Surviving hot yoga

Today’s run: Not happening (rest day)

There was a time back in 2010 when I pledged to give hot yoga a try. Five years later, I’m making good on that promise.

Hot yoga: the aftermath (a.k.a. sweat bikini)

Hot yoga: the aftermath (a.k.a. the sweat bikini)

My mom talked me into it. As a recent convert, she’s been spreading the good news about hot yoga: that it’s a great stress-buster, that it’s rejuvenating, that it’s one heck of a workout if you want it to be, but that you can also go at your own pace, adjusting to your personal blend of balance, flexibility and fitness.

Sounded like exactly what I needed after navigating a particularly stressful stretch in my life, not to mention the first week of my new 10k training plan. So mom twisted my rubber arm and I found myself at a Saturday morning hot yoga class at Peak Performance Health Center.

I showed up ready to rock: well-hydrated (lots of water that morning and the evening before), lightly fueled (teeny tiny breakfast providing just enough energy to get up and go but not enough to feel like a lead weight in your tummy), and fully equipped (lightweight workout clothes, yoga mat, towels, water bottle).

But I was also pretty nervous. The heat and I don’t have the best relationship. There have been a few fainting spells on hot summer days or in steamy showers. There was also a particularly traumatizing race in 30+°C heat when I crossed the finish line, threw up, and ended up lying under a tree, covered in ice packs, attended to by a paramedic. (Good times, good times.)

So when I entered the room, kept at a balmy 38-40°C, I was feeling the exact opposite of zen.

Thankfully, Peak Performance doesn’t fool around. They have very specific rules set out for hot yoga participants: the first being that you have to show up at least 20 minutes before class, giving you time to get into the room and acclimatize to the heat.

That 20-minute buffer was a godsend. After spending just a few minutes in corpse pose (see, I know yoga stuff now!), my heart rate slowed, my breathing deepened, my body relaxed, and the class seemed doable.

Doable and, it would turn out, enjoyable.

Our instructor was lovely, suggesting variations for the poses as we moved through them so we could all find the proper fit for our bodies. She also maintained a very light vibe: smiling, joking, playing music that was actual music and not just chanting or ambient, ethereal strains.

All the small things that make a beginner like me feel at home.

As for the workout itself? It was a pleasant shift from pounding through interval training and slogging through distance runs to focusing on other aspects of my fitness, like flexibility (pretty on point) and balance (I may have fallen over a few times). There was also some definite strength work, which I felt in my abs during class and in my arms and shoulders for a couple days afterward.

The best part though? Just walking out of there in a state of total relaxation, feeling like I’d done something awesome for body and mind. A feeling I’d love to find again.

A couple of Christmases ago, my dear husband bought me a gift certificate for 10 yoga classes. I never went, too afraid to put myself out there, try something new, potentially make a fool of myself. Time to cash it in…

My first aha! moment (and a slew of new Mini-Resolutions)

I’m back. Bet you thought I blew this popsicle stand, huh? So did I — temporarily.

I didn’t post again on Saturday like I said I would. Then I didn’t post on Sunday. Or Monday. And by Tuesday, I was thinking “who the hell am I kidding? I’m never going to follow through on this!”

Then I gave myself a metaphorical smack upside the head because you know what I don’t need? Me putting unnecessary stress on myself about my New Year’s Manifesto to work toward better holistic health and well-being. You know why? Because that kind of stress is not at all conducive to achieving holistic health and well-being.

In fact, that kind of stress is actually much more appropriate for the all-or-nothing Alison of New Years past. You know, the one who resolved on Jan. 1 to lose 10 pounds, ate a chocolate bar on Jan. 2 and then decided she’d blown it and might as well give up?

I’m not having any of that Alison this year.

And that realization was my first aha! moment of this whole process. Amazing what a little procrastination can bring about. Here’s to many more aha! moments to come *raises water bottle in a toast*

Now I must admit, that while I was being negligent on my blogging I was being equally negligent on my 8 Weeks to Optimum Health plan. I’m supposed to be about half-way through Week 2. I’m not. I’m just kind of hanging out in limbo between Weeks 1 and 2.

But you know what’s great about this? I make the rules and I say a little limbo never hurt anyone. So tomorrow I end my hiatus and embark on Week 2.

