I took a 1 month and 1 week break from the States to head over to Taiwan in December 2014 plus a quick stop in South Korea for a couple of days for old time’s sake. To prepare for this rather big event (it’s for the wedding reception for hubby’s side of the family), I took a three-month break from hot yoga.
In truth, I have a love-hate relationship with it, and yet I still kept going back – even with the relatively high cost to both my wallet and time of keeping up with it. So, after having had a pretty long break from it and coming back for about a month now, I had come to my conclusion in regards to this form of exercise.
The following is my take on hot yoga thus far. Take it as a weak attempt of a half-organized case study of some random female who took hot yoga for almost a year.
This was glaringly obvious from when I first began. Each class is 90 minutes (depending on the teacher, it may end five minutes earlier or 5 minutes later) and that doesn’t include the time it takes to get there and then back home. For me, it takes roughly 12 minutes to drive there, so yoga takes up about a total of approximately 130 minutes including the class time as well as transit and the time you take to get settled and changed before and after classes. I like to get there 15 minutes ahead of time to put up my stuff and let my heat-hating self adjust to the 104-degree room. On the topic of time, not only is the actual class time consuming, the progress and its affects on you also takes time. Also, the first couple of classes seemed to drag on forever but now, it goes by relatively fast. It helps that you know what’s coming next. The teachers always tell people to come back regularly and not make up your mind until after the 10th class. The tenth class. On top of that, it may take a very long time (years, even) to “master” a position. I can attest to that. I have my good days and my bad days but there are some that it seems like I’m a natural at and others where I’m still struggling in most classes. It’s a gradual process, but then again, if it was that easy, would the benefits in the end be worth it?
I don’t mind spending if it’s worth it in the end (and depending on my priorities because my grocery bills can get a little high for the fact that I only live with two other people… but I do attend a lot of potlucks and host dinners, so that doesn’t help) and this is one thing that always makes me wonder: should I spend the $100-odd bucks per month? I’m on an auto-renewal plan and I pay a little over $100 for unlimited classes. It’s actually a pretty good deal when you compare it with the other plans. I recall seeing one that gave you only a set amount of classes (no expiration date, though) for twice as much as what I pay now. That was pretty much why I chose the auto-renewal plan – a much better deal! Plus, because I put out a wad of cash into it, I have that much more motivation to go. I’m on my second 60-day challenge and would have been on my third if my trip this past December didn’t cut into it. I might even been on my fourth if I thought I would have stuck with yoga for this long, now that I think about it.
I’m all about being healthy (within reason) and I always wanted to try this de-toxing fad, whether it be through food or sweating, I kept hearing about. When I first started, I didn’t sweat too much. However, I soon made sure I drank between 38 to 52 ounces of water per day and I found out that the more water I drank, the more I sweat during class. OK, so I’m one of those people who wears a T-shirt in hot yoga. At first, it was due to comfort reasons. Later, it was due to the fact that I did not want to reach down to grab a towel to dry off random parts of my body – it’s much more convenient to be wearing your “towel”. After I returned from my stint away, I found out that if I forgot to drink as much water the day before, I wouldn’t sweat that much the next class. One day, I drank as much as I used to drink when I was at my watering hole phase and literally – it was like my pores were flooding during class and I couldn’t hold onto anything whether it be my hands or my ankles, even if I tried to dry it off with my shirt or mat towel. I can’t say much about the affect of excessive sweating and water drinking on skin since towards the end of last year, I had a major acne break out (I’m one of the unlucky ones who had minimal teenage acne but now experience random bursts of adult acne), but I can say that it makes me feel healthier because my sweat doesn’t taste like sweat – it’s more comparable to water being dispensed from my pores – and it doesn’t sting when it inevitably gets into my eyes. I still don’t drink as much water now than I did before the trip, but I’m not experiencing any headaches due to dehydration so I think I’ll just drink about 24 to 30 ounces a day. You know – so I don’t slip on myself during yoga. T-shirts can only hold so much sweat.
Note: There are two kinds of people when it comes to drinking a lot of water – (1) those who drink a lot and pee it out and (2) those who drink a lot and sweat it out. If I’m not sweating, I’m peeing. If I’m not peeing, then I’m sweating. I once went to yoga late and had no time to use the restroom and so I began class with a half-full bladder and was lamenting the fact that there had to be a stalled vehicle on the highway right around the same time I would leave for yoga. By the time class ended, there was definitely no urge to pee.
THE GOOD DAYS & THE BAD DAYS
As mentioned earlier, there are the good days and there are the bad days. The instructors explain it as how your body is different every day, depending on various factors whether it be sleep, eating, etc. The truth is that the class may be miraculously easier one day and the next day, you are dying. I suppose this can also be transferred to how some poses may be easier and others may be harder. Personally, the Half Moon Pose has always been easy for me for the most part (though there have been a handful of times where I must have overstretched the class before and I can only go so far). On the other hand, I’ve always had trouble with the poses that require me to lock out my knee, because my knees hyper-extend (not very comfortable to lock them out and have the other leg extended straight out at the same time) and in taekwondo, we’re trained to have loosely held knees. Basically, I’ve learned not to get discouraged and the entire (hot) yoga process is always work in progress. Just go into it with an open mind and do your best.
For some odd reason, just the other day, I went into class thinking it might be a bad one. However, it ended up being one of my best ever since I began practicing hot yoga. I felt cool for most of the class period (some days, I feel like the heat is suffocating) and all of the postures actually came easy to me! Then the next day, I returned and pretty much crashed and burned.
