I am Not Good in the Heat and Other Excuses

“I’d try hot yoga, but I’m not good in the heat.” I’ve heard that at least a hundred times or variations on the theme.

“I hate heat.”

“I can’t handle heat.”

“No, really, I hate the heat.”

“I tried it and I couldn’t handle the heat.”

I am the bearer of both good and bad news.

These are not reasons. These are excuses.

The good news is that now that you understand it is an excuse, you can take action. The bad news is that this is just an excuse and not a reason not to go to class.

The human body has a tremendously efficient and responsive thermoregulation system. Except in cases of illness, it does a wonderful job of constantly adjusting to changing external and internal temperature changes.

Your body is no different than any of billions of humans on the planet.

All along the equator, humans live in climates with a heat index much higher than a Bikram Yoga class. People survive Texas in the summer. Just a few decades ago, most did it without air conditioning. You, too, could survive there.

“But I am a special case….”

My friend, John, has a spinal cord injury that severed communication with his sweat glands. He cannot sweat. He uses a spray bottle to mist his skin when he gets hot and the water causes evapotranspiration to cool his body, just like yours. John can do hot yoga. You can, too.

Being in a hot yoga class is uncomfortable.

It’s hard to do yoga. It’s hard to look at yourself. It is hard to feel a body you have been trying to ignore for decades. You are hot and you think you might suffocate. You think your body just can’t handle it. These are thoughts. That doesn’t make them reality.

The secret to it all is, you can do it. You can show up and learn to breathe and focus on your body and not your mind. You can acclimate to the heat and take it one breath at a time and become more comfortable in your body. You can learn to do what you can today and not what you think you should be able to do by now, goldangit! You can become more comfortable in this moment, even if this moment is uncomfortable.

“I am not good in the heat” is a phrase that means “I am not comfortable being uncomfortable,” and this is normal. The human brain is designed to avoid discomfort. Within a fraction of a second, your body can classify any sensation as one to avoid or to seek. Before you even have time to rationalize, your mind will lead you toward avoidance.

If you are chased by a tiger, Avoid! Avoid! Get away and get safe. If you don’t want to take out the trash, well, its time to learn to control the mind and get the job done.

Reason, logic and patience are all gifts of our higher brain function. We can use our brains to either help ourselves in the moment or to hurt ourselves. It is the self-awareness that yoga brings that helps us to experience the present moment and act from a place of understanding and reason.

This is one of the greatest gifts of a hot yoga practice. We train over and over, pose by pose, to pause and to breathe in conditions of challenge and discomfort. We learn to quiet the mind, control the breath and listen to the body. “Am I safe? Am I okay?” we ask our bodies over and over in class.

When the answer is yes, we induce neuro-plasticity and retrain our brains not to fidget, hold our breath, or increase our heart rate under stress. This is why, in scientific testing, yogis have shown significant reductions in the stress hormone cortisol. This is why so many yogis report that yoga “reduces stress” even though their lives are as stressful as others.

Here are some other excuses, parading as “reasons”:

  • I am too old.
  • I am inflexible.
  • I am too fat.
  • I can’t.
  • Yoga hurts people.
  • I have __fill in the blank__ injury.
  • I am tired.
  • I have __fill in the blank__ disease.
  • I don’t have time.
  • My family needs me.
  • I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • I can’t afford it.

These excuses are all of the exact reasons that you need to do yoga. These are all factors in your life that yoga will help you heal from or deal with. I have never met a yoga studio owner who wouldn’t accept work/study or trade for yoga. If you are truly too busy to do yoga, you had better get to class before you die.

If you have seen yourself in one of those excuses, it may have started a diatribe in your head against me and how I don’t know what I’m talking about or, worse, about you and what a loser you are to have made an excuse.

You are not a loser; you are a human. While I take responsibility for saying some things that may have made you uncomfortable, I am not sorry in the slightest. That’s my job. I have made a career of helping people find comfort in their lives through uncomfortable acts and facts. I paid for the mirrors, but you’ve gotta do the work.

The payoff of all of that work is big. Peace. Well-being. Freedom from pain. Health.

In the words of my teacher, “You deserve to have the best life. I feel cry when I say that.” I feel a little cry myself, now that you mention it….

sara headshotSara Curry is the Owner and Director of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She is Vice President of Seacoast Area Teachers of Yoga in Action, a non-profit that improves accessibility of yoga to traditionally under-served populations. She is also one of the creators of the Sober Yogis yoga and recovery program.

