How Hot Yoga Cooled My Chronic Back Pain
I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and when I mentioned writing this post about hot yoga, he said, “Oh I could never do yoga. I’m not flexible.” I laughed because that’s sort of the point. You do yoga in order to become more flexible (among some other great benefits).
My friend’s hesitancy is not uncommon; I think there are a lot of people who are curious about yoga but are fearful about giving it a go. Does this sound a bit like you? Perhaps my experience with Bikram hatha yoga — as a non-athlete— will show you it’s not as hard as you think to start; once you do, you may find yourself doing hot yoga for mmm, 26 years (!) as I have been, so far.
I don’t consider myself an “expert” by any means. The class is called Bikram’s Beginning Yoga, good for 9-year-olds, 90-year-olds and everyone in between. I’m a perpetual beginner, always discovering how my body is “today,” and I enjoy great benefits — physical, mental and emotional — from regular practice.
I began 26 years ago because of chronic back pain. My fiancé (now my wife) convinced me to try it. Unlike today, where there’s a yoga studio on practically every corner, back then there were very few and so yoga was considered kind of exotic. Was I daunted the first time I walked into what Bikram Choudhury half-jokingly referred to as the “torture chamber?” Heck yes. But I stuck it out (partially to impress my fiancé, partially to impress Bikram who taught all the classes himself— this was years before Bikram yoga became an international franchise) and lo and behold! My back pain was resolved within the first 30 days, going to class about 3 times per week.
I’ve found that Bikram’s series of hatha yoga postures provides me with several benefits:
- helps heal old injuries
- I have greater flexibility (helping to prevent injury)
- it tones my body and helps to prevent overeating because it starts to shrink the stomach!
- helps me get a full night of sleep
- helps me deal better with stress
For me, the keys to sticking with this practice are:
- Stick with it — just show up! As Bikram likes to say, quoting Yoda, “There is no try, there is only do.”
- “Stay on your own mat.” In other words, don’t compare yourself to the person next to you who’s flexible as cooked linguini and has achieved perfect postures. Whether you’re struggling to hold the posture at all, or holding it beautifully, either way, I have found you get 100% of the BENEFITS of the posture as long as you give it 100% of your effort.
So listen to Yoda. Do a class and see how it is for you in helping to achieve your personal health goals. There are many styles available including Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Yoga with Goats (no kidding!), even Naked Yoga (no thank you!) Try some form of exercise that speaks to you, that you seem to want to stick with, and stick with it! You might find you can’t get enough.
Disclaimer: Consult your physician before engaging in a new form of exercise.