Embrace the heat - why hot yoga?


Hot yoga has become hugely popular in recent years.  Having practiced non-hot yoga for many years and teaching Vinyasa Flow, I always thought hot yoga was not for me and would somehow take away from the vibe I love to create in a flow class.  About eighteen months ago a hot yoga studio opened up near my home and I decided to give it a bash – how could I have a view on it until I’d tried it for myself?  One class completely changed my view and I am now a massive advocate of hot yoga. 

 

I thought it would be helpful in this month’s blog to look into more detail on the benefits of hot yoga so you can judge whether or not it’s right for you.

 

The benefits of hot yoga

Detoxification – the sweat flushes out the body and aids in detoxification of the liver, kidney, lungs and other internal organs.

Skin – hot yoga is good for any skin disorders because it opens all your pores and flushes the skin out thoroughly.  As a long term sufferer of psoriasis, I have noticed a vast improvement in my condition since starting hot yoga and I also notice the more I practice hot yoga, the better my skin gets.

Soft tissues – in a hot room your body comes to working temperature more quickly you’re your muscles and soft tissues have better circulation. This means your muscles are really warmed up and they are ready to perform the postures - the heat allows you to go a little more deeply and safely into the postures.

Heart rate – the heat elevates the heart rate which makes the body work harder, it’s great for people who want an intense work out that combines a cardio workout with developing strength, flexibility and toning muscles.

Breath work – breathing is a key aspect of yoga, the heat helps the body relax which improves breathing and focuses the mind, aiding better mental concentration and also improving breathing disorders such as asthma.

Hydration – practicing hot yoga encourages you to drink water throughout the day and keep the body hydrated.

 

Some cautions about hot yoga

Of course, there are also some cautions when it comes to hot yoga.  There are risks you can overheat and dehydrate.  For this reason, it’s really important to come to class hydrated but drinking a large glass of water an hour before class.  It’s also important to replenish lost water and electrolytes after a class (e.g. through coconut water or an energy drink).  For some, there can be the temptation to over-stretch given the body and the muscles are so warm and this can lead to injury.  Yoga is not a competitive sport and everyone should take the class at their own pace.  You can take a break, take the basic option in a pose or lie down and rest in Savasana whenever you need – just do whatever you are capable of.

 

How you feel after class

Hot!  Having originated from India, yoga was always done in a hot climate.  At MySoulSpace the temperature is kept to 37 degrees, same as our body temperature to ensure we function at our best.  Hot yoga is suitable for everyone – some of it can be more intense and challenging but generally everyone can get something from it.

A lot of people tend to feel self-conscious about the fact that they are sweating a lot – on the up side, you are not alone as everyone else in the room is sweating as much as you!  It’s important to let the sweat flow in a hot yoga class, by wiping it away you are closing the pores and taking away the body’s ability to cool itself down.

 

Overall, I leave a class feeling refreshed and energised – the perfect way to start your day and the perfect way to re-energise after a busy day in the office.

 


“Falling out of a posture means you are human.  Getting back into the posture means you are a yogi”.

-          Bikram Choudhury -                                                                                                   

Aoife Webster




The Heart Chakra

February: Anahata, the Heart Chakra

February: the month of love. It’s hard not to think about the heart right now. They’re everywhere. Valentine cards pop up all over the place, from supermarkets to petrol stations.  In the mail box if we’re lucky! Restaurants create special heart-emblazoned menus. Even the British Heart Foundation gets in on the act with its “Heart Month” campaign.

In our yoga world, the heart is associated with one of the “chakras” – the meeting points of the 72,000 unseen energy channels running through our bodies. There are seven key chakras, working from the top of the body downwards we have the crown, the third eye, the throat, the heart, the navel, the sacral and the root. The Sanskrit name for the Heart Chakra is Anahata and it’s symbolised by a green, twelve pointed lotus flower.

Each chakra is associated with a different emotion and serves a different purpose.  Not surprisingly, Anahata is associated with loving kindness, compassion and joy. It governs the heart and circulatory system, respiratory system, arms, shoulders, hands, diaphragm, ribs/breasts and thymus gland.

As the fourth and central chakra, anahata is also our point of balance between the spiritual and physical, as the lower chakras are concerned with our physical bodies while our upper chakras are all about intuition, interconnectedness, mind and spirit. With balance comes calmness and serenity.