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I Hate My Yoga Teacher

Day One. I hate my yoga teacher. Anyone could be that skinny if all they had to do all day was workout and shop at Whole Foods. That bitch talked me into an introductory month. Why did I spend an extra $15 to listen to some immature twenty-something tell me about the meaning of life?

Day Two. Look in the mirror? I am sure you looooove looking in the mirror, bitch, with your $200 haircut. The mirror is just there to stroke your ego. Well, let me tell you what, I am not looking in the mirror. That is not what yoga is about. People who are in tune with their bodies should be able to feel their alignment. That’s real yoga.

Day Three. I still hate my yoga teacher. I have nothing in common with this woman. Don’t talk to a bunch of forty-year old women about aging gracefully while we’re trying to stand on one foot. What does she know about life anyway? I am sure her daddy bought her that Subaru and she must live off a trust fund to afford those $70 yoga pants.

Day Five. This asshole told me today that if I couldn’t get my leg around the first time to try again. What the hell does he think he knows? I know my body. I know what I can and can’t do. And I don’t know why these teachers are all suggesting when to drink water and when to not. Like I don’t know how to drink after four decades on this planet? What a bunch of militaristic dicks. It’s all about the ego with them. All they want to do is control us.

Day Six. I don’t even know why I keep coming back. This can’t be good for you. The human body wasn’t made to do these things. And the room! It must be a haven for germs. It can’t be safe to have so many sweaty bodies so close together. What is she doing going over to the thermostat again? Is that bitch trying to punish us for falling out of Standing Bow?

Day Eight. I swear, I’m only coming back to get my money’s worth. I paid $30 for the intro month and I might as well get as much use out of it as I can. It costs as much as a month at the gym and this is the cheap month! The bitch at the front desk told me my goal was to stay in the room to get acclimated to the heat my first class. I knew she was an idiot after two postures. I needed to get some fresh air. I don’t know why anyone else stayed in there. I mean, yeah, I got dizzy when I walked out into the lobby and had to sit down, but I’m sure that’s just because she had the heat turned up way too high. There wasn’t any oxygen in there!

Day Ten. The bitch was all tired at the front desk today. I am sure she was out partying with all of her friends last night. When I walked in, she told me she was glad to see me. Yeah, right. Despite the fact that I hate my yoga teacher, I didn’t leave the room today. I didn’t even think to leave. I was too caught up in the poses. I think I’m starting to get some of them. And I never got dizzy. They must have turned the heat down.

Day Thirteen. HOLY CRAP! I got my leg around in Eagle today! I never thought I would do that. I mean, NEVER! He said, “Try one more time,” and I did and I GOT IT! He believed in me before I ever believed in myself. I don’t know what he saw or how he knew, but HOT DAMN!

Day Fourteen. After last night’s miracle, I got up the courage to try the front row. Now that I can see myself in the mirror, I realize my left hip is always twisting back. That’s the one that used to hurt me in soccer. When I bring it forward, holy smokes the stretch!!! No wonder I was avoiding it when I couldn’t see in the back row.

Day Sixteen. Okay, she doesn’t have a trust fund. She is a lululemon ambassador and she gets those expensive pants for teaching free classes at the showroom on the weekends. I didn’t realize that they are always teaching when other people are not working: early, late, on weekends, on holidays. Still, I tried to ask a question after class today, but all of her friends were lined up to gossip after class. I waited twenty minutes, but no one seems to care about my needs, so I just left without asking. Of course they have never heard of “customer service” at a yoga studio.

Day Eighteen. Son of a gun. I guess their “suggestions” work. I didn’t drink water before camel today and for the first time, I held it the whole time, both sets, and didn’t feel like barfing! The bitch told me I nailed my Triangle alignment “spot on”, too. What, does she think she’s from London now?

Day Twenty-one. I think I am addicted. I didn’t come yesterday and I felt “off” all day. The teachers always say the only class you regret is the one you didn’t take. They couldn’t be more right. Class today felt amazing! I felt like She-ra, Princess of Power. I guess rest does help your muscles heal. I got my kicking leg locked in Standing Head-to-Knee. I can’t wait to try it again tomorrow.

