Hot Yoga Through the Eyes of a Newbie

I did it. I finally did it.

I joined a neighborhood hot yoga (or Bikram yoga) class because my steady weight increase was getting to the point of no return, if it wasn’t already. Now let me tell you a little bit about myself and why me beginning hot yoga is somewhat of a surprise.

Background.

  1. I don’t mind outdoor activities, sweating, or trying new things. However, I tend to like them more on an intense, high-intensity level. Rock climbing? Insanity? Taekwondo? Count me in! Yoga? …That’s a different story. I never did real yoga before other than some yoga-influenced moves during exercise routines and one failed attempt to follow along with a yoga DVD (let’s not go there again) and when I did toe that line into “Yoga Territory”, it was usually short-lived and I got bored rather quickly.
  2. I hate the heat. I can’t stay in a sauna for more than a minute or two without feeling like I was suffocating… and I would only be sitting down. What would happen if I were actually moving? I’m also the person you call up to go to the beach in the Winter and not the Summer. My friends all know this by now.
  3. My lungs have never been good. I suffered from childhood asthma which occasionally comes back when I get a serious cough or when I do long stretches of cardio. This is probably why I don’t really run; I start feeling like a vice and tightening its grip around my throat and lungs after only a short period of time. I can walk forever and jog for a little longer than I can run, but I can’t run. If there was a zombie apocalypse with those crazy-fast, smarter-than-your-usual zombie, I would die. Period. Why does this matter? It gets worse in the heat and humidity.
  4. I have [had] decent flexibility. It was a lot better when I practiced taekwondo regularly, but as it was, I can do things okay. However, yoga takes it to a whole new level from the little I had seen and heard from others. I was fairly certain that compared to a yogi (that is what hardcore yoga practitioners are called, right?), I was as stiff as a three-day-old cadaver.

The Reason.
I’m still not sure why I ultimately clicked the “pay” button online that night, but it could have been because of any number of things or a unique amalgamation of it all. Perhaps I wanted to get control over my weight (I hope it’s not too late). Perhaps I needed to step out of this routine, albeit married, life and I needed to take that step and do something new to spice things up again. Then maybe it was just the right time and I was in that kind of mood and everything was a big coincidence. 

Or maybe it was because I heard good things about hot yoga (and bad – my brother-in-law is against it, saying how you only lose water weight) and I also sent a long email to the place before I committed. The room was going to be slightly above 100 degree Fahrenheit with a humidity of 40%. I decided that I needed to try it out and there was a special introductory price with unlimited classes. I took the plunge and threw my worries out the window – though they got caught on the tree just outside. I can still see them.

Either way, it was something new and something – I hoped – good for me.

The First Day.
I didn’t know what to expect but that weekend and the entire day, I felt giddy, excited, with a dash of nervousness. It reminded me of how I felt before my first taekwondo class. I got there about 10 minutes early and settled in. Met an elderly, but clearly fit and lean man who looked to be in his 70’s who gave me a quick run-through of what to expect. I entered the room and took my first breath – the thought of ‘maybe this was a mistake‘ briefly appeared in my mind. It was hot and humid. Lovely.

When I work out, I tend to push myself. After all, if I didn’t, I would have probably given up within the first 10 minutes of Insanity or within the first 15 minutes of my first taekwondo session when all instructions were in Korean. Well, hot yoga wasn’t any different. I began sweating within 5 minutes of entering the room. I was definitely sweating once we began moving.

Towards the end of the standing poses, I started feeling distinctly off. Despite the fact that I was fairly well-hydrated even before the class and I was trying to take deep, regular breaths, I became aware that my vision was getting spotted with black and white and things appeared farther away. I was getting light headed. The ground was there and yet not. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The heat was pressing up against me and I felt like I was burning from within. I kept on pushing but I needed to rest. The teacher knew I was new, so at one point when I was pausing in the middle of a pose, she walked over and asked me how I felt. ‘Light headed‘, I told her. She told me to sit down and take my time.

I joined the class again, but I had missed the last two standing poses. It was hard. I was seriously wondering if this was going to be that time where I just couldn’t do something.

The Second Day.
I admit that I dreaded the next class. My pounding headache that appeared right after class and through the night and most of the next day (until I popped two Tylenol pills) didn’t help in the least. However, hot yoga was a pricey thing and I had already paid. On top of that, I spoke with some people who had experience with it including a friend who regularly practices yoga and a cousin of mine who practiced it every single day for a month to help him lose weight. I pushed myself to go again; after all, only one time wouldn’t give me a good idea of how it would – could – be, right? This time, I took some advice. Plus, I refuse to be defeated.

I got to the place early like before, but I immediately entered the room and set up my mat and towel. I laid there for a couple of minutes to accustom my body to the room, the heat… everything. I felt it clinging to me in an almost uncomfortable manner, but I accepted it and breathed in deeply. I sat up and did some slow stretches and continued to sit there until the teacher walked in.

I made sure to breathe regularly to get enough oxygen. As soon as I felt tired or that I needed more oxygen than I was getting, I let myself fall a couple of seconds behind before catching up. I took breaks and pauses when needed and a rest here and there. Doing so, I didn’t miss more than half of a rep so I got through all the poses this time. Getting through them successfully was a whole different matter, but I tried and that was what counted.

It paid off. My vision was clear the entire time and my head was focused. I was paying attention to my surroundings, myself, and what I was doing (or was aiming to do). The steady sweating and the heat, though annoying, wasn’t horrible. In fact, it was almost soothing. Could it be… that I was beginning to acquire a sense of liking towards this? Would I really be able to make it the entire month?

Conclusion.
I admit, after the first class, I came close to calling it quits. I felt bad during the class and I felt worse after the class. However, I’m glad I sucked it up and went to the second class. This time, I wasn’t competing against others nor myself. I was merely doing it for myself and trying my best. Pacing myself. That was the ultimate key – pace yourself and keep on going, but don’t push yourself too far.

From what I hear, Bikram yoga is slower than regular yoga – and for good reason. In such a heated room, doing something too strenuously is just a recipe for disaster (also personally experienced by yours truly). Also, I’ve also heard the first two weeks are the hardest for a beginner. When you think about it, yoga is stretching and building up one’s strength. It doesn’t seem to take much out of you, but it does. I have complete respect for those who make it a daily part of their life. I wonder if I can do it, but I imagine that with regular practice and dedication, I may be able to successfully pull off some of those moves as well. Of course, this may take a year and I’m not sure my bank account can support that.

I admit that I felt better and I already lost weight. I don’t quite agree with my brother-in-law that hot yoga only makes you lose water weight, but I can’t say that the 3 pounds I’ve lost in the two days I’ve done it wasn’t water weight, especially since yoga cuts into my cooking time after work so I’ve been on a coincidental diet of sorts. However, I do know that some of my rarely used muscle groups are definitely sore and that can’t be for naught.

I’m excited to move forward in this journey and adventure to find my inner yogi, if one exists. It would also help with my patience and help my overall health and fitness level. Since I came back to the States two years ago, I have gained nearly 20 pounds. I don’t ever wish to be skinny; I just want less fat and a more toned physique. Plus, all that sweating makes my skin feel great! To me, this offers more benefits than it does harm.

Though all those odd names completely washes over me and throws me off. But it absolutely tickles me funny when a Caucasian woman rattles out these Hindi terms like they’re nothing. I imagine it would be like a super light version of the intensive Korean I was subjected to while learning taekwondo from instructors whose English dictionary covered truly rudimentary phrases like  “Hi, how are you?” and “Bye.”

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