In Defense of Hot Yoga
Confession: I have fallen in love with the body-mind-spirit practice that is yoga. I have come to see it as so much more than the Westernized yoga I was first introduced to in my teens.
I have come to experience a different kind of yogic practice- a practice that offers a kaleidoscope of potential that welcomes me to a space in time where I no longer exist outside of this breath here and now. In this space, I practice under infrared lighting on cushioned flooring to become one with the mat and the floor and the earth and the soil and the universe.
On the Yoga Mat
On the mat is not only where I find my breath, but where I reteach myself to breathe fully and deeply and purposely.
So often, I find myself struggling to breathe deeply enough to fill my lungs, let alone my stomach. So often, I find my shoulders kissing my ear lobes, unable to relax on their own.
So often, I am in pain.
I have been avoiding consistent exercise since leaving the crisis zone of anorexia and stabilizing my weight. I had previously used exercise only as punishment, refinement, sculpting. I was addicted to the binge and purge-with-exercise cycle for years. Yes, years.
So when I got free, I told myself gyms weren't for me. Classes? Absolutely not! Unless, of course, you joined with a friend so it count as socializing, not exercising. But that didn't happen often. Instead, I would walk, walk, walk or I would barely move. I'm talking 600 step days here. Since my physique was still appropriate and I wasn't complaining about pain, I told myself this was normal. Walking more is good. Maybe I could try for 20 minutes a day, everyday. I didn't.
What I Thought About Hot Yoga as Someone with Fibromyalgia
Here are some things that I thought (AKA preconceived notions or assumptions) about hot yoga I had before actually going to more than a handful of classes:
Fibro means I won't be able to do certain moves
Fibro means the heat will make me feel sick
What if I pass out
I don't want to get woozy or dizzy
My body isn't yoga-ready yet
People with fibro don't do hot yoga
There's a joke in the chronically ill (spoonie) community that you know you're chronically ill when someone has told you to try yoga. Why? Because if you have had a chronic condition for long enough, someone, somewhere will tell you to try yoga.
They will likely tell you yoga is the best thing that ever happened to so and so or themselves and you just have to try it.
It. Feels. Like. Shit. Hearing. This. Shit.
Yes, it does.
Why? Because it doesn't come off as helpful. It sounds either judgement, victim-blamey, or arrogant because, like, as if we haven't heard this before!
There's such a bad taste about yoga in some communities not because of the yoga itself, but because of what the yoga suggestions implies or says to the chronically ill person (e.g. they are lacking, they are not trying hard enough to feel better or feel well or not be sick anymore) and because yoga is incorrectly seen in some communities as the holy grail of pain management and disease prevention. For people with incurable conditions, this is just really frustrating rhetoric or choice of language. This all-or-nothing thinking (ie., do yoga, be healthy or don't do yoga and never be healthy) turns people away. I know because for such a long time, I was one of those people.
The marketing around yoga clothes, mats, and accessories (or the commodification of yoga) hasn't helped the matter any, either. The last thing a chronically ill person needs is to be fussing about proper (read: expensive) clothing and playing some role of a yoga-goer.
And guess what?
YOU DON'T HAVE TO.
What I Have Learned in Two Weeks of Hot Yoga
This is not me! I wish! Touching my hands behind me this like is a goal.
The heat in hot yoga isn't heavy heat
The heat increases while your body warms up so the two are working together, not against each other
The heat is the difference! The heat allows for deeper stretching, increased mobility, and loosens tension
Your practice is not supposed to start the same as it finishes. By this, I mean you shouldn't have the same expectations of your body when you first arrive on your mat as you ask of it near the end of class
There are classes for all levels
There are class levels for all bodies
Poses have options for different levels you're at
Sometimes the smallest squeeze of one muscle can give you the balance you need
Yoga is good for strengthening your feet and working out foot pain (common in fibro!)
Breathwork is helpful for increasing oxygen supply to all your body's cells (common problem in people with fibro)
So! The dizziness thing is actually an emotional release and it's something to breathe through and exhale out of your body (trauma is stored in the body and working on it somatically or with breath and body work is something I have paid great money to do in therapy and have also experience this dizziness). It's necessary to remind yourself this is normal and to breathe into and through it
Being in this type of heat is my most loved environment
Being sore from a core yoga class feels a lot better than being sore from being in bed... you gotta work your way up to this but even going to a class about your skill level is good to learn to listen to your body
All body shapes and sizes can do yoga
Group yoga gives a community feeling great for people with illnesses that tend to create isolation (ie., like literally all illnesses)
You CAN do yoga even if you're not feeling great. You CAN lay the whole class or be in child's pose the whole time
Your yoga practitioner should be there as a channel or guide, not a dictator
"There is no such thing as yoga pants!"
What Yoga I Have Been Doing and How it Helps
Hatha yoga is a slower yoga and it's great for:
stopping racing thoughts
stretching and breathing
calming the nervous system
connecting to your body (this was a hard one for me!)
According to the Oxygen Yoga & Fitness class description:
The word “Hatha” has two meanings. Hatha is the umbrella word for all physical practices of yoga (asana) and the yoga of opposing energies, ha (sun) and tha (moon). This slower class respects both usages of the word Hatha by using physical practices to find a balance. There is a focus on basic alignment, actions within the poses, mindfulness and listening to your own body. The class is well-rounded and focuses on the mind-body connection to build strength and flexibility in the body and mind. A great class for beginners to build a solid foundation and for experienced practitioners to refine their practice and knowledge.
Freedom Flow Yoga is the go-to for a Vinyasa-style class.
Flow yoga is great for getting in a low-impact whole body workout! You can use blocks and straps that are normalized here, not seen as "accessibility" items. For some things I use blocks and others I don't. Some days I need more blocks than others- and I'm not the only one!
The class description says it's a fun and dynamic routine that gradually works its way into a flowing sequence, linking various Yoga poses together in a Vinyasa style. "You will finish feeling energized, calm and ready to face your world. This class is open for all levels with flows that help you to connect and tap into your inner strength."
Deep Stretch and Relaxation Yoga (Mixed Style)
This is the class for calming worries and being gentle to your body while feeling amazing for doing something truly amazing for your body-mind-spirit.
This description says this class focuses on poses that help relieve the effects of chronic stress in several ways. This sequence is designed to release tension and teach the basic fundamentals of Yoga. You will leave feeling refreshed and relaxed, according to the class description.
I'm Not Saying Do Yoga, But I'm Saying, Do Yoga
Whether you start with a free video in your bedroom or jump right into a group class at a hot yoga studio, dipping your toes into this world is worth your limited spoons. Dare I even go as far as saying that hot yoga can, gulp, give me more spoons? Not yet. But maybe?
I'll report back in another two weeks.