Day Twenty-two. I was listening in as she talked with her “friends” after class today. The girl was complaining of a sore lower back and how she was trying to stretch it out, but it wasn’t getting better. Queen Bitch explained how you can’t stretch out back pain and that back bending is what actually heals it. We sit and forward bend all day, so more of the same will only get you more of the same. I’m glad I eavesdropped. My lower back has been tender for a week now. I am going to try out what she said tomorrow.

Day Twenty-five. No more back pain! I have been taking it easy in the forward bends and working my ass off in the back bends. I even get up during work to do a quick half moon and back bend once in a while. I haven’t felt this good in years. I thought that low-grade back pain was just something I’d have to live with for the rest of my life.

Day Twenty-six. I decided to stay after and wait until I got my turn tonight. My wrist has really been bugging me and it’s affecting my typing. After the back pain realization, maybe she can help me with this. I waited until 8:40 pm. Turns out, those people I thought were her friends are students waiting to ask questions about themselves. One women was even talking all about her dog’s knee surgery for, like, ten minutes. As I left the studio at 9 pm, my yoga teacher was walking into the laundry room to finish washing and folding towels. Her class ended an hour ago…

Day Twenty-nine. My intro month ends tomorrow. I can’t stop now. I am going to sign up for automatic billing. It really is the best deal. And this is like paying for the gym, therapy, chiropractic and a doctor’s visit all in one and I can come every day. I actually came twice yesterday. I got up to take the early bird and had such a terrible day at work that I needed it to de-stress before going home. The guy I used to call “the asshole” mentioned to the class what dedication I had book-ending my day with yoga. Me? Dedicated? I have always thought of myself as a quitter, but I guess I am.

And my wrist is feeling much better. Turns out I had my elbows bent in Locust and my wrist was twisted when I was lying on it. I thought it was more important to get them under, even though she said, “Be sure your elbows are straight.” I wonder how many other cues I’ve misinterpreted.

Day Thirty-four. I learned today that my yoga teacher had a miscarriage three weeks ago. She came to work two days later, tired at the front desk, but she still had a smile for each of us. She told me she was glad I was there. I remember, she even said,”Is that a new top? It really brings out the color of your eyes.” When will I learn, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover?

Day Thirty-nine. A couple of the people from yoga invited me out for tea after class this weekend. How cool. I didn’t realize I was making friends in the locker room, but I feel so comfortable around these women. We had tea and a delicious, healthy lunch after a killer class. I feel like I’m walking on air right now!

Day Forty-five. I thanked my teacher today. I know I should have done it earlier, but the weather was crappy and lots of businesses were closing early, and my teacher volunteered to stay so that those of us in the 9-5 grind could get a class in a the end of a long day. I know she had a long ride home on snowy roads. I said, “Thank you for being here.” “Happy to,” she said. Could she really be happy being in service to others? I needed that class today.

Day Sixty-four. I haven’t been posting much lately. I am too busy feeling good to complain. I am just so lucky to have found this studio, this community and these amazing teachers. I have become a better person just by taking classes here for two months. Who would have thought?

Day Sixty-five. And I forgot to mention: I love my yoga teacher.

sara and bella headstandSara Curry is a yoga teacher and studio owner in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through many years on the mat, she has learned to love each and every one of her yoga instructors from a wide variety of disciplines by first learning to love herself.

#findthe44percent

In 2012, Yoga Journal published the findings of their yoga market study revealing that over 20 million Americans practice yoga. This number represents less than 9% of the US population.

An astonishing 44% of Americans consider themselves aspiring yogis, or people who want to try yoga.

9% of Americans practice yoga. 44% want to try.

From this information was born the #findthe44percent project. After watching Kim Kardashian try to #breaktheinternet with her derriere, yoga studios all over the country decided to put the same effort into bringing awareness of yoga.

Driven by the therapeutic potential of the practice, yogis all over the country are using social media to try to #findthe44percent who haven’t found the time, the location or the courage to give yoga a shot.

Studios are running #findthe44percent promotions and posting articles on the web targeting new students.

Individuals in other lines of business have questioned the logic of competing yoga businesses promoting in tandem. Proponents of the movement beg to differ.

