I have experimented with yoga off and on for the last few years and had a love/hate relationship with it. I loved the idea of doing yoga and loved that it was s-l-o-w=l-y and slightly helping me increase my stiff body's flexibility. But I also hated it because of my body's stiffness; this inflexibility made many of the poses incredibly difficult for me and I often beat myself up for not being able hold the poses very long.
This summer, I've been focusing on my 40/14 list (40 new and different experiences in 2014 to celebrate turning 40 this past December). Although I've done yoga before, I've never done *hot* yoga and wanted to give it a try. I found an introductory package at a local studio and committed to going as many times as I could in one month (and then ended up purchasing a second month!).
I was nervous and intimidated walking into that first session. I didn't know what to expect. How hot was hot, exactly? Would I be able to tolerate it? Would I pass out?
Yes, it was hot and at times I wasn't sure if I'd be able to make it through. But I walked out of that first session feeling empowered and full of energy. I have been to a number of sessions since that first one; some have been incredibly challenging. Some have left me feeling stiff and sore; others have left me feeling flexible and energized. Over all, it is getting easier to tolerate the heat. Each instructor brings her or his own style so it stays fresh and new.
As I near the end of my second month, I have been reflecting on the role that hot yoga has played in increasing my flexibility, both on and off the mat. There is much wisdom to be gained from hot yoga, if only you pay attention. Here is a summary of the lessons I've learned that have helped me with my practice, AND have fueled my personal and professional growth off the mat.
- Listen to your body. With yoga, you are encouraged to work at your own pace and make modifications as necessary. If your body is telling you that a pose is not going to happen for you today, you listen to it. I'm noticing when I need to rest (in child's pose) and replenish (with water) when I am thirsty. Paying attention to the messages my body is sending and giving it what it needs helps me get through the session when it gets challenging. I'm becoming a better listener to my body off the mat too. For example, I've started noticing how I feel after eating unhealthy foods; which ones upset my stomach or which ones drain my energy. I'm working to cut them out of my diet. I'm cutting back on my coffee and drinking more water, trying to reduce the amount of processed foods I eat, and am eating more fruits and vegetables. When I'm tired, I rest. As a recovering workaholic, I used to push myself to exhaustion. Now, if I need to take a day off, I'll take the day or schedule one for the near future.
- Trust yourself, be willing to experiment, push beyond your fears and internal limitations. When an instructor suggests a new or challenging pose, my first inclination is to doubt that I can do it. But I'm starting to challenge myself to try new poses (I've learned that I don't know whether or not I can do a pose if I don't try it!) As I experiment, I am finding that I can do much more than I originally thought I was capable of. For example, I've done "wheel" pose in the past, but it's been years. The first time this summer that an instructor suggested "wheel," I passed on the opportunity, telling myself there was no way I was going to get my body to move that way yet. The second time this summer that an instructor suggested it, I tried it - and, I did it. I didn't stay in the pose very long, but I did it. The third time, I was able to hold the pose for several minutes. Off the mat, I've noticed that I've been more willing to trust myself and experiment with new ways of being. I'm starting to let go of self-doubt and self-criticism and I'm finding comfort in my own skin. I'm trying new things, meeting new people, and saying yes to new experiences that the old me would have never considered trying.
- Let go of your expectations of perfection and go with the flow more often. I see several different instructors over the course of the week and each session is different. I never know at the beginning of the session which poses the instructor will suggest or how my body will respond each day. I have learned to just show up with no expectations and see what happens. Recently, an instructor suggested a head stand, which I tried, and rather than beating myself up for not doing it *perfectly* I did the best I could. Yes, it took me a few tries to get my legs above my head, and yes, I used the wall to help me balance. But, I got my legs up and I held the pose for several minutes. When I needed a break, I dropped my legs and rested, then tried it again. It wasn't a perfect pose but I was proud that I did it. Off the mat, I'm practicing being more present in the moment. I'm transitioning from someone who over-thinks and over-plans nearly everything to one who limits her planning time to only what's truly needed. Rather than over-thinking and over-analyzing, I'm listening to my intuition ("trusting my gut") more frequently. I find that I often know the right answer if I just listen for it. I'm becoming more patient, more flexible, and more calm.
- Celebrate your successes. Tight muscles make some yoga poses incredibly difficult. Even in down dog, I've been limited with how close I can get my heals to the mat; I've never been able to touch my heals to the floor in this position. All of a sudden one day I was in down dog and I was pedaling my feet one at a time toward the floor and I was able to touch my feet down, one at a time. I was so excited about this new development as it was proof that my flexibility was increasing. I shared this success (as well as my headstand) with others. I was too excited to keep these successes to myself. Off the mat, I'm talking to people more about what I'm grateful for. I'm keeping track of my successes in my personal and professional growth. I'm celebrating others' success with them.
Overall, I have found hot yoga to be cleansing, empowering, and critical to increasing my flexibility - on and off the mat. I am taking each yoga session - and life - as it comes. I am listening to my body. I am pushing myself to go further - if it's fear not pain - that's holding me back. I am trying new things. I am turning up the heat every once in awhile to see where it takes me.
Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get.
Life should be touched, not strangled.
You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times,
and at others move forward with it.