Hot Yoga: Is It For You?

Full disclosure: I have been a devoted hot yogi for some years, so that will probably filter the overall tone of this article. If you already despise hot yoga and are looking for reasons why it’s the worst, this won’t be the article for you. Hot yoga has made my life better in ways that reach beyond studio asana. BUT – there have been stages of my life when it has not been the best for my body, and there are certain people whose bodies it will not ever serve. Hot yoga can be incredibly beneficial, but it can also be dangerous. I’d like to take a quick look at some of the pros/cons of hot yoga and how we can make sure to use our practice to its best advantage.

Pro: Detoxification

Most forms of yoga have a wonderful detox effect due to the compression of vital organs and lymphatic stimulation. Combine that with a hot, humid room and you get a sweat unlike any other workout. What does all that sweat release with it?  Toxins. Moreover, as you progress in your practice you’ll find that hydrating before and after is crucial. More water overall = more urination = even more toxic elimination. I’ve suffered from acne for most of my life, but a regular hot yoga practice keeps my skin clearer than any topical  cream I’ve tried.

Pro: Strength and Flexibility

Yet again, most forms of yoga have a staggeringly positive effect on the body’s flexibility and strength. However, hot yoga in particular succeeds with the flexibility portion. According to Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise, “This is probably the biggest benefit we see… The heat certainly helps the individual warm up the muscles, joints and ligaments so that you’ll be more effective with any type of flexibility or stretching type exercises. Over time, you should see improvements in flexibility.” As for my personal observations? All I can say is that it takes a lot longer to make full hanumanasana happen in a 75-degree room than a 105-degree one.

Pro: Stress Management

Practicing in extreme heat typically sets off what we usually refer to as the “fight or flight” instinct. Continuing to practice even while your body’s stress signals are flaring trains you to use your breath and calm the response. This training, if we are mindful of it, can carry through to our everyday life and our dealings with anxiety, anger, or any other emotion that would typically take over when we are put into a stressful situation.

Con: Dehydration

This one may seem like an obvious con, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to become dehydrated if you’re not watching your water intake SUPER carefully. Since drinking water during practice can actually hinder your concentration and make the sequence even more difficult, it is of the utmost importance that you are drinking higher than usual amounts of water before and after.

Con: Dizziness/Passing Out

It’s totally possible to get used to and even become comfortable in the sweltering humidity of a hot yoga studio, but until your body acclimates it is extremely important that you listen to your body and stop when it is telling you to stop during your practice. If you start to feel dizzy or faint, lie down in child’s pose or savasana.

Con: Overstretching

Since, as we already discussed, our muscles and ligaments are warmer, they are easier to stretch. While this can be a good thing, it can be easier to overstretch and injure yourself if you’re not careful. It’s always important to be mindful of your movements in yoga class, but this can be especially true in a hot yoga class.

You should NOT practice hot yoga if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure, heart disease, or any other contraindications. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor. This practice can be intense, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. To give yourself the best experience, I recommend eating a light meal at least an hour beforehand; think along the lines of a plant-based protein powder blended with a banana and some greens. You also want to make sure you drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to and after your class, avoid practicing with a hangover (from experience… trust me), and most importantly, listen to your body and don’t push it too far too soon. You and this practice can have a lifetime together – there’s no need to rush!

The 5 Things I Put in Every Smoothie, Every Day

Be honest – when was the last time you gave your body all of the plants it needs for optimum daily nutrition? If you’re like the vast majority of us, the answer to that question is probably a little difficult to recall. So, how do we get closer to achieving our ideal veggie and fruit intake? Simple – add a green smoothie to your daily routine! Making it a point to drink a single green smoothie every day is an easy way to pack a TON of amazing plant-based nutrition into one frosty, delicious, easily digestible glassful. I can say with complete honesty that I notice a drastic difference in my overall sense of wellbeing when I fail to follow my daily smoothie routine – which always includes the 5 must-haves below!