One of the foundational principles of yoga is aparigraha or non-grasping. By not trying to hold on to ideas, materials, wealth or possessions, one brings abundance to their life. “I have always believed that more yoga anywhere means more yoga everywhere,” says #findthe44percent founder Sara Curry. “I don’t care if it is at my studio or another or what discipline speaks to someone, as long as people are finding a way to a practice that can help them feel better and enjoy life more.”

“Maybe it is a little selfish, too,” said Curry. “People are a lot nicer after a good class. Can you imagine what traffic would be like if it was 50% post-savasana yogis?”

You can help, too. Ask your local studio about their 2015 #findthe44percent promotion.

Bring a friend to yoga and check in with #findthe44percent at your favorite studio.

Post an article you found suitable for fledgling yogis and tag it #findthe44percent.

Talk your mom into finally trying a class. Maybe you could win a month of unlimited yoga. #findthe44percent.

Breastfeeding and Bikram Yoga: Postpartum Concerns

I’ve had a lot of questions from students lately about postpartum recovery, breastfeeding, and Bikram Yoga. This pose will address a lot of those questions.

When can I return to yoga?

Most physicians recommend you wait at least three weeks postpartum before resuming yoga to allow your pregnancy hormone levels to drop, as they do dramatically at two weeks postpartum, and stabilize.  Some want you to wait six weeks until the placental scar is fully healed. With that said, who wants to look at their postpartum body in the mirror with a pad stuffed in their spandex? You may want to wait until your flow is reduced to panty-liner levels.

You’ll also need to take into consideration how you are feeling, sleeping, and recovering.  If what you’re doing causes your flow to increase that is a sure sign you are doing too much, so slow down. Personally, I returned to classes five and four weeks postpartum with my two pregnancies, but had been doing some yoga in my living room since three weeks PP to help alleviate the Hunchback of Breastfeeding. As long as you are practicing with mindfulness, yoga is an adaptive practice you can make safe at any time.

Benefits

Your yoga practice is a wonderful tool to return you to your body. Not just your pre-pregnancy weight, but to help your spine, joints, hips, rib cage, and abdominal organs return to their normal places, sizes, and alignment. Your practice will help straighten your posture as you strengthen your back and abdominal muscles against the common pregnancy kyphosis (hunchback) and lordosis (sway-back).

Pregnancy is hard on your body, but so is having an infant. It is difficult to find time for yourself and you spend most of your day in ergonomically-compromised positions.  When you’re not hunched over changing diapers and cute little onesies covered in the latest blow-out, you’re hunched over breastfeeding. If you’re not hunched over, you’re probably lugging a car seat over one arm or wearing baby strapped to your body in a wrap or a sling. When you’re not doing that, then you’re probably on the toilet trying to pee and simultaneously breastfeeding and talking on the phone while contemplating what you can stuff into your gob because, Damn!, this breastfeeding makes you hungry. If you formula feed, then kudos to you because you have to wash bottles in the middle of all of this. Your yoga can help to keep you strong so you don’t suffer the aching back, sore neck, and headaches that plague a lot of new moms.

In addition, the practice gives you an incredible endorphin rush that helps to improve your mood. Simply being able to take a couple of hours to yourself, for yourself, by yourself, when no one needs something from you is critical to make Mommy a happy, loving, productive mommy. After my son was born, I remember thinking one day, “Do I have postpartum depression?” The next day I took my first class back and was on top of the world. It’s amazing what a little time to yourself and some exercise can do for you.

Loose Joints

The hormone relaxin that helped your body get ready to open and stretch your pelvis during delivery remains in your body for nine months postpartum. The levels reduce significantly in the first six weeks, and continue to diminish over the first nine months. Relaxin softens the ligaments in your body. Ligaments hold your joints together. Looser ligaments means looser joints.

To be clear, this looseness means your joints are not held together as well as they used to be. It does not mean you will be more flexible.

What this means in your practice is that you’ll need to be aware of the limits of your joints for nine months postpartum. As women, we tend to be more flexible than men and can often skate by in class on our flexibility and put a lot of extra strain on our joints.  This is detrimental to the body (postpartum or not) and now is a good time to erase those bad habits. Instead, concentrate on developing the strength in the muscles that support the joints, especially the weight-bearing joints. This is particularly important in one-legged, standing balancing postures. You must equally contract the quadriceps and hamstrings muscles over a straight knee joint to “lock” the knee. They antagonize each other and result in a strong, stable knee.

