I was wrong. Here’s 4 reasons why trying hot yoga changed my mind.
I’m in my forties and about as flexible as a concrete brick. I don’t like group workouts. I hate humidity. Stretching is something I routinely skip.
And then I ended up in the hospital for four days when my back went out. Diagnosis: “You are as flexible as a concrete brick and your back muscles basically paid you back for 40+ years of neglect.”
Fast forward a few months. Many weeks of chiropractor visits and physical therapy. Something needed to change.
The look on my spouse’s face was almost disbelief when I said I was going to try hot yoga. You have to understand. For as long as I can remember, I made fun of people doing yoga. I was a rabid anti-yogite.
But severe pain has a way of making you reevaluate.
So, with some hesitation (okay, extreme hesitation) and embarrassment, I found myself at the hot yoga studio.
I was a fish out of water. Anyone who knew me well wouldn’t even believe that I was doing this. They’d be more likely to believe I robbed a bank. I took a picture just to have proof.
Then I entered the 104 degree room with a bunch of limber people. It was like I was choosing of my own will to enter into my personal Hades.
Then everything changed.
Reason 1: It’s only hot if you believe it is.
I was struggling to breathe. I couldn’t believe I had put myself into this situation. It was like I was in a car in July in Houston. What was I thinking? I pretty much felt like I was suffocating.
As a last minute coping mechanism, I pictured myself lying at a beach. Sun shining, salty, humid air. 75 classes later that is still my visual when I first lay on my mat. All of the sudden instead of gasping for air, I am basking in the sunlight. The hot room didn’t scare me anymore. I embraced the sweat, the drenched towel, the sticky mat.
Reason 2: You don’t have to be flexible to do yoga.
They tell you not to worry about what anyone else is doing and just focus on doing what you can do. That was good advice since for most of the poses I couldn’t do much. Really.
They say the heated yoga helps you stretch even more since it softens your muscles. Over time I found that each time I went I could do just a little more. I went from concrete brick to wooden plank to maybe even a plastic rod. It didn’t matter that everyone else was twisting like a piece of licorice. I was being the best me.
I hit a break through about a year after I started, when I was able to do a certain pose that I had never imagined I could do. Blew my mind.
I still don’t consider myself above average flexible by any means, but I can tell you my back is a lot looser and I’ve broken through personal barriers.
Reason 3: You learn to breathe better.
It took a while, but I learned a little secret about yoga. It’s all about breathing. In through the nose, out though the nose. I have to admit, I thought this was silly the first few times, but since then I’ve learned two things.
First, the nose is only a passageway. So many times when we feel we can’t breathe in life, we focus too much on the nose itself. Visualizing the air passing through the nose into the lungs was a game-changer. Try it. Breathe through your nose focusing on the air in your nose and then breathe again through your nose but focusing on the air passing through your throat into your lungs. It works.
Second, focusing on breathing itself can help you get through really hard things, more than just a hard yoga pose. I find myself focusing on my breathing in stressful meetings at work. On a long run. Even when I’m tensing up watching an action thriller on the big screen. Yoga teaches you to breathe. I have less congestion now as well. Bonus benefit.
Reason 4: It’s all your head. Really.
As former disbeliever doing yoga regularly now for more than year. I think the biggest reason I was wrong is that I pictured the practice of yoga as entirely physical. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Yoga is about clearing your thoughts and retraining your mind. We let go of inhibitions, stereotypes and hesitations that have been engrained in our brains for many years.
I find myself going to do yoga now more for the mind-clearing element and stress relief than for the physical stretching. There is something powerful about looking at the ceiling tiles of a hot room and trying not to think about anything. Letting it all go.
We tell ourselves we can’t. We tell ourselves we shouldn’t. It’s about time we tell ourselves we can and should. Yoga has helped me do that in a way I never thought I could before.
I’ll never be a yoga instructor or a model yoga student. I’m so not the typical person who practices yoga — far from it. But I have to admit I was wrong about yoga.
If you are like me, give it a try. You may find you were wrong too.