Yogis often talk of opening the heart centre – but what exactly do we mean? Physically, postures such as ustrasana (camel), bhujangasana (cobra) and dhanurasana (bow) stretch out the front of the body, creating a sense that the heart is reaching out, that our love can flow freely to others, as we share our love for one another, for our yoga practice and for ourselves. We’re usually happiest when we’re in love, and so focussing on love flowing from our open hearts will lift the spirits, energizing and nourishing us.

For more challenging heart openers, try chakrasana (wheel) or camatkarasana, which we usually call “wild thing” but a more poetic translation is “the ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart”. Is there a better yoga posture to bring our focus to the heart?

So during the month of February we invite you to focus on Anahata during your practice, especially during those heart-opening asanas. Perhaps try setting your “sankalpa” – the intention or affirmation for your practice - as something quite simple such as “My heart is open and full of love”. See how you feel after practice…  carry that warm glow with you as you leave the studio and spread some love in the world.

Namaste.



WHAT IS YOGA?



You might choose to use ‘yoga’, just as a way to exercise your body and this is fine. Physical asana (posture) practice improves suppleness, strength and stamina (particularly Hot Yoga & Ashtanga – which are more demanding of the cardio-vascular system).

However, yoga can be much more.

Yoga means ‘to yoke’ or unite. Yoga is the science and art of right living, seeking to unite body, mind and spirit/soul. Balancing all systems of the body and trying to find balance to live in peace, good health & harmony with the greater whole. Uniting the self (individual consciousness) with the universal life force.

By focusing on the breath, synchronising breath and movement, helps to still the mind from its constant chatter (chitra vitti) and bring you into the present moment.

There are 4 Paths of Yoga:

•       Karma yoga – the yoga of action, selfless service

•       Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion, offering up emotional energy to seek oneness with the universal spiritual energy or a chosen deity.

•       Jnana yoga – the yoga of knowledge, based on the philosophy of non-dualism

•       Raja yoga – the royal path. Using Hatha yoga (physical asanas, breathing practice & meditation) to find the union of yoga.

 
The 8-limbed structural framework of yoga – from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

1. Yamas – guidelines for interacting with others Ahimsa – non-violence, compassion Satya – truthfulness

Asteya – non-stealing, not taking anything that has not been freely given Brahmacharya – faithfulness

Aparigraha – non-attachment, taking only what is necessary


2. Niyama – guidelines for personal observance

Sauca – purity. Outer cleanliness and inner cleansing through asana & pranayama. Also cleansing the mind of disturbing emotions.

Santosa – contentment. Acceptance of life’s challenges, to find peace. Tapas – disciplined use of energy to enthusiastically engage life. Svadhyaya – self-inquiry & awareness.

Isvarapranidhana – celebration of the Spiritual. Setting aside time to recognise there is a larger force than the self, guiding the course of life.

3.  Asanas – Posture practice

Moving the body into postures to improve health, strength, balance & flexibility. Quieting the mind to prepare for meditation.

4.  Pranayama – Breath control

This controls prana (energy) within the body, to restore & maintain health.

Hatha Yoga is the practice of asanas, pranayama & meditation. The practice of pranayama & asana are considered the highest form of purification and self-discipline for the mind and body. It generates heat within the body to purify the nadis (energy channels), calm the mind and lay the foundation for concentration.

5.  Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses

Withdrawing the senses from external stimuli. When an individual is so absorbed in an object of meditation, the senses are no longer tempted to develop cravings, which lead to unhappiness and dis-ease.

6.  Dharana – Concentration

The objective is to steady the mind, focussing attention upon a stable entity. 

7.       Dhyana – Meditation

8.       Samadhi – Enlightenment

The body & mind are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake. Achieving Samadhi is difficult! The Yoga Sutras suggest the practice of asanas & pranayama as preparation for dharana, because they influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana & samadhi can follow.

These 8 Limbs of Yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to attainment of physical, emotional and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather it allows the natural state of total health and integration to become a reality (Doran, 2011). 

Yoga is a vast ‘subject’.

Enjoy your own practice and explore it deeper, if and when the time is right.

Namaste. (The light & love in me, salutes the light & love in you)


What is Yoga?

Yoga is the anchor in all of my weather

It gifts me its calm when at the end of my tether Yoga is grounding, a feeling of peace

A practice that provides me a blanket of ease Watching my thoughts, not getting caught up Safe in my centre, I know I’m enough

A strong connection to inner Self A knowing of union above all else Yoga feels like the mother of me Nurturing, safe, answering my plea Mind, body, spirit united as one

A feeling of wholeness has begun.

Poem by Lara Priestley (published in the Devon School of Yoga newsletter)