For as long as I live I will be into health and fitness. But I am not the type of person who sticks with one particular thing forever and ever. My interests change and I enjoy learning, exploring, and mastering new things.
I loved running while I did that. I loved triathlon for the 6 years or so I did that. I loved kettlebells when I did that. In all those things I was highly motivated to maximize my potential and I enjoyed the competitive aspects of the sport.
After my last ultra-marathon in February of 2015 I did nothing for awhile. Then in August of last year I decided I wanted to try Hot Yoga, so I asked Andrew to go with me and we went to a class. 10 months and about 150 classes later, I am still going strong and really love my yoga practice. Here are some observations I have about yoga and why it’s working for me at this point in my life:
- It’s minimalist. I love anything that requires you to be barefoot. And wear yoga pants, which I wear every day anyway. There is no need for fancy gear or clothing unless you want to be fashionable. I can wear my Sam’s Club yoga pants that I bought in 2008 and be good to go.
- It’s done for it’s own sake. Running, triathlon, and strength training are great but they are also more goal oriented than yoga. It’s been very interesting for me to be doing an activity FOR ITS OWN SAKE rather than to get better at some measurable metric. Unlike a race PR or a heavier weight kettlebell, there are no competitions and goals for yoga other than to embrace the practice itself. I think this has been a good learning experience for me.
- It’s helped me chill out. It’s true what they say about yoga. It calms you the heck down. I am much more relaxed and less reactive in my every day life with a regular yoga practice. That can certainly be an effect from exercise in general but I think there is something unique about yoga that lends itself to mindfulness more than a long ride or weight lifting session. There is a difference between the mood-boosting effects of exercise and the kind of change I’ve seen with yoga.
- The heat keeps depression away. I discovered this 2 winters ago when I started using the sauna at the YMCA and found that it really helped keep SAD (seasonal affective disorder, or winter blues) away. Maybe it’s something to do with heat shock proteins, but I’m not sure and it ultimately doesn’t matter why it works. I feel a distinct relaxation response in my first 5 minutes in the sauna that is unique to that environment and I crave it. For me, I believe heat is a useful tool for wellness and hot yoga is a way to get a regular dose of it year round.
- It’s fun and challenging. I absolutely LOVE that I can finally hold crow pose for 10 seconds. It’s a victory that took a ridiculous amount of time for me and it’s just plain fun to do. Each teacher at the studio teaches in a different way so there is always something new to work on or a different way to approach a pose. And it’s just not as “serious” as running or triathlon.
- It’s helped me confront my body image issues. When I first started yoga, I noticed that it was harder for me to concentrate and hold a pose if there were people in the room who were skinnier than me or more experienced than me. I want you to understand how hard it is for me to admit this but it’s true. I eventually moved from the front row to the side of the studio, where I could not see myself in the mirrors and that gave me space to work on this issue and just be where my mat was and not anywhere else in the room. I think just having the realization that my practice was affected by my comparison problem helped me begin to work on being ok with myself just as I am and stop taking myself so darn seriously. It’s also brought into clear focus how distorted my body image is. This is not something that can be fixed easily or quickly but yoga is helping.
- It comes out of a rich spiritual tradition. Just as I was starting yoga I finished listening to a Great Courses lecture series on world religions. I was particularly curious about Hiduism and the 8 paths of Classical Yoga and a bit ashamed that I had never heard of this. As I got into the physical practice of yoga I started reading about the Vedic texts, especially the Bhagavad Gita. It’s enriched my life quite a bit to explore the Vedic tradition of what makes for a good life and it’s really helped me maintain my meditation practice as well. I really like that my physical and spiritual practices are merged in this way and that what I do on the yoga mat prepares me for what I do on the meditation mat.
- It helps me look and feel better. Superficial, sure. But I do have better posture and my body is nicely toned. I’m not as lean as I would be with running or strength training but I feel strong and appreciate the combination of concentration and strength it requires to do certain postures well.
- It gets me out of my head. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have a physical practice that is challenging enough to make me stop thinking about life outside the mat but not so challenging that it’s not fun. It’s like flow state, that place where your ability and the difficulty of a task are perfectly matched and you lose track of time and the world around you in complete absorption. This is sometimes the greatest thing about my yoga practice. If it’s a challenging class or teacher, the constant ruminating or thinking about stuff completely goes away for an hour. If it’s not challenging than that doesn’t always happen but luckily it’s usually challenging enough that while I am there I am only thinking about what my body is doing. What a relief.
- The class atmosphere challenges me more. Just like having a coach, a teacher will always make you work on things you might not want to work on, face postures you don’t want to face, and help you grow into a well-rounded yogi. I missed that challenge when I was just running or strength training.
There are things I don’t like about my yoga practice, like that it’s inside and that all the classes are vinyasa flow classes. In general, though, hot yoga is really working for me right now. If and when I do decide to do another running event, I anticipate that hot yoga will remain my “core” sport while running is something I do in addition to yoga. There comes a time in many athlete’s lives when health and longevity becomes more important than speed, endurance, or competition. I think I’ve hit that point and yoga is a way for me to challenge myself while not compromising my health or longevity.