Which means a whole slew of new Mini-Resolutions. Now I should mention for any of you Dr. Weil purists out there — and I assume there are a few — that I’m not doing absolutely everything the good doctor recommends.

In Week 1, for instance, he suggested I make a list of injuries, illnesses or other health issues that I have recovered from in the past year, along with a list of anything I did to speed the healing. I didn’t do this. The only thing I seem to have recovered from in the past two years is asthma *knocks on wood* And that just disappeared, seemingly of its own will. I can’t really claim that as my own.

In Week 2, Dr. Weil suggests something else I’m just not gonna do. He wants me to set up a water filtration system in my home. The ones he suggests ring in at about $2,000. Ba-ha? Unless, Dr. Weil personally donates and installs said water filtration system, it’s not gonna happen.

No worries though because Dr. Weil has a contingency plan whilst I scrounge together money for a water filtration system. In the mean time, he says, just drink bottled water. Ba-ha, again!

Hey, Dr. Weil: Ever hear of that NRDC study that tested 1,000 bottles and 103 brands of water and found one-third of them contained levels of contamination? Or the fact that bottled water is subject to less rigorous testing than city tap water? Not to mention the lovely thought of Mother Earth crying while all those plastic water bottles are being churned out.

So no. I will not partake in the water-related foolishness of Week 2. I will, however, jump on board with the rest of Dr. Weil’s recommendations so here’s the next batch of Mini-Resolutions.

Mini-Resolution #11: Get Cooking with Quinoa and Mini-Resolution #12: Get Cooking with Kasha

This week Dr. Weil says I should be focusing on increasing my consumption of whole grains. And that’s probably true. Aside from whole wheat pitas in my fridge and long grain brown rice in my cupboard that I never cook because it takes 45 minutes and I’m always too hungry to bother (can you say spoiled by Minute Rice?), I’m just not much of a grain-eater.

So I’m doing double time this week and resolving to try out two new whole grains suggested by Dr. Weil: Quinoa and Kasha. I don’t really know what they are, I don’t know where to buy them and I sure as hell don’t know how to cook them, but that’s the adventure, right?

Mini-Resolution #13: Get Acquainted with Soy

I’m no stranger to tofu. I’ve even cooked some edamame. But I know there’s a whole world of soy out there that I know nothing about. This week, as part of Dr. Weil’s quest to get the world to cut back on animal protein and opt for the vegetable variety, I am committed to investigating the soy section of my grocery store and trying one new soy-based product. Maybe tempeh, soy grits or TVP? Who knows? Again, I don’t even know what those are. But I will find out and consume at least one of them or their brethren.

Mini-Resolution #14: Do the green tea swap

I don’t think this has come up yet in this blog, but I’m a coffee lover/addict. I refuse to start my day without it. I also refuse to drink it out of anything but my giant Tim Hortons mug; however, this isn’t about my OCD right now.

This week, Dr. Weil is asking me to do the impossible and swap out at least one of my daily cups of joe for a cup of Japanese or Chinese green tea. I don’t know what the caffeine content is in this stuff, but I’m just not convinced it will give me the same pick-me-up as my Salt Spring Island coffee <— product endorsement. Free coffee, please?

Mini-Resolution #15: Be one with nature

I don’t know if it quite makes up for the brutal green tea swap, but I dig this Mini-Resolution.  Dr. Weil wants me to visit a park or some other favourite nature-filled place and just hang out there, doing nothing in particular but “feeling the energy of the place.” Connecting with natures is healing, Dr. Weil says. It’s an antidote to the modern human’s epic problem of being too much in one’s head. I dig very much.

Mini-Resolution #16: The Twitter/Facebook Fast

I’m putting my own spin on this. Dr. Weil asks that in Week 2, I engage in a one-day news fast. His reasoning is that paying attention to the news commonly results in anxiety, rage and other states that aren’t conducive to well-being. He ask that we “broaden our concept of nutrition” to take into account not only what we put in our bodies but also what we put in our minds.

Now, I’m not a voracious news consumer. I think I’m pretty well-informed but it’s not unusual for me to go a day without paying attention to the news. What would be unusual is for me to go a day without logging on to Facebook or, my more recent obsession, Twitter. And I’m pretty sure both of these mediums can induce the same anxiety, rage and other negative states Dr. Weil’s talking about.

So one day this week, in addition to ignoring the news, I will not Facebook and I will not Tweet.  Sigh. How ever will I  procrastinate then?

