I am back at hot yoga and I don’t know how I ever left.
I don’t like just any hot yoga. Bikram is my jam: 26 postures; all of them are difficult but all of them feel so good. I despise Vinyasa flow. I don’t want to be moving all over the place, trying to catch my breath. The 26 postures allow you to find stillness in each moment. I love the stillness.
I got my first taste at Hot 8 Yoga – the most beautiful studio in Santa Monica. Little did I know that no other hot yoga place was going to measure up. Hot 8 was so nice, so clean, very welcoming, with great instructors and such a wonderful array of classes to choose from. It was perfect. It was also insanely expensive, but the older I get, the more I realize how worth it is to spend money on something that makes your body and your mind feel so good. It’s really one of the most important things you can do for yourself.
I found Bikram Yoga in Long Beach, and I do really like it, but it can’t compare to Hot 8. Still, I’ve become obsessed with it, just as I did before, when Nina and I were going four or five days a week.
When I first started back up in December, I was having terrible back and neck pain (as per uzh). After about six classes, most of my pain is gone. Not only that, but I have more energy and feel SO good.
There are so many things I love about hot yoga, but for those who have never done it before, I always say that it’s so great because even if you feel like you can’t do the balancing poses or hold the stretches, you can literally just lay on your back and get something out of it because your body will be dripping sweat. And God, does that feel good.
I’ve always been a runner. I had to run insane amounts for both field hockey and basketball – long distance for field hockey and sprints for basketball, and of course both for track in the Spring. Then all through college for field hockey, and after that, well, it’s all I really knew. (Not all I knew but what felt easy and comfortable.)
It wasn’t until one summer when Lauren’s dad, Mr. Montague (I always called Lauren’s mom Mary Kay but I could never call her dad John) made a comment to me about running. I don’t remember what he said, but it was something to the effect that I’m a runner and I love to run. I didn’t have time to agree with him before Lauren was telling him that “Lindsay hates running.” And I was like, huh? And in the next second I was like, oh wait, yea, I really don’t enjoy running. It’s just something I’ve always had to do. And I’ve been good at it, to some degree. Yes, I have been good at it. I was always one of the top runners in both field hockey and basketball (which was very important, because I always felt like I needed to make up for any lack of skill in the sport with my running capabilities).
Lauren’s conviction really surprised me and made me really consider how running ACTUALLY made me feel. And the answer, at that time, was sometimes it was good and I would get a runner’s high, but a lot of times it felt like torture. And unbearable. And not fun in any way. There have been so many times when I have forced myself to go for a run. Why? Because I feel like I need to do something physical to make myself feel better. Because it’s free. Because I live in California and any run outside is a nice run. Because it’s what I know.
But now, in my 30’s, more than ever I feel the need to exercise but equally find myself dreading it. Can you imagine actually looking forward to exercise? A lot of people might answer this with, yes. For me, the only exercise I have always looked forward to, is sports.
Enter hot yoga. Especially as I get older, and my body starts to hurt in all sorts of places, hot yoga is the most blissful form of exercise.
The last time I went to my psychiatrist, I told her that I still felt anxious, all the time. She said, that just by looking at me, she could see that. My shoulders were tense, and my breaths were shallow. I was breathing through my chest. Apparently, there are two types of breathing – through your chest, or through your diaphragm. You’re supposed to breathe naturally through your diaphragm. Chest breathing occurs when you’re working out, running, being very active. So I knew chest breathing because I knew sports. I just didn’t realize it was the way I was breathing all the time. Breathing through your chest sends a message to your brain that you’re anxious, so it makes you feel anxious. It’s a vicious cycle.
One night, while living in Topanga, I did a little test/breathing exercise. I wanted to breathe through my diaphragm, for ten full minutes. Which meant not breathing through my chest. Which was so incredibly hard, because whenever I feel anxious, I feel like I need to catch my breath, and catching my breath means a big chest breath in. So I sat there, in the bungalow, on the floor, cross-legged in a sort of meditative position, and started my breathing. Every single time I wanted to breathe through my chest, I told myself no. I forced myself to continue breathing through my diaphragm. With every breath, I could feel, in my body, that it was OK. My mind was telling me it wasn’t OK. It was screaming it actually. Catch your breath! I can’t breathe! But even though my mind was saying one thing, my body felt OK. In this moment, in this battle between my mind and my body, I continued to breathe through my diaphragm, but it was so intense to physically feel like I was OK, but mentally feel like I HAD to breathe through my chest. Very quickly, the tears started to fall down my face. I didn’t really know what was happening. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I was OK. My body was actually OK, and I COULD actually breathe, but my brain was off its rocker. But I was listening to my body, and feeling like I could breathe made me realize that I could and had to overcome what I had always known and what I had always believed.
I don’t really see myself going for runs anymore. I used to hope that going for a run would relieve my anxiety, because working out is supposed to be good for that. I found, that every time I went for a run, all of my tension would be magnified with every step. My breathing would get worse, and I couldn’t catch my breath. After the run, I’d feel worse than before I started.
Now, between intense, sweaty hot yoga classes, I like to take long walks and listen to podcasts. Both of which I look forward to immensely! If I’m having a bad day: say I’m feeling unproductive, or fat, or super low energy – I make the decision to get my butt to a hot yoga class. I kid you not, as soon as I make the decision, I can feel my mood start to lift. Because I know how good it’s going to feel during the 90-minute class, and I know how good I’m going to feel walking out of there. I don’t “have” to work out anymore. I “get” to workout. It’s a privilege. It’s like getting a massage!