Why I Don’t Do Hot Yoga (but it’s OK if You Do)

photo by Kullez on Flickr

I often get asked for an opinion on the different types of yoga, particularly hot yoga, and I usually try to give a succinct answer that’s clear (I don’t like hot yoga) but respectful (you can still do it). That sounds totally non-committal, but there’s a reason for it! TLDR: I choose a practice style that’s right for me personally, and you should pick one that’s right for you. People who’ve only tried hot yoga might feel that there’s no other way to practice or feel that yoga’s either “not for me” or just meant to be brutal. That’s not the case, though. Yoga is for everybody, and you get to choose what type of practice is healthiest for you. So, having tried it myself, here are the reasons I choose not to practice hot yoga, but we can still be friends if you do.

Problem 1: Ego. My biggest problem in a hot room full of people is that I will push myself too far and get hurt. I will not be listening to my body the way I should. I’ll feel more flexible than normal because of the heat, and I will do poses my body can’t normally get into. Even though I teach yoga and practice regularly, I have some really tight muscles because I skate a lot, so something as simple as janu sirsasana can be a significant challenge for me. If I let myself get into a competitive state of mind, I’m more likely to push myself in challenging poses, which can result in injury. The obvious answer to this first problem is ahimsa, the yogic principal of nonviolence and non-harming. For me, entering into an environment where I know I will push myself in an unsafe way is a type of violence or aggression toward myself, so my practice of ahimsa means taking a gentler approach to asana.

Problem 2: Heat doesn’t make your yoga practice better. Sweating profusely isn’t particularly better for you than working up a moderate sweat. Sitting in a hot sauna can feel really nice, and a good sweat can give your skin a healthy glow, but heat by itself doesn’t burn fat or release toxins or anything like that. Heat and sweat produced by the body working and burning calories is productive. Heat and sweat produced by being in a hot room is just your body’s way of desperately trying to cool itself, which is why it’s important to drink tons of water if you do plan on practicing hot yoga. Some people really love the feeling of sweating their brains out. I don’t. Plus, I hate when my hands and feet are so sweaty that I slide all over the mat. This article does a great job of debunking several myths about the benefits of practicing in extreme heat.

Problem 3: Bikram Choudhury and other guru types … I mention Bikram in particular because he’s infamous. He’s the rock star of hot yoga and Bikram classes are taught in a very prescriptive way. I instinctively distrust people like this. They’re very good at what they do and well-known for it, but that doesn’t make them superior beings. I try to take whatever wisdom I can from them and move on. Bikram probably knows an awful lot about anatomy and asana practice, but my body is still my own and I get to decide what to do with it. If a yoga teacher insists that a pose be done in a particular way (or done at all) when it’s clearly putting the student in pain or at risk of injury, that teacher is irresponsible and not to be trusted, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Problem 4: Different abilities. In every yoga class I’ve taught or taken, there have been people of different ability levels. Even if you go to the most beginner level class, you’ll have beginners who are relatively fit and taking their first steps into yoga, and you’ll have beginners who haven’t exercised in years or are recovering from major injury or illness. As a teacher, it’s my job to try to meet all of those people where they are and provide a class that benefits everyone in the room. Around here, many hot yoga classes are vinyasa style, which means you’re moving pretty quickly from one pose to the next, and there’s very little time for discussing alignment, much less for giving specific feedback and adjustments to individuals who may be struggling. In these classes, I’ve often observed fellow students in unsafe poses and had to stop myself from stepping on the teacher’s toes by assisting them myself.