1. Beyond The Kale of Duty 

The most mandatory ingredient in any green smoothie is right there in the moniker – the greens! Kale seems to be the choice du jour, but really just about any leafy green will do. Chard, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, romaine… the world is your oyster garden! Just a handful or two of leafy greens each day gets you a powerhouse dose of antioxidants, fiber, folate, vitamins A, K, C, & B, iron, magnesium, calciu- you know what, this list could probably continue, but you’ve probably heard most of all this before. Greens = good. Let’s move on.

2. Go Ahead, Maca My Day. 

I know that I’m not even close to the only woman out there who has dealt with a hormonal roller coaster for much of her life, thanks to years of various birth control methods, pregnancies, breastfeeding, and general existence as a walking, talking bundle of estrogen. I was (like many of you are) feeling the symptoms of an endocrine system that was radically out of order! Enter a google search, some magical claims about a plant I’d never heard of, and a quick trip to my neighborhood natural grocer, courtesy of desperation and an over-abundant faith in the internet. Well ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that the internet was right and maca powder rocked my world. Within just a few days of adding a tablespoon of this stuff to my daily green smoothie, I felt more energy, better focus, greater stamina in my workouts/asana practice, and all sorts of other really fun side effects that come with a healthy hormonal balance. This little Peruvian root may sound funny and look humble, but it’s a true superfood with countless physical benefits.

3. You Say Merengue, I Say Moringa

Moringa is the kind of plant that makes it difficult to be taken seriously when telling someone about its benefits, because those benefits are so plentiful that it sounds like they must be embellished. But just bear with me here – the stuff is really that spectacular. Do you like having skin with a glow worthy of J.Lo and bragging about how you never get sick? A serving has 6 times the antioxidant levels contained in goji berries. Need more iron in your diet? Moringa powder contains 32.2% of your daily iron requirement. It’s got 67.4% of your daily recommended vitamin E requirement, 24.7% of your daily calcium requirement, 18.9% of your daily vitamin A requirement, and 13.2% of your daily magnesium requirement. In addition to the skin and immune system benefits already mentioned, this all means more sustained energy, enhanced nutrient absorption, better digestion, stronger bones, and even easier stress management. If the sky falls and I fall totally short of my nutritional goals for the day, a single serving of moringa powder packs enough healthful good stuff to give me peace of mind.

4.  MegaFood Daily Enery Nutrient Booster Powder

You’ve gotten a brief reprieve from my poor puns, because even I can’t make a pun out of the mouthful up there. This (link) is the only brand name that I’m going to throw at you, and I’m not getting paid (seriously, I’m not that important; they have no clue who I am). But I like this stuff a lot, and I do put it in my smoothies every day, so it goes in the blog! This lovely little superfood powder comes in individual serving packets or a larger jar with a small scoop inside, and I keep both around so I have options for home or travel. The “energy” part of the title likely comes primarily from the massive dose of B12 – 563% of your daily recommended requirement! The rest of the body-loving ingredients include beetroot powder, ashwaganda, and green tea. My mood is markedly more elevated and focused after a dose of this in my morning libation, and coffee is usually optional!

5. Once A Chia, Always A Chia

Am I the only one who absolutely cannot hear the word “chia” without also mentally hearing the “ch-ch-ch-chia!” tune? Especially with the knowledge that yes, we are discussing THAT kind of chia! The same chia seed whose little green shoots were used as “fur” sprouting from clay figurines has lately been experiencing a renaissance as a spectacular superfood! I’ve experimented with cutting this one ingredient out from my daily green smoothie, and the immediately observable difference in satiety was staggering! If I drink my smoothie at 8 am, I usually have no problem lasting until lunchtime – but without my serving of chia seeds, I’m ravenous within just a couple hours! I add a heaping tablespoon to my smoothie before blending to reap the benefits of this concentrated source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, and calcium.

