’s just out of reach, it bothers you more. Which made me sad, but maybe I’m just not a pod person.
Or, as my teacher for that class Melanie Chung explained, it’s not about one-on-one connections, it’s about collective energy.
“Energy is one of the most beautiful things about yoga,” she said. She says she picks up on the collective energy when she sees people are listening and following her cues. Whether in a hot room, or with the pods, she tries to get that connection to help her gauge skill levels, and she can tell when people are tuned in.
So for my next class, “Hot HIIT Pilates” I tried to focus on the idea of collective energy.
It was 32C that day, the sun was high in the sky, the air was still. It was hot. Though the heat didn’t intimidate me in the first two classes, now I was worried. All of the pods have a fan though and I turned mine on low to get a little air flow. And as soon as the class started there was no time to worry about being hot.
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As I tried to keep up amid the sequences of walk-outs, bridges, bicycles and lunges, I looked around at my fellow pod people. It was tough and sweaty and we were all just working as hard as we could. Some people went outside their domes and just found a spot on the grass.
The class went by quickly and as I lingered in my pod to do some stretches, I saw smiles on every face as they departed. Being pushed to a physical limit creates the sense that you’ve been through something, that we were all challenged and prevailed. Perhaps this was the collective energy I was seeking.
And perhaps it’s true as they teach in yoga, no matter where you are or the lengths you take to stay safe, each one of us is creating our own reality as well as the collective reality—inside and outside the pod.
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