Flow with Purpose
This September marks the 20th Birthday of my hot yoga studio and as part of the celebration members have been posting why they practice – or what is the purpose of their practice. It’s pretty neat to read and see what Uplift Hot Yoga (and owner Carrie Bain) have given back to their membership over the last two decades – from friendships to flexibility, weight loss to strength gain, and most of all the space to be present and build a community.
As part of my “Move with Purpose” blog series, I wanted to share a little about why I choose to move purposely through hot yoga. I consider myself a hot yoga toddler, practicing regularly for a little less than three years. Maybe that means I am in my terrible-twos … testing my limits while not having enough experience to know how to do everything the right way. And maybe sometimes having tantrums (in my mind). I first tried Bikram Hot Yoga about 18 years ago while in college in San Diego. I was looking to push myself in a new way, and was intrigued by the concept – a consistent set of yoga posters in a 108 degree room being guided by an instructor only by their voice. I never went to class enough to get over the dizzies and if you’ve been to hot yoga, you know what I am talking about. I brought Tyler and some friends a few times and all I remember is Tyler ran out of the room and the instructors tried to hunt him down (leaving the room is a no-no, the instructors want to make sure they can watch you). I never felt the warm fuzzy feeling at any of the studios I visited over the years, so I never made it into a consistent practice.
About three years ago I saw a facebook posting for a yoga retreat in Mexico through Uplift Hot Yoga (a locally owned studio in Elk Grove/Sacramento), and thought it would be a good mother-daughter trip for my mom’s birthday and for me as I was ending my active cancer treatment journey. After enjoying the company of others on the retreat, I decided to become a member of the studio. At that point, I was really interested in bundling some of my exercise and mindfulness practices and I thought hot yoga would help support my goals of choosing exercises that give me back as much as I put in. For hot yoga, some of what I get back include:
- Heat: the sweat induced through the heated room and my active body may help induce cellular autophagy (cleaning of cells) and is supportive of my cancer prevention goals.
- Infrared: not all hot yoga studios use infrared, but when I found out Uplift did – I was super excited for the additional benefits that may include boosting immune system function, increasing blood flow and oxygenation, reducing inflammation and improving circulation and lymphatic flow.
- Detoxification: sweating is one of the main detoxification pathways and I’ve never sweated more than in a hot yoga class.
- Mindfulness: The 26&2 series (previously known as Bikram) is guided by an instructor’s verbal cues which requires you to stay mindful and present. I also have been enjoying the more rejuvenating Slow Stretch yoga and I have never felt in as deep of a meditative state as I have in savasana after this class and never slept as good as I have after a yin (UChill) class.
- Hormetic Stressor: putting my body in a state of short-term stress like during a yoga class is a hormetic (good) stressor. Hormesis helps trigger cellular processes that can slow down aging and produces new mitochondria – and even helps deal with other stressors more easily.
- Support my vagus nerve (nervous system): the prananam breath work and other postures in the series are supportive in activating the nervous system that supports both physical and mental health and helps our body get into a parasympathetic (relaxed) state.
- Nasal breathing: moving with your breath and breathing in and out of your nose is one of the most basic – and oldest – traditions of yoga. One of the many benefits of nasal breathing includes the ability to produce nitric oxide which helps improve oxygen circulation in your body. And when we take in more oxygen and pump to our cells it helps maintain healthy tissue. Nasal breathing also helps stimulate our parasympathetic (restful) nervous system
- Flexibility: I don’t think I could even touch my toes a few years ago and I would frequently have little aches and muscle pulls from weight lifting, running and other exercise and I can say that those have lessened over time as I have become more flexible and worked on my mobility! And I can squat deeper. Yoga has also been really beneficial in keeping my arm mobility after I had lymph nodes removed from my armpit – and I notice that if I go longer between classes that area becomes more stiff!
- Strength: hot yoga has helped both my mental and physical strength, not only in the class – but outside the class. Before I practiced yoga regularly, I would frequently get injured from weight lifting with lower back and hip pain. But thankfully though improving my flexibility and mobility, I have been able to lift more with less injuries! It also helps with core strength and stability that we can all benefit from.
- Posture benefits: all the postures in the 26&2 series have a specific benefit, from strengthening muscles, stimulating digestion, increasing circulation, combating depression, massaging internal organs, aiding detoxification, and improving the immune system.
- Encouragement: the instructors are very encouraging and help meet me, and others, where they are. I appreciate the little cues Carrie and the other instructors provide during class to help me improve my practice.
- Body positivity: looking at yourself in the mirror dripping with sweat forces yourself to see your body in all its glory. There are so many different body sizes to celebrate in yoga class, and it is amazing to see the strength each individual carries.
- Resilience: there have been many times I have been in a hot yoga class and wanted to run out and jump in the nearest cold shower. But by learning to use my breath in those situations, I have learned how powerful it is and have been able to keep going. That resilience can be applied to daily life – and learning to use my breath for every day stressors helps with resilience even outside of the hot room.
- Cardiovascular health: research has been done to show how sauna alone can help support heart and cardiovascular health. I believe the hot yoga room combined with mindful movement can accelerate those cardiovascular benefits especially for people who might not be able to do traditional cardio exercise. In the 60 minute hot yoga class my heart rate is in a nice aerobic zone of around 120-140.
- Community: having a sense of community has never been more important than now, as COVID has divided so many. I enjoy seeing the community come together through yoga and think it’s so important to keep it open even (and especially) in these times. Yoga is essential.
Those are just some of the health benefits I’ve found and think about from my hot yoga practice. What’s neat about the studio I attend is the diversity – every age, every skin color, every body size – can all join in the practice of yoga. There’s also a variety of classes, including the standard Hot Yoga (26&2/Bikram), slow stretch, yin (uChill), and inferno hot pilates. So if you live in Elk Grove or Sacramento, let me know if you want to join me for a hot yoga class. But even if you don’t, maybe check to see if you have a hot yoga studio close to you!