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In Defense of Super-Long Yoga Classes

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Twice a week, I park on a side street and let myself into a quiet house. I make my way down to the basement where I go into an excruciatingly hot, damp, and dark room. And for nearly two hours, I shake, stretch, groan, and sweat so much I look like I've been hot tubbing in my clothes. Bondage dungeon? Close. It's yoga. And I freaking love it.

The Atlantic recently published a piece called Yoga Classes Should Be Shorter, and I'll admit my first response was, "Yeah I get it, it's a long workout but... she should try my yoga class." Olga Khazan's story hilariously shows how those long yoga classes are desperately out-of-sync with our fast-paced, digital world. Who has time to roll around on a mat doing beginner circus tricks when there are jobs, families, and BuzzFeed quizzes to take? (For the record, I'm a 90-year-old man who has excellent color vision but poor taste in TV.)

"Make no mistake: I love yoga. I would simply like to do less of it when I go," Khazan writes. "I have taken yoga classes of all different lengths in various countries. Never, ever have I left one that lasted 60 minutes and thought, 'Dang! I wish that had been longer.'" She explains that you can get the health benefits of yoga from shorter sessions, that teachers often "pad" long classes with chanting and uncomfortably personal partner poses, and that tradition isn't a good enough reason for extended asanas.

She's not wrong.

Maybe I have yoga Stockholm Syndrome or brain damage from all that hot B.O.-infused air, but unlike my ultra-short Tabata workouts, my hot yoga requires a serious mental, physical, and time commitment. I actually need to put that one on my calendar. As a fellow writer and a mother of four kids, I relate so much to Khazan's busyness. But that's why I need long yoga so much. Left to my own devices I am an ultra-anxious, tightly wound, workaholic who would probably keep typing until my bladder exploded and I died in a puddle of shame and urine. (Hey, that's a thing that can happen. Yes, I worry about weird things.) Forcing myself to take those precious hours and devote them to nothing but breathing reminds me that this meat sack I live in is for more than just doing what other people ask me to do.

Speaking of my many weird anxieties, I've been a card-carrying member of the mentally ill club for almost as long as I can remember. I started out as an anxious kid. My anxiety blossomed into an ulcer in high school, irritable bowel syndrome (the diarrhea kind, in case you're curious) in college, and full-blown panic disorder by my 20s. I tried every medication plus hypnotherapy, talk therapy, and dietary changes—only to discover that "calming" magnesium can also give you explosive diarrhea. And then I discovered yoga. Not to sound too woo-woo, but it changed my life. And it did it by doing the exact thing many people seem to hate about it: Forcing me to focus on breathing regularly for an extended period of time.

Khazan can relate. "But anxious people go to yoga, too—it's how we persuade our therapists that we're trying to get better," she writes. But I'd add that it's not just to persuade our therapists, it really is therapy. Yoga taught me to regulate my intense reactions to normal, everyday things. (Thanks, chronic anxiety!) I haven't needed anxiety meds in nearly a decade, which is saying a lot for someone who lives with four little people who seem determined to kill or maim themselves at every turn, and I give a lot of that credit to yoga (and child-proofing).

Then there are my control issues. There's something so freeing about being someplace where my only responsibilities are to follow basic directions and pay attention to how I feel. I can make up my own workouts—I'm a fitness writer for heaven's sake—but sometimes it's so nice to have someone else tell me what to do. And my yoga teacher kicks my butt. Yeah, there's all the stuff about breathing and shining our heart centers but there's also some serious muscle and balance work that leaves me shaking like a leaf. It gives me great shoulders and glutes, but it has the added bonus of requiring total concentration. Those two workouts a week are the only time I can fully shut off my chattery monkey brain, a gift that is well worth the price of admission.

Could I get these benefits from a shorter yoga class? Perhaps. But I don't think I'd get as much of them as I need for my mental and physical health in 30 minutes. Heck, it takes me a good 20 minutes to unclench, much less start enjoying it. And there's something to be said for pushing back against my oppressively busy schedule. I've learned the hard way that the minutiae of daily life will take as much time as I will give—and I'll still never accomplish everything I want to. My two yoga classes a week are the only time I'm completely unreachable, that I'm not constantly on half-alert for a phone ping. During that time I'm making vital, healing connections with other women and with myself. I need more of that disconnected-connectedness in my crazy life, not less.

There's a perception that taking 90 minutes (or, gasp, 120), for your sanity is selfish, a luxury that only rich, unemployed women can have. That's false. Having space to breathe is a basic human right. My yoga "studio" is a basement (okay, it's a nice basement) and the class is taught by a delightful instructor who asks for donations of whatever you can afford in lieu of payment. Like many things, it's as expensive as you make it; at its core, all yoga requires is a mat and a body.

Yoga just not your thing? Find your dark basement of peace and solace, whatever that may be, and don't let anyone take a minute of that away from you.

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