Problem 5: Too much rajas. In yogic philosophy, there’s the concept of the gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is a sedentary state, rajas is an active state, and sattwa is a light state. (This is an oversimplification, and I suggest you read more about the gunas here if you’re interested.) Most of us live somewhere between tamas and rajas — we may live a sedentary lifestyle, sitting a desk most of the day and watching TV most of the evening, but we’re mentally and emotionally very rajasic meaning that we’re stressed out, anxious, and our thoughts and emotions are out of control. A sattvic state is attained through the various practices of yoga including self-reflection and meditation. To be functional in our world, most of us need a healthy balance of all three gunas. We need enough tamas to be grounded in reality, enough rajas to take action, and enough sattva to have a clear perspective. I’ve noticed in my social circles that the people who are most attracted to hot yoga are also the people who’s lives are already very rajasic. They are busy, often stressed out or anxious, high achievers, and typically very image aware. A fast-paced, heated practice like hot yoga tends to reinforce those same traits. So, hot yoga will feel great to someone who loves to be active, but it won’t necessarily help them to become more balanced or less stressed.

Exception to Problem 5: Some people need that. Especially if you’ve been living a sedentary lifestyle and you suddenly stumble upon a yoga practice that really invigorates you — that’s great. If it gets you moving, inspires you, and starts you on your yoga journey, then I’m all for it. A vigorous practice can help you burn anxious energy, and if you’re working with a good teacher who can bring you back down from that energy high in order to relax and meditate at the end of class, even better. But you don’t have to practice that aggressively or be in a super heated room to get that calming benefit from your yoga.

Problem 6: Sustainability. I enjoy a hot yoga class maybe three times a year, at the absolute most. In the dead of winter, it feels really good to go into a hot studio and sweat like crazy. It feels like I’m jump starting my body after months of staying inside and hiding from the cold. It’s just not a practice I personally can sustain more than a few classes in a row. Some people have the energy for that, but I don’t. I get my workout elsewhere, and I spend plenty of energy on that. When I turn to yoga, it’s to help my mind and body recover from the demands I place on them, not to continue pushing.

Problem 7: The physical challenges of yoga are fun, but they don’t mean anything. This isn’t exactly a problem, but I do think certain styles of yoga over-emphasize the importance of asana practice. There is no inherent merit in being able to do a handstand or reach the bind in extended side angle. There is no yoga god looking down and distributing blessings to people who can put their feet behind their head. It’s fun to work on advanced poses, but it’s not important. My shoulders really don’t like binding in certain poses, so I’ve decided that for me, it’s just not that important to get there. What matters is respecting my body and choosing a practice that leads me toward the ultimate goal of yoga which — believe it or not — isn’t a pose at all.

At the end of the day, your yoga practice is what you make it. You can compete with yourself or the person on the next mat. You can make it a practice of self-reflection or self-abuse. It can be your workout, your source of peace, or both. There’s no wrong yoga as long as you practice with intention and awareness. If you practice mindlessly, it’s not yoga, it’s just poses. Whether you’re in a hot room sweating buckets or lying on the floor doing restoratives, the quality of your practice is determined by your intention, not by the brand you prefer.

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Let There Be Full Spectrum Light

wpid-img_20141106_142621.jpgI’ve written a lot lately about depression (especially of the seasonal variety), and I finally decided to buy a Happy Light (by Verilux) after my doctor and a few friends had suggested it to me for literally years. Other friends have asked for feedback on the lamps because apparently I’m not the only one who gets down during these shorter days, so here’s a little roundup of how it’s going.

So! I got a lamp to go on my desk as well as some light bulbs to go in the lamps in our living room. The lamp is called the “Happy Light,” and we found it on Amazon. I chose the Verilux brand because my doctor suggested it and I know a few people who’ve used their lamps before.

Here’s the important info. The lamp’s instruction booklet suggests a minimum daily use of 30-60 minutes. I typically turn it on while I’m writing and probably get significantly more exposure than that. I looked up side effects from exposure to the lamp, but they’re all really minor, so I’m not worried about that. The instructions also say to place the lamp 6-24 inches from your face, so you’re sitting pretty close to it while you work. Some people might find this distracting, but I find it nice because the lamp is warm and there’s always a bit of a cool draft at this time of year. The kitten also likes it, and everyone loves working with a sleeping kitten near by.