It is common (but not normal) for women to experience discomfort in the sacrum and hips after pregnancy. Good chiropractic care can help with any misalignment caused or exacerbated by your pregnancy, but good practice in the yoga room can help to support this area as well. In backward bends, firmly contract the hip muscles to support the sacrum and stabilize the lower back. Don’t try to push through pain in the sacrum in deep back bends or forward bends that rely on strong flexion of the hip joint, and don’t over-do it in hip flexibility exercises like lotus and pigeon before nine months postpartum.

Weak Abdominals

Your abdominal muscles are not just weak from the activities and exercises you couldn’t do while pregnant, but also because they were just stretched over a huge watermelon for nine months. It takes time for them to contract and retract to their normal length, then they still have to strengthen from there. You may notice when you completely relax them that it looks like there’s still a grapefruit or a cantaloupe sitting in there. Be patient. They will tighten up. Concentrate in class on really pulling in on your abs in all of the poses. Picture your abdominal muscles pulling the four corners of your belly (top two hip crests and the bottom of your ribs) together toward your belly button and back toward your spine. This should get them to engage like you want.

It may not feel or look like much is happening, but it’s repeating the action that leads to strengthening and results whether you can see it today or not. The only posture you don’t use the abdominals in is wind-removing pose.

You may also notice that postures you didn’t realize your belly affected are significantly harder. The abdominals stabilize the lower back. When they are weak, this makes postures like balancing stick and locust much more difficult. They also flex the spine and rotate it. You may find your depth is limited or more challenging in the head-to-knee postures, rabbit, triangle, spine twist. Again, don’t worry. It’s hard, but its just what your body needs. Remember, you’ve got to have a strong belly to avoid the postpartum back pain that so many women suffer unnecessarily.

Breastfeeding

Once baby can go 2-3 hours between feedings or is taking a bottle, you can resume your practice (with the support of your care providers, of course). You’ve probably already learned how much more water your body needs when breastfeeding. The same applies in the hot room. This is not the time to test your mental strength to refuse water. You may not need it mentally, but your body is making milk the whole time and needs water to fuel the process. Make sure you’re drinking a minimum of 16 ounces of water in class and more before and afterward. This may require you to have certain points where you stop and remind yourself to take a drink.

But they’re sore! Your breasts, I mean. It takes six weeks for a breastfeeding mother’s fluid levels to stabilize (in the entire body, not just your breasts). That’s why pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel syndrome bothers women until then and why the bra you bought when your milk came in is a little too big when your baby is two months old. Your breast size increases due not just to milk production and mammary glands, but also because of inflammation in your breasts in the beginning of each new nursing experience. Even for mothers who nursed a toddler their entire pregnancy. As this recedes, the soreness in your breasts usually follows and you can return to normal execution of the postures.

If they’re sore and you can’t lie on them, do the pregnancy Savasana or even the pregnancy modifications for the belly-down series. Some women with recurrent blocked ducts, mastitis or supply issues may need to do the pregnancy Cobra series for the entire breastfeeding period. If you’re not bothered, you can try the Cobra series, but may want to start the postures on your elbows while the rest of the class sets it up. Continue like this until your breasts are no longer sore.

Losing Weight

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all want to lose the “maternal fat stores” from pregnancy. Madonna used a regimen of Bikram Yoga to lose the baby weight from her pregnancies.

It is a rigorous series and burns a lot of calories, so it makes sense to use it to aid you in your quest. Online calculators and testing done at Stanford University indicate a per-hour calorie consumption during Bikram Yoga of 350-650 calories for a 150 pound woman. More in-depth study done in 2013 at Colorado State University showed the level of metabolism during class is closer to 330 calories per class. If you are breastfeeding, please remember that it is not recommended that you consume less than 1800-2400 calories per day without adverse effect on your supply. On the days that you practice, you will need to supplement your food supply to reflect an additional 300 calories at a minimum.

With that said, for some women, the weight falls off them while breastfeeding. For others, they hold onto their fat stores the entire time they are nursing. This seems to be a genetic phenomenon. If you’re eating well, exercising and not losing please be easy on yourself. There’s not much you can do about it. You’ll be rewarded in long run by all of the benefits your children receive along with your sweet milk.