As many of you know, I recently completed a month of hot yoga. In 30 days, I attended 21 classes. Not a bad effort at all!
This is going to sound completely cheesy and over the top but the month of yoga really transformed me. Although I definitely felt a physical benefit, the main positives for me were mental. By the end of it, however, I did start to feel a little overtrained as it was a lot of additional exercise to add to my regular routine. That said, I do think yoga or some kind of stretching should make up part of your exercise regime, for the following reasons.
- Increased flexibility/mobility: Having spent most of my life as a dancer, I am more flexible than most. However, weight training has really tightened my muscles up over the past few years and I’ve lost a lot of my flexibility. My hips and calves are chronically tight and I definitely saw an improvement over the course of the month, which had a positive carry-over to my squats in particular. It also helped a lot with relieving DOMS.
- Reduced headaches: This is also likely due to being off of the pill once again, but I definitely reduced the amount of tension in my neck and shoulders I tend to carry, which meant I didn’t have a single headache in December.
- Bodyweight mastery: During my last week, I finally managed to hold crow pose! While I can do a lot of the balances fairly easily, I never thought I’d be able to do crow pose. The only pose I can’t do is any kind of headstand, but that’s because of my eye (see below). I also saw a decent improvement in core strength.
- Extreme sweat: Some people are turned off by the germs floating around in hot yoga, but I loved feeling super sweaty. Some of the classes were unbearably hot and I had sweat dripping in my eyes, but for the most part it felt good. I am under no illusion that all that sweat means I’m burning thousands of calories, but I’m not exactly doing it for the workout aspect.
- Individualised practice: I love that yoga can be tailored to each person’s level, and there is no competitiveness between participants.
- Mental clarity: This is probably the biggest benefit to me. I was dealing with a few different personal dramas in December and yoga made me feel completely calm about what was happening. I would often arrive at class with a million thoughts racing around my head but I was able to shut them off. The instructor often started class with some inspiring words to focus on for the duration of the class (my last class, for example, was all about thinking about accepting the events of 2014, embracing your present situation and making changes to secure a happy future in 2015). I ended up in tears in savasana more times than not (I hear this is quite common, so don’t judge me)!
- Relaxation: While it may sound boring, just focusing on breathing in and out for 60 to 90 minutes is incredibly relaxing. It was akin to the feeling of having a massage. I’ve become much more aware of my shallow breathing and have been making an effort to breathe deeply into my belly right before I go to sleep at night as well.
- Selfish time: When I do yoga at home, I only last a maximum of 30 minutes. I start thinking of all the other things I need to do, and get easily distracted. Being in a class environment allows you to take 60 to 90 minutes of time where you are doing something purely for yourself, with no distractions. There is no way I would have committed to around 30 hours on the mat in December if not for these classes.
- More energy: It makes no sense that I was training harder than ever before in December, yet had more energy than I’ve felt in my life. I was bouncing off the walls the whole month, even when I was running on very little sleep. Some days I would enter class feeling exhausted, but would amazingly perk up.
- Expensive: Yoga is expensive, especially the hot variety. I would be much more inclined to stick with a more reasonable routine (say, three classes per week) if it didn’t cost so much. I was on a special introductory offer (£35 for 30 days), so unfortunately will not be able to continue as I cannot justify the regular price of £89 a month on top of all my other fitness-related expenses (gym membership, distance coaching, competition entries, dance classes, etc).
- Possible over-training: Right towards the very end (my last three classes), I did start to feel overtrained. I did seven classes in a row during my final week, and my triceps were definitely feeling all those chaturangas. My arms started shaking when we were holding Warrior II, which is a bit sad considering I should be able to lift more than my own arms. Despite how energised it did make me feel, there’s no way I would have maintained on average five classes per week alongside four lifting sessions and two or three cardio sessions.
- Time-consuming: Practicing yoga at least five days a week did take up a considerable amount of time. I was surprised that I was able to make the time to fit in so many classes. For this reason, I was insanely busy and rushed during December – thankfully the relaxation element helped to relieve any associated stress.
- Slightly preachy: While I did enjoy some of the “inspirational” aspects of class, I did lean towards those teachers who talked less. One guy did not shut up the entire 75 minute class, so I did not return to his class again. I can see how certain people would be annoyed by this aspect of yoga.
- My eye: This is a negative related to me specifically, but my eye did not agree with all of those inversions. For those of you who don’t know, I had a retinal detachment almost two years ago and am supposed to avoid any activities which place a lot of pressure on my eye. Up until recently, that included bench pressing, but holding downward dog for minutes at a time is not the best idea. In the beginning, I was fine, but I started suffering flashing lights and a hot feeling in my eye in the evenings before bed, so I held back a bit and often dropped into child’s pose during my last few classes.
I do plan on keeping up with one class per week (a 10 class pass is “only” £125) and I have also purchased a mat to practice at home. I think regular practice will have a positive carry-over to my lifting as well as mental health.
Do you or have you ever done yoga?