As for the light bulbs, they’re more for ambient lighting, so it’s hard to say if they’re particularly effective for seasonal depression. However, my husband (who works from home) often sets up his “office” in the living room near one of these lamps, and I’ve noticed him seeming a little more upbeat and lighthearted lately as well. Don’t tell him I said that because he kinda likes his gruff guy image, but frankly he’s been adorably chipper lately. Granted, that could be the light boosting his mood or it could be me projecting. Le Husband would like to point out that the light is very white and very bright, so if you’re used to warm lighting, this will take a bit of adjustment.

After the first day or two of using the lamp and bulbs, I felt a little bit lighter and brighter but also still a little down. Now that it’s been over a week, I can say definitively that I feel better, and I’m pretty darn sure it has to do with the lamp. However, I’ve also made one other change worth noting: I *finally* joined a gym. As a result, I’ve worked out 4 of the past 6 days (derby practice Monday, basic cardio Wednesday, strength class Thursday and back to cardio Friday). For comparison’s sake, I normally get between 6 and 12 hours of physical activity per week between skating and teaching yoga, but working out on my own time is a little different. Still, we all know exercise has a positive influence when you’re feeling down, and I think the combination of the light and exercise has been really great for me. And let’s not forget that I also take a pretty big dose of vitamin D every day, so if you’re not prepared to invest in the lights, start with taking a multivitamin and a D supplement. I’m told that the body is better at processing the vitamin D it produces (i.e. when stimulated by full spectrum light) than a supplement, so if the supplement doesn’t seem to do enough for you, definitely look into the lights.

I really hope some folks find this helpful, and I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with full spectrum lamps.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Peace.

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How to Know You’re Depressed and What to Do About It

wpid-20141029_2047422.jpg.jpegThe subtitle for this post should be: “That is, at least if your depression is anything like mine, and maybe it’s not.” I’ve written before about what my depression and anxiety can be like, but this fall has been harder than previous years. Maybe it’s because of all this dreary weather we’ve been having, or maybe it’s the drastic changes in my schedule since taking up roller derby, or maybe I’m just getting older. Whatever the case, this year has really taken it out of me, and I’ve had to re-evaluate a few things. Last night, I came up with a handy-dandy list to help me notice my own symptoms of depression and made a second list to go with it. In the course of writing the list for my own benefit, it occurred to me that a few of you might also find this helpful, so here you go.

Part 1: How to Know You are Depressed

  1. You hate everyone. Like, literally? You think of yourself as a generally kind person, you don’t have ill will toward anyone, yet you pretty much wish everyone in the world would shut the fuck up. You’re kindof overwhelmed with life, and as much as you want to care about the world and be a good person, you’re straight up out of fucks to give. This realization makes you feel even more sad.
  2. You’re mean to the people you love. You can’t figure out what’s really bothering you, so you just act like an asshole to everyone figuring if you could just get everyone to leave you alone you could get maybe pinpoint the one person or thing to be blamed for your inexplicable state of constant irritation.
  3. You don’t know why you’re sad. There’s no immediate rational cause for you to feel this way, a fact which confuses you and seems to make it feel worse. Sometimes you just wish someone would tell you what’s wrong with you so you could fix it.
  4. Nothing is very fun. Everything is annoying. Life tastes like cardboard.
  5. All you want to eat is junk. It is both a cause and a symptom. You get the rush, then you get the crash. The temporary fix sends you deeper in the hole every time you come down. Hello, addiction. Be it food, booze, TV, sex, or even your work out routine. Everyone’s got crutches, but no one wants to be on those sonsabitches forever. Moderate your use of these things to avoid dependence. If you think you’ve become dependent on any substance or habit, seek professional guidance in breaking the habit.
  6. You always want to sigh or cry. You persistently feel a lump in your throat, a weight on your chest, tightness around the eyes and jaw, shallow breath and/or a constant need to rub your eyes. In fact, if this is true for you, stop right this second and drink a big glass of water because just imagining how you feel right now is stressing me out. Then just take a few deep breaths and maybe go for a walk outside.
  7. You feel “tired” even when you’re not sleepy. You are suffering from a general sense of overwhelm, and you’re probably looking for ways to disconnect from the world. You may actually sleep more or find yourself complaining a lot. Sometimes this also feels like a general sense of sickness or malaise, like something is just off-kilter and it’s not clear what.
  8. You are hyper critical of yourself. All you can see are your flaws. You replay conversations in your head and pick apart everything you said. Your decision-making ability has been brought to a halt by the belief that whatever you do will be the wrong thing.

