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Hot Yoga Review

posted by Carol, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 6:25pm EDT

About Carol:

Carol is a holistic health counselor, founder of health and wellness blog www.GalantysGamePlan.com, and professional portrait photography (view her work at www.CarolGalanty.com) She believes fitness ...more

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http://www.womentalksports.com/images/image6821.jpg  I never knew I had sweat glands in my shins.  I kept wondering where the water pouring down my legs was coming from…my shins and knees couldn’t possibly be producing sweat.  Perhaps my vision was just blurred from the sweat pouring off of the tip of my nose and I was starting to hallucinate.  I’m not typically a sweater, so all of this liquid pouring from my body was a bit disturbing to me.  The source of all the sweating…I was in the midst of my first hot yoga class.

Hot yoga, for the uninitiated, is officially known as Bikram Yoga. It involves going through a series of 26 poses—the exact same poses in the exact same order everytime—in a room heated to 100 degrees.  It’s basically the equivalent of working out in a sauna.   The poses themselves are all beginner poses, the sequence of which is essential since each pose is preparation for the one that follows.  Instructors are taught to emphasize performing each pose properly to avoid injury and to stay within your own ability level. The intense heat is designed to encourage your body to sweat…sweating is very cleansing as it removes toxins from your body.  The heat also allows you to get deeper into the poses since it promotes flexibility.

Proponents of this practice hail its many benefits…it is known to reduce stress, increase blood circulation, improve flexibility, help loosen joints, improve your immune system, and correct chronic conditions such as arthritis.  (For a more in depth description of hot yoga and its many benefits, click here).

 The first time I stepped into the hot yoga room, I felt like I had walked into a wall.  I drew my breath in sharply, shocked at the change in temperature (I’ve never been a fan of saunas even though I know how good they are for you).  The heat felt stifling.  After a few minutes of lying down breathing I adjusted to the temperature.  I had brought along my towel as I had been advised, which is used to lie down on and will be completely drenched by the end of class. (A second towel to continually wipe your hands and face is helpful).   Don’t even think of wearing mascara to class…trust me on this one.

 I consider myself a fairly seasoned yogi; I have been practicing yoga for about 6 years, mostly vinyasa with some iyengar, ashtanga, and anusura thrown in as well. Although I didn’t find the 26 Bikram poses challenging on their own, when you couple the pose with holding it for an extended period of time in the intense heat, challenging becomes an understatement.  I don’t do well in extreme heat and I nearly passed out about 6 times during the first class.  I felt very dizzy when I would stand up and the room started to black out.  I was advised by the instructor to lie down whenever this occurred.  Of course, I didn’t want to look like a wimp, especially in front of the nearly naked 20 year old completely ripped guy who was standing next to me, but the fear of actually passing out finally surpassed my ego and I ended up lying down about 5 times during the class. I’m sure everyone in the class understood since they had all been newcomers at some point, but I still felt like a complete failure.

 When the class finally ended (it felt like about 5 hours long but it was only 90 minutes), I felt this surge of energy and feeling of euphoria.  I was most likely just thrilled to be allowed to leave the sweaty dungeon, but whatever the case, I felt amazing.  My head was clear, all the toxins from the weekend were gone, and I had all kinds of energy I didn’t know would be possible after sweating out half my body weight.  The instructor told me I did great for my first class…whether she was just saying that to make me feel better or not didn’t even matter to me at that point.  I quickly decided that I actually loved this class and signed up for a one month unlimited pass, determined to master this new version of yoga and to cleanse my body of all its evils.  I even called a friend on the way out of class and insisted that she do it with me.

 After the class, I drank about two liters of water and ate some fruit to replenish what I had just lost. I still ended up developing a wicked headache later in the day and the sense of euphoria quickly waned as I felt the urge to throw up and to go take a long nap.   

 Why in my right mind would I want to return to such a place? Well, I never pass up a physical challenge and I felt in need of some cleansing.  So when I was sufficiently recovered, about 3 days later, I returned for another torture session.  This time I was better prepared.  I brought along more water, an extra towel, proper clothing (scanty and sweat absorbent is the only way to go), with a change of clothing right down to clean underwear for afterwards. 

 This time I made it through the class a little bit easier…probably because I knew what to expect…I only had to lie down 3 times.  Progress. It still felt like the longest 90 minutes of my life and I still lost half my body weight in sweat, but I felt I was getting someplace.  I continued with this pattern of self-torture and recovery for the next 3 weeks and then finally quit.  I didn’t think I was quitting at the time…my one month pass was up and I thought I would just attend once or twice a week from here on out as a way to detox.  It’s been almost 4 months now and I haven’t been back, so I suppose that constitutes quitting. 

 Why did I quit?  There were quite a few benefits I enjoyed while I was going.  I did feel like I was cleansing and even though I was only there for one month, I definitely noticed an improvement in my flexibility, especially my hips and hamstrings, which as a tennis player and occasional runner are always tight.  In my vinyasa classes, I was able to get into poses that I’ve never been able to do before and I credit the hot yoga as the reason.  What I didn’t like was doing the same series of postures in every class.  It gets very redundant and boring.  (I think I’m slightly ADD and it takes a lot of variety to keep me engaged in an activity for an extended period of time).  I also don’t think it is good for your muscles to do the same exercise over and over again.  Your body adapts to the routine and you start to lose any real benefit from it.    

 Followers of Bikram Yoga are completely devoted to it and would disagree with my synopsis.  I have read and heard countless stories of people reversing chronic pain and illnesses from practicing it regularly, so it obviously works its magic on many people.  I just don’t like to sweat that much…it takes too much effort and it’s too draining.  I guess I’m just a vinyasa girl at heart, but I would absolutely encourage others to give hot yoga a try.  From asking around I have discovered that you either love it or hate it.  Who knows, maybe I will summon the courage to give it another try in the future when I start to develop aching joints from too much running and tennis.  In the meantime, I will stick with my tried and true vinyasa yoga. 

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