Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hot Yoga was my key fitness sucess!

As I walked out of the Bikram Yoga studio toward my car after my first class, I found myself declaring, "If I can actually do this yoga, it will totally change my whole life." I had only been able to attempt half the postures, with the rest of the time lying down, just dealing with the heated, humid room. But it was a revelation as to the sorry state of my body's condition, and the pathetic condition of my mind-body connection.

I had already made the firm decision to do yoga class every day for two months, after reading Bikram Choudhury's introductory yoga book. He says, "Give us two months. We will change you." After living with years of back pain due to compressed lumbar discs and a sedentary lifestyle, I was ready for that change--so ready, in fact, I was willing to subject my de-conditioned body to 90 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular activity in 105° heat and 60% humidity (making the "apparent temperature" somewhere around 145°). But the prospective discipline of it appealed to me, and soon I was actually enjoying the gentle torture of it, as I began to move muscles, bones and cartilage that hadn't been moved in years.

Beyond the rewards of seeing my body stretch and reach new ranges of motion in class, it was after and between classes where the payoffs truly lay. Bending over to pick up something no longer hurt, standing up after sitting for a while no longer involved pain and stiffness, and I began noticing how good I felt instead of how bad.

Of course, getting to these improvements took a while; and although I had committed to two months of daily practice, it has now been nearly eight months, and I can now say yoga is an indispensible part of my life. This path has blatantly announced to me how I had incrementally reduced my own range of motion with each tiny discomfort, each injury, each bout of stiffness, in an attempt to protect myself from future pain. It is a common life strategy, but a very wrongheaded one. The body needs to increase its range of motion over time, and each discomfort or injury points the way. As the World's Stiffest Person at 50, I was on the fast track to being a crippled old man by 60.

I drew a valuable conclusion from this, that all the little aches and pains and microconditions we had as twentysomethings, if not dealt with in a broad and holistic way, are the exact pains and conditions that amplify over time leading us to our ultimate demise. From this perspective, what is commonly referred to as "aging," is actually more like an excuse for not answering the body's calls for help early on. I'm just not buying the "I'm just getting too old for this" refrain I hear from my friends. Time, friction, and gravity will take their respective tolls, but only with permission from you. If I end up dying at 94, I would rather have gotten there vital, active and pain-free, instead of feeble, crippled, and tormented.

The main thing I've learned from my beginning yoga experience is that it takes MUCH MORE WORK than I thought to reverse my past slothfulness, and much more diligence on the day-to-day to maintain what gains I have acheived. Bikram refers to the "body's bank account." You invest into the account with yoga, and then spend the account when not doing yoga. Of course, I found I was sorely and deplorably in DEBT, and am only now seeing the light at the end of that tunnel, striving for the day I can touch my forehead to my toes, rest my leg on my shoulder, and nap on my back with my head on my feet.


1. If yoga turns it on, yoga will turn it off. I've had many classes where a muscle or joint will "release" (I used to wrongly identify it as "strain"), causing pain and stiffness or soreness after class. By the end of the next class, invariably, that soreness and pain disappears.

2. Your body is stronger than you think it is, and you have more energy than you think you do. One day in class I decided to completely ignore my thoughts as to what I could or couldn't do in class, and was surprised to find a whole

Be committed to your fitness choices - or they may not work.

My metabolism does what?

You hear it everywhere, "...the metabolism," but have you ever really looked at this fitness catchword in detail? Today, it is so commonly used we seem to forget the basics therefore resulting in a few missed gems of information here and there. Starting from scratch we must see:

1. What it is

2. How to work with it and most importantly

3. How it will benefit us

What is it?

The metabolism at its most basic level is the process your body uses to burn the food energy you have provided for it. It can also describe the rate or speed in which your body performs this process. Many different things in the food we take in are metabolized but for the sake of this article we will focus mainly on the food energy or calories themselves.

How can I work with it?

Since we now know what it is and basically how it works it is obvious that we want to find ways to speed it up naturally. This can be done in a variety of ways. Some are good and some are not so good. Let's start with the good:

-Increasing Lean Muscle Mass-

This is the first and probably the most obvious way to create a more constructive metabolism. It is natural that the more muscle we have the more calories we will burn...even at rest! Muscle takes energy to make it work but fat does not, it just sits there. Try moderate resistance training to start off.

-Engaging In Aerobic Exercise-

Aerobics are great! This will ensure that your body fat will decrease while at the same time your lean muscle mass will increase. Even after you have finished exercising your metabolism will remain higher for a period of time, working more efficiently. You will then burn more calories no matter what you're doing…working, driving, even watching television!

-Make Sure to Eat-

Yes, that's right, eat! Also, make sure you avoid crash diets where you starve yourself. Restricting your calories too much will result in a loss of lean muscle tissue slowing your metabolism down. And we don't want that! Make sure to also spread your meals out evenly throughout the day. Smaller, more frequent meals are generally considered better. Try a minimum of four. This way, your body will not think it's starving itself and won't be as likely to store the food as fat. This is usually the case when you only eat two or three meals during the day.

-Negative things-

While these things do work, they are not viewed as favourable as the ones described above because of certain side effects. These are things such as smoking. While they do work to a certain degree they seem to provide more negatives than positives. If you want an extra 'push' I would consider taking some time to research food supplements. They can give you more of an edge and 95% of them are good for you.

How Does It Benefit Me?

Well, besides burning more calories at rest you will look and feel a lot better. You will also be able to eat more and you will enjoy a more full life. Also, people who exercise regularly are less likely to lose muscle as they age and won't have to worry as much about 'putting on the beef...' Try these techniques, they can work for you!