Ever since my teenage years when my older (and she claims wiser) sister and I stayed up to watch Late Night with David Letterman, I’ve wanted to formulate an excellent top ten list. Before you get your hopes up that this is going to a hilarious top ten list, the full disclosure is that the only thing this list will have in common with Dave’s gems is that there will be items listed from ten to one. If that didn’t make you give up reading, here’s my list:
10. The experience of being in a bikram yoga studio, is literally heating my engine. I start to sweat from the moment I enter. For those who are familiar with my sweatiness, you might be surprised to learn that I still seem to associate sweat with exertion/hard work. The effect of the non-stop copious sweating? No matter what happens during the 70-80 odd minutes, as soon as it’s finished I feel like I ran a marathon in the summer in Athens. Uphill, both ways.
That sense of survival and accomplishment is the equivalent of practicing thinking that I persevere. That’s what I think at the end of every class. “Wow, I sweated SO much. I worked so hard. I survived (sometimes barely). Read Angela Duckworth’s Grit to understand in detail just how fundamental being perseverant is to having grit and just how much grit is related to high levels of satisfaction in life. Suffice to say, practicing gritty thoughts is a tremendous investment in realizing accomplishments. I’m finding that practicing gritty thoughts in yoga class is leading me to identify myself more often as someone who sticks to things and works hard. So, you can imagine how that story ends – I’m now sticking to more things and working harder.
9. Spending so much time practicing thinking about taking care of my body has led me to prioritize cardio activities more consistently. In January, I was hitting 10,000 steps a day an average of 3.25 per week (with the factor of New Year’s Resolution fuel). In February, I dropped to 2.33 times per week. It was quite cold and icy, but I remember walking on a fair amount of cold and icy days, so I don’t think that was too much of a determining factor. I started hot yoga the last day of February. In March, I’ve averaged 5.7 days/week of hitting 10,000 steps. Almost 2.5 days more, on average, than January. I confess I didn’t bother to apply the test to learn if it’s a statistically significant increase. I can tell you that it has never felt easier to get out the door and claim 10,000 steps each day.
8. I like how I look more. Way more. I don’t know if it’s from looking in those flattering mirrors in the yoga studio all the time. Or the improvement in my posture. Or the combination of gratitude and admiration of my body’s strength for making it through class. Whatever the case, I am appreciating my body. All of it. And that is no small feat.
7. This might be a weird insertion after the great mind/body benefits, but one of the great affects that hot yoga has had on my life is on my laundry. Clearly, yoga produces pretty stinky laundry. Also, a lot of the poses involve sticking my nose into my towel. For extended periods of time. At this point in the class of nose to towel contact, I’m usually feeling uncomfortable, and not seeking to increase my level of challenge. So, having a stinky towel just feels like torture. Then I learned about the power of OxyClean (with thanks to the older and in this case of laundry, definitely wiser sister). I add it into my towel loads now. I put it in the laundry with my gym clothes. It’s changed my life. It’s embarrassing how long I had towels that didn’t smell that great, but the point is that those days are gone. And it’s because of where hot yoga pushed me.
6. I’m making incremental improvements every time I go to class. I’m going 4-5 times a week, so that’s 260 to 320 minutes a week that I’m paying attention to incremental improvements. It’s so satisfying. I see the changes. I feel the changes. Little ones. Every time. On the theme that I continue to practice the thinking out of class that I am thinking in class, I find myself more focused on incremental progress. (read Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage for a great summary on research in this area in The Tetris Effect chapter).
This focus on incremental progress has encouraged me to break stretch goals down into smaller goals and then those smaller goals into measurable, articulated tasks. Then I can see the incremental progress and feel myself get closer to my larger goals. Like the goal of holding a beautifully aligned tree pose.
5. One of the regularly reported benefits of hot yoga is better sleep. My FitBit data supports it. I’m waking up less during the night. I’m falling asleep faster when I do wake up at night. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel tired. It’s amazing what I can get done in the day and how I feel around other people when I feel rested.
4. I feel like my focus has improved. Hot yoga involves tremendous focus. I focus on my eyes in the mirror. I focus on breathing through my nose. I focus on stretching all the ways that each pose demands. I need this focusing practice. I think I have been practicing multi-tasking, in a frequently frantic way, from the moment my oldest daughter was born almost 16 years ago. Add into the mix how much I get distracted by my phone and a frequent sensation of attentional restlessness. The result is practicing distracted thinking regularly and focused thinking on occasion. Until hot yoga.
I find myself focusing on tasks and people in a more sustained fashion. When I find myself distracted by “planning” thoughts (my greatest source of thinking distraction), I bring my attention back to the conversation. I do the same when I’m writing or reading. I’m able to, because I do it all the time in yoga. I can’t afford to be planning my day and problem solving as I hold a pose. I need focus to hold it. So, I acknowledge the thought, bid it farewell and then return my focus to not falling over. Like everything else, the more I practice, the easier it is. It’s not surprising that I believe that all aspects of my life have benefitted from increased focus.
3. I’m moving around with no pain. That’s a really big deal. I broke my knee when I was twenty-one and messed up my mobility in all sorts of ways in the years that followed. This has resulted in regular hip and knee pain for years. It’s gone. I am the happy recipient of all sorts of energy that must have been expanded before in pain management.
2. Hot yoga has motivated me to regulate my eating and drinking habits. It comes down to this: I really like hot yoga. If I eat too close to class (essentially within 3-4 hours) then I feel incredibly ill during class. If I don’t drink enough water, I feel awful during class (and after). If I drink too much water I don’t feel great either. Same with too little food.
These needs and associated risks have developed self-discipline and awareness for me. The combination of an increased sense of self-discipline and eating to feel good and be fuelled is producing incredible feelings of wellness.
1. In the middle of Sunday’s class, our instructor said, “One pose at a time. One breath at a time.” That could be the fuel that heats my engine for the rest of my life. It’s the culmination of all the benefits. I can harness my dedication, motivation, pride, sensitivity, awareness, energy, focus and self-regulation and apply it to every breath. Every pose. I don’t need to worry about whether I’ll have enough for the next breath. The next pose. I’ve learned that whatever I have for each one is enough. It’s usually more than I thought I had, but whatever it is, is okay. Measuring and focusing my effort one pose at a time and one breath at a time is the most inspiring and productive way that I have ever functioned.
I know that these effects of yoga and mindfulness have been known for years. Thousands of years. Yet, I think they’re so amazing that I’m adding my exuberance to the fray. It’s no Letterman Top Ten list, but it is my sincere appreciation for the benefits that yoga and all the people who are teaching it to me are bringing to my life.
I pledge to find another eighties song reference for my next hot yoga post.