Mini-Resolution #17: Breath Observation V.2.0

As you’ll recall, I sucked at breath observation in Week 1. Week 2 gives me another chance and also tacks on a second breathing exercise. In addition to my five minutes of breath observation, I am to spend one minute focused on the breath cycle itself. But instead of our natural tendency to think of inhalation as the first stage of the breath cycle, Dr. Weil says we should reverse it and begin with exhalation. The reasoning? Potentially, we are better able to control our exhalation because our muscles allow us to push more air out. So if we start with exhalation and focus on pushing more air out, we automatically breathe deeper and take more air in during our inhalation. And deep breathing is good for the soul.

In addition to these, Dr. Weil asks that I round out my Week 2 activities by continuing my supplement regimen, eating fish at least once and broccoli at least twice and walking 15 minutes a day, five days a week (i.e. my walk to work in the morning).

Oh, and I haven’t forgot about hot yoga. I’m going to go. Promise. Eventually the shame of consistently having to write about how I still haven’t gone will force my butt into that hotter-than-hell torture chamber.

I’ll keep you posted.

On Turbo Jam and Possessed Pelvises

So I did a Turbo Jam workout last night. I have a love-hate relationship with Turbo Jam. Mostly hate. Sometimes even loathe.

If you somehow missed the onslaught of infomercials and haven’t heard of Turbo Jam, here’s your primer: it’s a combination of dancing and kickboxing set to some pretty pumped-up music (i.e. LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out, Young MC’s Bust a Move). 

Unfortunately, the DVD also features a few original compositions created just for Turbo Jam, featuring inspired lyrics like “It’s time to party, c’mon and move your body. It’s time to party, let me see you move your body.” Also, “It’s time to jam. It’s time to jam. It’s time to jam.”

(You know what sucks? Spending a work day with that cycling through your brain on repeat. Trust me.)

Turbo Jam is led by a little blonde lunatic named ‘Chalene.’ I have a few issues with her.


Chalene, the lady behind the madness that is Turbo Jam

First, she insists on calling the workout a “party.” It’s not a party. There is no booze. No food. Just a bunch of crazies throwing punches and sweating all over themselves.

Also, Chalene’s pelvis appears to be possessed. Ever see that Friends episode where Chandler’s fear of Michael Flatley (the Lord of the Dance guy) comes to light: 

“His legs flail about as if independent from his body!”

Same deal here. Chalene claims it’s all about working those lower abs. I’m not quite convinced (although her abs are epic). It’s very unsettling. And certainly nothing I would want to see at a party.

Chalene also insists on throwing little dance breaks into the workout. They’re exactly what they sound like. For a few seconds, several times throughout the video, everybody is supposed to just bust a move. I don’t get it. Everybody in the video, however, is ecstatic to seize the opportunity and shake what their mamas gave them.

Which brings me to my next point. Chalene’s not the only problem. The other people in the video are so happy to be doing this workout they can hardly stand themselves. Moreover, you can’t even enjoy the fact that they look like idiots doing the moves because you look even worse. 

This workout is not for the uncoordinated. I’ve had a few years of dance lessons and I still thought pretty seriously about breaking the DVD in half  my first couple times through. Watching everyone on-screen do the moves in perfect unison, acting like it’s as natural as walking, while you’re stumbling into the coffee table does not elicit the warm fuzzies.

However, in spite of my griping, I do believe Chalene and her gang of crazies may be on to something. Because Turbo Jam is a helluva workout. According to its website:

“In a recent university study, some Turbo Jam participants burned over 1,000 calories an hour…”

I think that could be true — if those participants were 400-pound people. I estimate my calorie burn for the 44 minute workout to be just over 400 calories burned.

I can, however, tell you that it raises my heart rate to the same levels I experience on a good-paced run. No other workout video I have does that for such a sustained period of time.

I can also tell you that I sweat like I’m in a hot yoga class doing this thing. Enough to actually necessitate a sweatband . Not that I have one. Though I think I should after several sweat-in-eye episodes during last night’s Turbo Jam session.

The workout also has a progress bar along the bottom of the screen which shows you which segment of the workout you’re in, how much time has elapsed and how much time is left to go. It’s helpful for those moments when you feel like you can’t take anymore of Chalene’s pelvis. Seeing you’re already 3/4 of the way through the damn thing might just give you the strength to persevere.

