Yoga practices go back more than 5000 years. It originated in India. The word yoga means to join together the mind and the body. It naturally incorporates breathing, exercise, and meditation. There are thousands of poses that we hold for a short time. Physical yoga is meant to be a system of getting us ready for Yoga, with a capital Y. When we get the body ready to settle down through movement we are preparing for sitting and meditating for a while. Yoga with a capital Y is meditation.
My favorite type of yoga is Hot Yoga, 26/2 series. It has been my favorite style to practice for 9 years. Hot yoga is a guided 90 minute class in a room that is heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity at 46%. There are 26 poses repeated twice and two breathing exercises. I sweat profusely during class, and usually I drink at least half of a gallon of water during practice.
My first class went something like this: I walked into the studio and it was eerily quiet. I thought it was an exercise class, not a meditation center! Then I went into the yoga room itself. I almost passed out from the stinky smell of sweaty feet and socks. There are no shoes or socks allowed in the area where yoga was practiced, so I knew it came from the buckets of sweat pouring off of the people practicing. Maybe it was the carpet absorbing the funk for years. When I asked about the odor, the staff said they steam cleaned the carpet daily. It is part of the culture of the environment, I guess. The room was damn hot too. The more people that showed up, the higher the room temperature got. It got up past 112 degrees.
I loved the fact that I was finally warm all over, from the inside out, from my bones to my skin! (After losing my chunk of weight, I was cold so often that I bought the biggest, baddest electric blanket I could find.) The class was hard and I perspired more than I had ever done before, with even more sweat dripping off of me than when I ran a marathon! Then, after my first class, I needed a nap.
Something clicked in me. A new challenge! I was not going to let the stink and exhaustion win. I went back a few times that week. After about three weeks the odor magically didn’t exist in my senses anymore, and exhaustion transformed into exhilaration. I am excited each night now to prepare my yoga bag for the next morning. On occasion, when I sleep only a few hours a night due to scheduling challenges, it is a complete deep sleep, and it leaves me satisfied and ready for more yoga.
The poses are meant for beginners. Every class is vocally instructed in the exact same way. It is up to practitioner to decide how far to push themselves. One gets more advanced by pushing deeper into the poses. Muscles are held tightly and blood flow is constricted, followed by release, and then fresh oxygenated blood travels rapidly to that area of the body. This is a high intensity cardio workout as well because when we grip with all of our God given power to our maximum capacity, the heart rate goes way up.
Stomach, stomach, stomach. The teachers emphasize tightening the abdomen throughout almost every pose to protect the lower back. This is beneficial to my body image and self esteem as well because the results are fabulous looking abdominal muscles. Strong abdominal muscles support the back muscles. I have recently seen tiny bulges of muscle in between my larger muscles, all over my body. (I have muscles. Even my muscles have muscles!) Hot yoga definitely supports the parts of our physique that some sports and exercise routines overlook. I’m over a half century old and I am as flexible as I was when I was in my late teens. Hot yoga never gets easier either! Every class is different depending upon my food and water intake, my mood, my quality of sleep, my work effort, etc. I keep waiting for it to become a breeze, yet it never does.
Some things I have noticed after more than 9 years of hot yoga are: my sweat does not sting my eyes anymore, I rarely catch a cold or flu, I heal rather rapidly from cuts and bruises, my menstruation does not provide me with mood swings, and I have a complete, restful sleep. I wake up thoroughly refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Hot yoga is a part of my regime, but not my complete routine. It prepares me for walking, spinning, weight training, hiking, and serving food and beverages as a server for six to eight hours in the evenings.
I heartily encourage everybody to search and experiment with many forms of physical movement. See what makes you happy for any amount of time each day. A happy exerciser will spill some of that happiness onto someone else. That contagious energy is a gift to somebody who may have just needed a jolt of love at that very moment. If you are not a loner by nature (and we humans are social creatures...), enlist others to join you. There is power in numbers and a sense of accountability too. Making plans with somebody else on their road to health and fitness may just push you to suit up and show up. That is one step closer to your superior self.