Part 2: How to Get Help for Depression (and how to help yourself)

  1. Tell a friend. Do not isolate yourself. If no one knows something is bugging you, you don’t have anyone on your side. If you feel like the world is your enemy, you need allies. So tell your friends, “Hey, I’m having a rough time.” No one is going to judge you for asking for help.
  2. Tell your doctor. And accept that medicine is an option. This is different from telling a friend. Your doctor’s job is to give you advice about how to take care of yourself, and she probably has some really good resources for you. If prescription medication is an option for you, educate yourself about it, and have frequent conversations with your doctor about how it’s going.
  3. Don’t wait till you’re suicidal. You deserve help now.
  4. Be patient with yourself. Life is not going to become perfect suddenly. There will be days when everything seems great followed by days that feel as long as winter. Recognize your own suffering, and treat it with compassion.
  5. Do not hide from feelings of sadness, but do your best not to wallow. Go ahead and feel your feelings because running away from them just adds to your unhappiness by creating an anxiety response. Acknowledge the fear, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling, but don’t cling to it. It is not your new identity.
  6. Meditate, don’t ruminate. Meditation is literally the practice of stilling the mind. So all those thoughts in your head telling you hateful things about yourself? In meditation, we look those demons in the eye and say, “I see you.” And it’s funny what they do when you see them. They stop for a second. With practice, you get better at staring them down so you can choose a nicer thought.
  7. Be kind to yourself. Seriously, you have to be your own best friend. No one knows you and understands you like you do. Your friends care a ton, but only you know what it’s really like on your battlefield. If you don’t have your own back, you’re gonna have a real hard time no matter how much others try to help.
  8. Practice gratitude. Practice seeing the good in your life because sometimes those things will be your lifeline. They can remind you that the world is a beautiful place and you’re lucky to be in it. They can give you a reason to try. They can make you feel happy just by remembering they exist.

Oh, and don’t forget to take PRACTICAL STEPS. Little things — take your vitamins, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, get on a regular sleep schedule, and consider investing in a happy light (I just ordered one myself). Any little thing you can do for yourself might just make the difference you’re looking for. As a bonus, I often find that my mood is boosted just by knowing that I’m doing something healthy for myself.

Finally, remember that depression is a condition you deal with, not the definition of who you are.

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Renewing Bath for Winter

426px-Petrus_de_Ebulo_-_Balneum_Sudatorium

The full moon in January is known as the Wolf Moon. It’s a time of hunger, cold, darkness, and creatures lurking outside waiting to eat you. We talk a big game about new beginnings in January, but the truth is, lots of us are tired of winter and worn out from the holidays. The good news is that we’re past the solstice, so the days are already getting a tiny bit longer, but for many of us, the truly miserable cold weather has just begun. There’s still February to get through.

Luckily, a little self-care can make a big difference in your state of mind as you wait out the cold. Here’s my recipe for a warming and renewing bath to soothe dry skin, stiff muscles, congestion holiday burnout, and the general malaise of winter.

What You’ll Need:

  • Epsom salts
  • Coconut oil
  • Shea butter
  • Essential oil (I suggest jasmine for romance, rosemary for health, or lavender for calm.)
  • A minimum of 30 minutes start-to-finish.

What to Do:

Run a hot bath with Epsom salts and add a few drops of essential oil.

Mix your coconut oil and shea butter in a small bowl — I use about 1 teaspoon of shea butter to 2 teaspoons of coconut oil.

Add 8-10 drops of your essential oil to that mixture, and set it aside. Coconut oil and shea butter both melt at relatively low temperatures, so you can leave them on the counter or float the bowl in a sink full of hot water while you bathe to soften them up.