And I’ll admit it: sometimes, against your will, when you finally get in sync with all those smiling idiots on the screen, you get caught up in the hyped-up music and ridiculous moves and actually start to enjoy it.

That is until Chalene opens her mouth again.

This weekend, I wore spandex and ate sardines

So hot yoga didn’t work out.

Oh, I showed up.  Bright and early and spandex-clad. Unfortunately, too many other spandex-clad keeners got there before me and the class was full.


However, the friendly receptionist-type person gave me a free class pass redeemable at a time of my choosing.  Which I fully intend to use in the near future.

Although, I must admit the place freaked me out. As soon as you walk through the door, hot air bitch-slaps you across the face. That’s right, I said “bitch-slaps.” Not very zen, I know. I may need to work on that before my class.

Next thing you know, people start streaming out of the classroom looking like they’d just gotten out of a bath. And I suppose you could say they had, if you consider sliding around in pools of your own sweat a bath.

Then you notice that the men are wearing only spandex short-shorts and the women what appear to be bikinis, and you think, “Sure, I can’t blame them because the damn room is over 40 degrees.” But then you start to think about the bending and the stretching and the contortionism that takes place in the class and you start to wonder if you really want to see 99%-naked strangers do that kind of thing.

You also notice how most everyone is tall and lean. At first you think, “Wow, these people must subsist only on celery and wheatgrass.” Then you remember that the room is 40 degrees and the truth is probably that these people actually eat nothing but butter but it isn’t a problem since it melts right off in those 90-minute torture settings. In fact, it’s probably not their own sweat they’re bathing in; it’s probably melted fat.

Yet, there are several people I know — good people, sane people — who swear by hot yoga. So contrary to what the above rambling might suggest, I am keeping an open mind and I am following through. For now, let’s just list Mini-Resolution#10 as pending.

I can, however, check off a couple other Mini-Resolutions, starting with Mini-Resolution #5: Try Sardines.

They looked every bit as disgusting as anticipated but tasted a lot better. Dr. Weil said he enjoys mashing canned sardines with mustard and diced onion to make a “tasty spread.” Although I thought he was likely playing it fast and loose with the word “tasty,” I decided to adopt his method.

He didn’t lead me astray. I served up the tasty sardine spread in a whole wheat pita with some spinach and alfalfa sprouts. I used Dijon mustard and (luckily) that was pretty much all I tasted.

I think the key to enjoying sardines may be to avoid tasting them. Also, to have someone prepare them for you. I did not enjoy looking at these oily fish nestled in — I don’t know what you’d call it; their own greasiness, maybe? The label said it was spring water but I think that was a little far-fetched.

Overall, I must admit I was impressed by these greasy little nutritional powerhouses. A full can — which in sardine mash pita pocket form did me for two lunches — was only 130 calories, had 1.5 g of those heart-healthy Omega-3’s, 17 g of protein and a whopping 110% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D.

That’ll teach me to doubt the gospel according to Dr. Weil.

I also ticked off Mini-Resolution #9: Ask Dr. Weil, firing off my question about partially hydrogenated oils and whether manufacturers have to label them as such. Keep your fingers crossed that he actually answers it; he gets hundreds a day, his website says.

I was also planning on asking him about Becel but found that someone beat me to it.

In 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, Dr. Weil advocates against using margarine and says that if you must, must, must have some kind of buttery-type spread, just go for the real deal and use butter (although he hopes you’ll use less of that as well).

His reasoning is that margarines are typically made with partially hydrogenated oils and thus contain trans fats. I’ve got a tub of Becel in the fridge, however, that contains no partially hydrogenated oils and no trans fats. It’s sitting on the no-no shelf, but I had been wondering if it might actually be okay.

Survey says…


Says Dr. Weil:

“While [it] may be better than most margarine … my views about margarine remain unchanged. It is still fat, mostly unhealthy fat, and a highly processed food. The less processed food you eat, the better.”

True enough.

And with that, it’s tally time!

Days to go: 345

Mini-resolutions to go: 255

NBRWJK88ABH2 <— Never mind this. I’m attempting to up my blog’s visibility by getting it listed on some sites, and…well, I’d explain it to you but I’m not sure I quite get it myself.

