Monday, November 09, 2015

My Report: 99 Yoga Classes

In August 2014 I decided to act upon the advice I'd received from several practitioners and try yoga, like for real. NOT using DVDs I would do until the phone rang or I got sick of it (i.e. ten minutes.) NOT taking a class every five years  But really giving yoga an effort that would allow me to determine if yoga was something I would want to have a part of my life in the future. I decided 100 yoga classes in a year would be truly immersing myself into the practice.

Since today is November 8, and I'm only at 99 classes so I didn't quite hit that goal. But I am ready to sum up my results.

Most of the yoga classes I did were Bikram, which is a hot yoga. The room is heated to 105 degrees and you go through a series of 26 specific poses two times each, holding them for one minute the first time and then 30 seconds the second time with breaks in between some of them. The Bikram classes work every bone, muscle, ligament, tendon, and system of your body. It lasts 90 minutes and at the end I am drenched with sweat--like dripping-from-my-elbows-drenched-with-sweat:

What was hard:

  • My studio is 20 minutes from my house, add a 90 minute class and minimum 30 minutes to get showered and ready after it's done and you're looking at almost 3 hours. You can't NOT shower after a hot yoga class, and the studio I go to is the closest one to my house and furthest north studio in the state of Utah. Working 3 hour blocks of time into my weekly schedule was so hard. Every week it was hard. Never got easier. I set countless goals to do a class 5 times in a week and it never happened. The most I ever did was 4 classes and it required many other things put on hold.
  • I'm not overweight, and I didn't do this simply to try to get "hot" (no pun intended) but I expected that working this hard would drop 10 pounds in a year (maybe 25 :-)). The classes are hard sweaty work--cardio and strength training--so I expected some weight loss as a bonus. I did notice some changes in my body--which I'll put in the "what was good" portion of this post--but I did not lose even five pounds that stayed off through the year. Yes, I may have added muscle, but remember that my pants are still fitting the way they did when I started. And, no, I didn't make significant changes to my diet so that certainly was a factor, but still.
  • I think I had a semi-unconscious expectation that yoga would mellow out all my anxieties and mood spikes, that the practice in and of itself would "fix" certain feelings and emotional overloads. It did help, but it did not turn out to be a magic pill for me. Perhaps because I didn't take on all these other lifestyle aspects of yoga, but regardless the emotional change wasn't as significant as I hoped it would be. 
  • The classes are stressful for me. Stressful to get to, hard for me to focus in, hard for me to enjoy. I loved the accomplishment, but I never got to the point of feeling excited that I was able to go to class. I'm saddest about this "con", because I wanted to love yoga with my whole soul.
  • I never experienced the emotional release that I hear many, many people have with hot yoga. I don't know if this means I'm too uptight or what, but I really thought by the end of my goal I would have those moments of insight and release I've heard a lot about.
  • I have been doing long distance running for about six years, but struggled off and on with back, knee, and arch issues/injuries. I started training in the summer for a fall season race and since I'd been doing yoga for about 8 months I felt pretty confident that I was in good shape and would avoid injury. But I messed up my knee, and my arch, and ended up with six weeks of weekly chiropractor visits to deal with them enough to run my race. I know that yoga isn't a fix-everything, but I was disappointed to still have the injuries when I had felt as though I was working my body in a way that would avoid exactly that. That said, I am getting older and maybe I'm just not meant to be a runner anymore. 
What was awesome:

  • Yoga was absolutely good for my body. Although I didn't lose weight, I have gained flexibility I did not have before. Little aches and pains I often felt in my hips and back have disappeared. I have had a rounding of my upper spine--early kyphosis--that has been remedied to the point I can see the change in my posture and no longer get upper back pain after writing. The tightness in the left side of my neck that kept me from being able to turn my head all the way to right is gone. I've never been flexible, and to anyone else I probably still don't look flexible, but I am more agile than I have ever been in my life. The "work your whole body" aspect of yoga has been great for me and something I absolutely feel in the days after a class. 
  • On the nights I had yoga, I slept better. On nights I didn't have yoga I would still struggle as I have for the last few years. When I cut out artificial sweeteners in September, sleep got even better. I have slept better the last six weeks than I have for years. A good night's sleep is priceless.
  • Prior to these classes I had some intermittent numbness in my hands, not surprising for a writer, but concerning. I would also have my hands swell up from time to time and get pain in my forearms, especially my left. One of the first improvements I noticed was that the achiness went away after just a few classes, and I honestly have not had numbness or tingling even once since starting my practice. Lotus pose works specifically on your arms, elbows, and wrists and I think it made a significant difference for the health of my hands. I hope it will help me to avoid carpal tunnel that afflicts so many other writers I know.
  • I found quickly that the poses I was best at were those that were strength-based, like chair pose. As I continued with yoga I got even stronger and the shape of my body changed. My shoulders are more defined, I can see the outline of my biceps, my waist is a bit smaller and my legs are more defined. If I had lost ten pounds and fit in my pants better I could better appreciate this :-) But I do feel and look stronger than I did in the beginning. 
  • I am a naturally competitive person but yoga is competitive only with yourself. At first it was really hard not watch everyone else in the class and judge myself accordingly, but I learned that every body is different. The guy who can't get his leg up in tree might have an amazing camel. Someone might have a tight spine, but great flexibility in their joints. It was good for me to forgive myself my limitations, take confidence in my strengths, and not feel competitive with the other people in the room. I eventually didn't even feel competitive with myself; if my head-to-knee was better two weeks ago, I was okay because I knew I was doing my best that day. 
  • I feel more gratitude for my body than I have in a long time, even without the weight loss. You watch yourself in the mirror throughout class, which was hard for me at first because I would be so critical. In time, however, I have gained acceptance and gratitude for this body I have and the things I can do with it. Seeing so many other body types in class was also very validating in the realization that taking care of my body isn't only about how it looks, it's how it moves and works and how it will take care of me thirty years from now. 
  • While yoga didn't fix my mood swings, I am definately more emotionally centered. I feel that I better cope with stress than it did, and I learned breathing exercises which help me to physically calm myself when I need calming outside of class. Even though yoga itself is often stressful, I do feel the mental/emotional benefits stay with me long after the class is done. 
  • Other than a couple of classes where I was not hydrated enough and came home trashed, I didn't have anything more than a minor cold for an entire year. I'm not someone who gets sick a lot, but a few times a year I battle strep or some respiratory thing, but I didn't this year. Yoga is said to boost your immunity and I think in my case it did that. 
  • I would often use my savasana (laying on your back with arms at side, palms up) to pray. It was not so formal as most of my prayers and though I didn't have the emotional breakthroughs I had expected, I had some spiritual meditation that I had not expected and which was very sweet to me. I grew closer to my Savior through this meditation and had moments of great peace and relaxation during which I felt wonderful communion with Him.
My final answer:

This was a good experiment for me. I don't think I'll ever be a true "yogi" whose life centers around the practice, but I do plan to take a class every week for the good of my body, my mind, and my spirit. If anyone is interested in trying hot yoga for themselves, I recommend that you plan to take 5 classes before you decide if you want to continue. No exercise is a quick fix, but it took me about this many classes to recognize the benefits in my day to day life. Know that there are all shapes and sizes--some days I felt like the oldest fattest person there, and other days I was the youngest and trimmest, usually I was one of many middle-aged people like myself that aren't going to be on a magazine cover any time soon but are learning to love what they have more than they have. I also recommend that you read THIS article from O Magazine and check out Luisa Perkins BLOG where she blogged about her 60 classes in 60 days, which is amazing!