Now it hasn’t always been this way, but in the past two years, I have found practicing yoga frustratingly slow. It’s not as bad while I’m away and relaxed—in India I did yoga daily, and when I was in Byron Bay, Australia, I even participated in medication circles. But living in the city, I end up thinking about tasks I’ve neglected at work along with this week’s meal planning while I’m in lotus position… And I usually walk out of class annoyed.
I feel like a hypocrite, because I recommend a good Hatha class to my clients for stress management while ignoring the fact that I, myself, am so ungrounded that I can’t even hold enough focus during my own yoga classes. When my Ayurvedic doctor told me recently that my muscle quality was so low and that the only exercise he recommended for me is yoga, I had to re-evaluate how I felt in downward dog.
You see, according to Ayurveda, most of us do not have the constitutions for intense cardio or heavy weight lifting. Those of us with high Vata (air) get easily depleted, while those of us with high Pitta (fire) are prone to internal inflammation with too much stimulation. Slower paced work-outs like weight lifting without ample cardio are actually said to push toxins into our muscles and disrupt our muscle metabolism. I recently saw a lecture in which the Ayurvedic doctor speaking plainly said that weights-only fitness regimes were just stupid (atypical lingo for an Ayurvedic doctor, so it had me thinking).
So when I spotted a hot yoga studio less than two blocks away from me, I decided it was an omen.
Now, I had been feeling so cold this winter and there was much heaviness and swelling in my body – we refer to this in Eastern medicine as “dampness.” So the idea of heat actually appealed to me as I figured that it would help enkindle my body to decrease this imbalance.
I enrolled in an unlimited introductory week at IAM YOGA and spent that first week in high planks and chaturangas in a 40 degree room with lovely hydrating humidifiers.
After my first class I was hooked. My body immediately felt lighter and as if I had better circulation – almost like a tingling sensation. My edema had gone down, and I felt deflated but activated. It was also grounding to feel this way without having to exert myself to the point of panting. I really liked how I felt like my body was still engaged even when I was in child’s pose as my blood was pumping and my pores were sweating. I also loved that I felt much more flexible as my muscles were warmed with the heat and moisture. With this came a sense of accomplishment as I could get into the positions and release much deeper than usual. As a Pitta I am highly competitive and detest most things I do not excel at.
I will mention that after that first class I broke out in a rash all over my body. But oddly enough, since that initial reaction, I have had no problems. Perhaps it was simply a purging reaction, because now I even apply a heating concoction of sesame oil and mustard seed oil to the back of my thighs and tummy (as these oils are good for cellulite and the heat will help push it deeper into my tissues) without getting any inflammatory reactions.
And not only does my body feel better but my new warming workout also has helped me emotionally. As Linda, the founder of the studio, said, “Yoga helps bring you back to the present. We spend so much time in the past or the future that we often find it difficult to just be.” (That’s me! I wanted to exclaim.) “…But how can you think of anything but being in your body when your body is being challenged and your thighs are killing you? Yoga is meant to strengthen that connection between body and mind.”
She also said that the more we practice being in a peaceful place, the easier it will be to call upon it during stressful situations, and therefore, we can become less reactive. I really appreciate her very spiritual yet straightforward approach.
With a newly grounded perspective and a re-introduction to stretching out my body, hot yoga has not only helped me regain clarity of thought but probably kept the worry wrinkles on my forehead at bay. A true life-saver.
Kristen Ma is the co-owner of Pure + Simple Inc., a group of Holistic Spas with its own line of Natural Skincare and Mineral Make-up. She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner who has studied in Canada, the United States and India. She is also a Certified Esthetician with eight years of practical experience, having worked in Canada as well as Australia. Most recently, Kristen has authored “Beauty: Pure + Simple” which was published by Mc Arthur and Company. Kristen has written on the subject of Holistic Beauty for Vitality Magazine, Blink and Jasmine. She is also a regular contributor to B Magazine, Tonic and Sweat Equity Magazine. She blogs regularly at Holistic Vanity.