While the use of a few foundational superfoods is key in a functional smoothie, the rest of the components should be fun and change constantly! I typically start with a seasonal fruit that sounds tasty, then add a blending liquid (usually water or cashew milk) and as many other nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables as I can find without overpowering the flavor or overflowing my blender bottle. Don’t be afraid to think outside of your comfort zone with the veggies! Bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, and zucchini all make vitamin-rich, mildly fresh-tasting additions. I actually took the featured photo above of a particularly rainbow-like spread one morning before I pulverized it all into bright green uniformity.  Experimentation is nothing to be afraid of – if worse comes to worst and your smoothies are truly gag-worthy then you can always just hold your nose and chug (or even just start over… no one’s watching and I won’t tell. Cheers!

 

Self-Care Series: Part One

I know, I know, you really don’t need another person telling you how prioritizing self-care has a truck-ton of benefits for you and your life. You’ve heard it, your mom’s heard it, we’ve all heard it. But if you’re picturing self-care as an all-out Instagrammable spa day or tropical yoga retreat, you’ve got it all wrong. Okay, maybe not ALL wrong, those things are blissful and still totally count as self-care, but they’re not necessarily realistic examples of how the general population is able to reap the long-term benefits of self-care in their daily lives. A few of the rituals I’m going to discuss may be new introductions to your days, but I’m willing to bet that you’re doing most of these things already. So why should you bother keeping up with a series about it anyway? Because, more than introducing new self-care to your already packed life, I want to help you make minor changes primarily to the way you consider and approach the rituals already present in your life. The concept for this series started out as one blog, but as the blog got longer (and longer… and longer…), I realized that the “minor changes” I had made has affected A LOT more aspects of my life than I had realized! All that said, here is part one of our Self-Care Series (at least 7 more parts to come!) to help you add mindfully beneficial self-care rituals to your daily routine and, hopefully, help adjust your feelings toward activities that you may not yet be thinking of as self-care.

 

Part One – Exercise

No, wait! Don’t leave me yet! If exercise isn’t already a part of your daily routine, you probably think I’ve made a huge tactical error (if my intention is to get you to keep reading this series) by coming right out of the gate referring to exercise as “self-care”. Exercising when you don’t enjoy it can feel laughably far from self-care. I promise I truly know this from experience, as I’ve fallen off and gotten back on the workout wagon more times than I remember (and probably more times than I would admit even if I did). I grueled away hours of my life on weight benches, stair climbers, and treadmills, hating almost every single moment of it. Not surprisingly, I never stuck with anything and never really reached a point where I was satisfied with how I felt or looked. Sound familiar?

But then, something freaking magical happened – I found my yoga home. A term like “yoga home” may sound like an eye-rollingly crunchy term, but all I really mean is that I finally found a yoga studio close enough to my home with a gloriously wide range of yoga styles (yin to hot vinyasa), flexible class times, in-house childcare, and a handful of teachers I truly adored. Basically, I switched workouts, gyms, and studios for years until I finally discovered a place that made it as hassle-free and enjoyable for me to get a workout in. That enabled me to commit to my practice and a healthy body in a way I never had before, and eventually to start learning about and applying other tenets of yogic practice as well (we’ll go into those other tenets later – back to the exercise alone for now!).

If yoga truly isn’t your thing, THAT’S OKAY! If nothing you’ve tried so far is your thing and you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve stopped/started, that’s also okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or that you’ll never be able to approach exercise in a loving way, it just means that you haven’t found your niche yet. Try new things. Keep trying new things until you find the new thing that just makes you pause and think, “You know what, I wouldn’t hate to do that again.” I’m not kidding, that’s all it takes to start.

Your next (and really, it could be considered last) step here is to make it a priority to do it as much as possible. When I finally found an exercise I enjoyed doing, prioritizing exercise became prioritizing self-care. I was making it a point to spend an hour doing something that was solely for the benefit of my own mind, body, and soul. Talk about empowering! I watched other pieces of my life begin to benefit – changing the method and mentality surrounding my daily exercise caused me to change the method and mentality surrounding almost every aspect of my life. And here we are, at the very beginning of a whole series about each of those aspects. Stay tuned for part two next week!

*The photo of the cat wearing workout gear was shamelessly added to make you like me and want to read more. There may be an internet clause somewhere that says I have to disclose this.