Thoughts on the Body
Part VI: Yoga (and a Lot of Hot Air)
by Paul Watson, Transform Fitness NYC Founder & Master Trainer
The muscles of the torso are liable to lose strength and elasticity through disuse atrophy, especially as we grow older. Pilates is not the only method for reviving and energizing these important muscle groups. And some of those methods do this and give you more than might have bargained for. Sometimes physical training and spiritual questing go hand in hand, whether you want them to or not. Enter Yoga.
Like most people, I started yoga in order to feel more flexible. I embarked on the practice of hatha yoga, that is, the strictly physical yoga practice that manifests spiritual and mental aspects as well. Indeed, the yoga philosophy stresses the interrelation between the different kinds of yoga practice. But a spiritual and mental connection was not what I was looking for in yoga. I wanted a physical workout, and my early attempts at finding it through yoga were not resonating. I tried a few different types of hatha yoga—vinyasa, asthanga and kundalini. I made an earnest effort, but somehow I was not quite getting it. Fortunately, a friend suggested I try bikram, the yoga practiced in a heated room. And I’m not talking about “heated” in the sense of steam heat in an apartment that barely keeps the room warm in the wintertime. I’m talking about temperatures as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more—in other words, the heat of a typical summer’s day in New York City. (I do exaggerate a bit, but not much. This year we had the hottest July on record, with more than one day with temperatures getting close to 100. We might someday not have to bother going into a super-heated room to practice bikram—we’ll be able to do it outside.)
I saw bikram as a type of endurance challenge: me against the heat. I was committed and ready to go to battle. But within the first 10 minutes of poses (or asanas), which are designed to stimulate your breath, I was feeling light-headed. We worked in both standing and lying prone positions. Each pose seemed to be more difficult than the one before. I made it through the session by sheer will power, and toward the end I was getting panicky because it felt like air itself—very, very hot air, mind you—was in short supply. I was practically delirious. I began to wonder if I was in hell, and tried to remember what I could have done in my life to deserve it. Still, as challenging as this first bikram class was, I was fascinated by the way the extreme heat facilitated stretching muscles. Once again, “stretching” my physical limits in terms of training methods helped immeasurably in my understanding of the body. When I’m really interested in a subject—such as, of course, the human body—I feel driven to learn everything I can about it. Even when the training itself is hard going, the learning is a real adventure.
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