As a yoga practitioner and teacher in our community, I often have the opportunity to talk to others about yoga. In many cases, people have never tried yoga and are curious about it. I am asked these questions with some regularity: “I was thinking about trying yoga- which class will I burn more calories in Hot, Warm or Flow? Will I lose weight?”
It takes me back to my own experience, when I was running and circuit training- often twice a day and “rest” was the ultimate four-letter word. Before I started my yoga practice, my muscles were tight, short and I spent a good deal of time feeling “sore”; I was 39 years old and couldn’t touch my toes. It was that moment that caused me to wake up. I could continue down this path or change. I took the change route and started yoga, each class I felt a little better and I found a place that left my body, mind and spirit feeling refreshed- that often lasted well after the class had ended. I wanted to do more yoga but was afraid that by giving up the intense activity calorie burn that my training and the running provided, my fitness would decline.
Last November, I ran my 16th half marathon in Savannah, Georgia. Despite my best efforts to be “rested,” I felt tired. I ran, finished, felt even more tired, and missed my goal time by 30 seconds. It was a long ride home to Tampa; I took the time to think and reflect. I didn’t like the way my body felt, I didn’t like how my mind felt- although I still ran well and I refused to accept it because I didn’t meet my expectation. It was on the long ride home that I decided to change my routine in an attempt to refresh my body and mind.
I stepped up my yoga practice, started barre workouts- both of which are low/no impact activities with a focus on working with one’s own body weight for resistance and strengthening. I scaled back my running to focus on shorter distances. In the next 2 months, the difference I experienced was dramatic. My body felt good, my mind and spirit felt renewed. My body transformed from muscular to lean and I gained space in areas that were previously tight. I shifted from a place of “fitness” to “wellness”./p>
Through a more regular yoga practice, other things began to evolve. I couldn’t eat right before class, so I would modify and eat after or eat a large balanced meal a few hours before. I started to crave more nutrient rich foods, I was eating more sensibly. I was avoiding foods that didn’t fuel me well. Don’t get me wrong, I still love cake and a nice glass of wine, but I have them as treats rather than something I regularly gravitate towards just because I think I am hungry.
Yoga conditions the whole body with no impact and minimal repetitive motion. At the end of class, I feel my whole body had been worked. Most importantly, yoga conditioned my mind and spirit. How much time had I spent setting an expectation for that race? How much energy did I waste beating myself up about the result? Certainly more than I care to think about. The inward focus of the yoga practice taught me that expectation almost always results in disappointment and stress. I still run and run races. Some of my better events have been when I focus on each breath, stride or step- accept where I am at and do my best with it. Sometimes the result isn’t spectacular, but I accept where I was that day, reflect and adapt if needed for the next time. When I approach my training and practice from a place of acceptance and doing my best with what I have I feel a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel light and energetic.
I have no idea of the calories burned and or the weight I lost since I started a regular yoga practice. I think my weight stayed about the same yet my body composition changed. What is far greater than losing weight is that that through yoga practice that I lost anxiety, fear, doubt, self-criticism. I burned calories, but more importantly, I burned barriers and old patterns. In losing these things, I was able to allow my true self and all of it’s potential rise to the surface and shine.
Bikram yoga is a great way for us to forge this commitment to a practice. There are thousands of other ways to achieve this, but Bikram is one of the most popular and widespread. When it comes to establishing millions of people on their own path it is clearly working. Where it is not working is the way in which the culture of the community is currently designed and how intensely it is attached. The “just do it one way forever” perspective is tearing the fabric of the community apart. This rigidity though, is just a natural part of the evolution of human designed systems. So it’s not tragic if we accept it from a more expansive yoga perspective. It is something we can learn from and examine moving forward as the wider yoga community grows. I think the first lesson is that all things rigid will break and all things flexible will bend, much like our bodies.