Dry brush before you get into the bath tub. Take a natural bristle brush and gently stroke your skin with a long, sweeping motion. Move from the heart outward and top to bottom. This feels really invigorating on your skin and is believed to help stimulate circulation and support the lymphatic system.

Enjoy your bath, and spend a little time focusing on yourself. Soak, shave, meditate, let your mind wander. Keep a notebook or phone near by if you want to take notes. I sometimes write myself emails in the bath. Resist the urge to hop on Twitter or scroll mindlessly through Facebook for the hundredth time today.

Let go of negative energy or stressful thoughts. A great way to do this is to stand in the water as it drains. As you feel the water level drop, imagine your fear, sadness or stress flowing away with it. All that’s left is you — happy, whole, wonderful you.

Don’t bother drying off. Let your skin air dry for a moment while you finish mixing your oil and shea butter with your fingers. The oil should be melted by now, but the shea butter may need a little bit of mashing. Once the mixture is smooth and smells delicious, apply it liberally to your skin. Pay a little extra kindness to those areas of your body you tend to beat up the most, whether through use or abuse. Show your body some gratitude.

Finally, go back out into the world as a happy little ray of love and sunshine. Or take a nap.

Repeat as needed until spring.

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Ten Tips for End of Year Self-Care

Toe Art...Love & Care So, the year is winding down. You’re making your plans for 2014. Maybe you’ve made a list of 100 cool things to do or set yourself some terrifying yet enticing goals. But it’s also possible that you’re feeling a little anxious about the holidays or down thanks to cold days and long nights. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety most of my life now, and it’s always been harder in the winter, so I’ve come up with a few ways to help brighten my mood and keep the smile on my face even when navigating the toy section of Target among throngs shoppers. I hope these suggestions will help you get through the holidays with your spirit in tact!

  1. Talk to someone. It’s often tempting to hide your feelings because you don’t want to burden anyone or seem crazy, but sometimes keeping your problems to yourself only makes you feel worse. Meanwhile, the people who love you are wishing they knew how to help, so please let them!
  2. Get a normal amount of sleep. It’s tempting to stay in bed and take a lot of naps when it’s cold out, but don’t. Sleeping too much makes you feel more lethargic. If you’re already feeling depressed, this won’t help. 
  3. Indulge moderately. If you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the treats of the season, then it’s not the most wonderful time of the year. Go ahead and have desert, and furthermore, have the slice of pie for a midnight snack. Don’t beat yourself up for enjoying it.
  4. Stay hydrated. Being dehydrated has a bigger impact on your state of mind than you may realize, especially if you tend to drink coffee all day and booze at night as part of your strategy to fight off the cold. Be sure you’re drinking plenty of water, and consider curbing the other stuff.
  5. Schedule time with friends. You need to talk to someone who isn’t going to ask you when you’re having kids or whether you’ll ever move closer to home. Your friends are probably just as stressed out as you are and would love to see your face. Make a coffee date.
  6. Get your vitamins! Vitamin D in particular, but make sure you’re eating well-rounded meals and not just takeout and processed foods, which is for some reason really tempting to do when it’s cold out.
  7. Spoil yourself a little. Take hot baths, bundle up in your coziest clothes, sip on hot tea all day, moisturize your skin lavishly every damn day. Creature comforts help ease the physical discomforts of winter, which also helps boost your mood.
  8. Look for things to be grateful for. Even very little things can change your perspective and make the world seem brighter.
  9. Adjust your exercise routine. If you’re feeling anxious, consider a gentle vinyasa yoga practice which will be both warming and soothing. If you’re feeling depressed and lethargic, a more vigorous vinyasa or maybe Kundalini Yoga class may help lift the clouds.
  10. Look forward to something. Set yourself some little goals or make a list of fun things you hope to do in the new year. Plan your reading list or book a weekend getaway for spring — anything that reminds you sunnier days are on their way.

Take care of yourself, dear.

All the love~

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