I believe in muscles. I don’t need body-builder muscles. I just like nice and lightly defined muscles like the ones I had when I was practicing taekwondo for at least an hour five days a week. (I also ate normally when I did that.) During the peak of my yoga practice, I felt stronger… but I didn’t see it reflected in my muscles. I take that back. My leg muscles were harder (not as hard as when I did taekwondo, though), but I wouldn’t say they were terribly defined. Perhaps it’s just my body (my body was always bad when it comes to things like this – to get muscles and lose weight, I had to do major hard work… or do light work and eat a fraction of what I usually eat), but from what I see, it may not be the case. There’s this older lady in one of my yoga classes who is really toned – as in muscular but not crazily so. It turns out she also goes running every day and other forms of exercise because yoga just doesn’t give her the body she wants.
People told me when I first started that I would only be losing water weight. My first week, I lost 5 pounds. The second week, I lost 3 pounds. The week after, it began leveling out and at the best, I think I lost a total of almost 9 pounds from when I began. However, do note that when I started, I went 5 days a week and barely ate any dinner. I would literally come home from work and grab a small snack (some all-natural energy bites, perhaps?) and/or have a cup of milk or hot cereal drink before washing the dishes, washing my face, packing for yoga, and heading out. Once I came back from class, I would finish the rest of the water in my 24-ounce drinking bottle (sometimes with the addition of drinking vinegar) and that was that. I literally had a fruit smoothie every morning for breakfast, a decent-sized lunch, and a snack for dinner. I kept off most of the weight… until my trip. Now that I’ve come back, I’m almost back to where I was when I first started hot yoga and I’m maintaining this weight. How? Well, now, I go 3 to 4 days a week and I eat a 1-cup bowl of food for dinner before hand. Apparently, even that’s too much, and eating normally on the weekends and on my additional off day completely kills any weight I do lose. In fact, I am under the nagging suspicion that I may be slowly creeping back on the pre-yoga weight.
The difference between before and now is that before, I was miserable. Food makes me happy and making food is a form of stress relief. I may have put off the weight and kept it off, but I always went to bed hungry on my yoga days. Now? I’m squishy again but at least my stomach doesn’t hurt before bed. Basically, hot yoga is good for the detoxing and other things, but when it comes to weight loss, use it in conjunction with other activities because unless you already have the body you want, it’s not going to do much.
One of the things I have definitely noticed is my increased flexibility. Sure, I am far from perfecting any of the poses, but my flexibility has certainly improved. The entire class is all about stretching every part of your body as well as your joints and doing it regularly certainly helps me on that end. I was always average when it comes to flexibility but now I can bend over backwards while standing up and see the floor behind me. Awesome. My joints always feel so much more open after class, too!
I don’t know why it is but I’m usually not feeling too perky before class (usually tired from work or wondering why I’m going). Of course, it could be because it’s after work and all I want to do and not do anything. However, afterwards, I feel so much more awake and alive, for lack of better words. I hate the heat, but something’s going on here. Essentially, hot yoga is moving meditation. It’s sort of like those monks who meditate underneath a pounding waterfall – keep your mind still even when your surroundings aren’t. In hot yoga, you should focus on your breathing and yourself while moving around (in usually unnatural postures) in a hot room (104 F with around 30 to 40% humidity). It may take a class or two – or even longer – to get used to, but it’ll come. It’s nice to just sit/lay there and focus on yourself… and yet on nothing at all. It’s that little bit of silence in your day and I rather like it… even though it’s hot and I’m sweating like a wet sponge being squeezed.
If it’s feeling particularly hard that day to focus or get past the heat – even better! I think a part of me’s somewhat masochistic because a big part of me likes challenges and I’ll even purposely ignore what’s bothering me to get to my goal. It may be a bad thing, but in this case, it’s good. All about mind over matter and knowing when to listen to your body and not your lazy brain.
This is at the end, but this list isn’t in any particular order. I find this to be the most miraculous change since I began hot yoga. I grew up with childhood asthma and though I am not affected anymore, it still comes back when I have a rather nasty cough. There’s one other thing: my lung capacity sucks. I couldn’t take deep breaths without coughing. There’s this point where if my lungs fill up past it, where something gets stuck and I just start coughing. Weird. Well, we do breathing exercises in hot yoga and afterwards, I can take these deep breaths without any problems. 🙂 Odd enough, during my three-month break, towards the end of it, my lungs weren’t as good anymore (or maybe the Asian pollution didn’t help) and right before I re-started my yoga, I even had some pain when I breathe. Within a couple of days of going back, my lungs were good again.
All in all, I have to say I like yoga. It has it’s ups and downs like everything in this world. If I could, I would probably stick with it for as long as I could. As it is, a couple of days ago, I finally made up my mind that April will be my last month of hot yoga. I will still have my mat and towels and I’ll practice some postures at home, but it’s taking up too much time, my house is getting dirty again because I have no time to clean as much as I would like, I’m going to bed with a painfully growling stomach again, and it takes a good chunk of money from my wallet and I think I even gained 1 more pound. I was never into diets and I refuse to continue, especially since it only means my weight will be jumping around. I’ll certainly miss it and if I ever get a job that’ll support me in everything comfortably along with yoga, then I’ll go back.
For now, I will enjoy and take advantage of the 1+ months I have left, make the best of it, and hope my lungs don’t fail once I’m not regularly back in that hot room.