The insanity begins: the last thing I ever wrote before suffering brain damage in a hot yoga class

Today is my first official day on Dr. Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health plan. That doesn’t mean much, at least not yet.

I’ve stocked up on selenium, Vitamin E and mixed carotenoid supplements, in the process breaking one of my own earlier life’s resolutions: to never, ever step into a GNC store.

I’ve been opposed to these places since high school when I used one of their weigh stations outside. The damn thing told me I was overweight. I wasn’t overweight. And at 15, you certainly don’t need some machine telling you you are in front of a store filled with posters of beautiful people. I’ve never forgiven them, and I’ve never again stepped foot in one of their stores — until today.

I didn’t want to. I went to the pharmacy first. Succeeded only in picking up Vitamin E. And shampoo. But that’s really not relevant.

After about 10 minutes of scouring their supplement section for the remaining ingredients of Dr. Weil’s antioxidant formula, my dear fiancé suggested GNC.

I shuddered and relented.

It worked out. I found the rest of the stuff I needed. The salesperson was helpful, friendly and — thankfully – not muscle-bound. I didn’t even see one of those weigh stations. Overall a good experience.

In fact, I now have a GNC gold card. Figured I could use it since I’ve got eight weeks of supplementing ahead of me.

In preparation for the tasks to come this week, I have also stockpiled broccoli in my fridge and sardines in my cupboard (Oh, boy). No flowers yet and the breath observations will come in later tonight, but I’d say I’m well on my way.

In fact, I’ve even completed Mini-Resolution #3: Dr. Weil’s Kitchen Raid.

As I told you in my last post, I divided and conquered the cupboard earlier this week according to Dr. Weil’s instructions. Well, mostly.

Dr. Weil suggested I throw out everything that was on his no-no list. Mindful of the starving children in Africa my parents lectured me about as well as my fiancé who didn’t sign on for this program, I compromised. I wouldn’t throw everything out, but I would quarantine it.

Five-sixths of my cupboard is now filled with Dr. Weil approved foods and labeled as such. You can see my masking tape handiwork in the photos below. The other one-sixth contains what I call “Nicholas-approved” foods.

The divider between the two — dark and light, good and evil — is my Introduction to Psychology textbook that I insisted on carting with me when the fiancé and I moved across the country two summers ago. Obviously, through my incredible powers of foresight, I knew it would come in handy.

The fridge’s contents were also carefully examined and sorted according to Dr. Weil’s principles. The no-no’s were banished to the bottom shelf and my masking tape put to work once again.

This time I got artistic with my label. I marked it “Dr. Weil says no!” Then, I drew an angry face. I don’t know why. I think it may be a little too angry. Perhaps not conducive to achieving overall well-being at all. It may need to be revisited in the future.

I was surprised by a few things that ended up on the no-no list. Like Nicholas’ homo milk and the giant block of cheddar we’ve been whittling away at for a few months. Apparently full-fat milk products naturally contain trans fats — and as we all know, trans fats are wicked bad for us. Which gets me to thinking that if dairy naturally contains trans fats and trans fats are pretty much universally acknowledged by health experts as something no human should consume, maybe dairy just isn’t really meant for us? Could that be? Could the vegans have a point?

Other than that, the vast majority of stuff I was banishing to the no-no section were things containing artificial colours (BBQ sauce, a whole whack of salad dressings) and artificial sweeteners (instant pudding, low-cal pancake syrup), and processed, packaged foods (soup, refrigerated danishes, frozen meat pies).

The good news is those things did not constitute much of our overall rations. I will not starve to death on this plan. Thank God.

And with that task successfully completed, it’s tally time!

Days to go: 347

Mini-resolutions to go: 257

Now it may not seem like I’ve accomplished much but  I’m feeling pretty confident I’m going to bury this thing, no problem. I’ve got five Mini-Resolutions on-the-go and, for good measure, would like to add another couple:

Mini-Resolution #9: Ask Dr. Weil

I’m not delusional. I’m not under the impression that Dr. Weil and I are BFF’s. Not yet, at least. Give it time.

Anyway, in my last post I mentioned my confusion about partially hydrogenated oils and how I didn’t find a single food label which listed “partially hydrogenated” anything as an ingredient but rather products which listed specific types of oil: palm oil, palm kernel oil, soy oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, etc. And since, as far as I can tell, most oils come in both partially and fully hydrogenated varieties, I wasn’t clear on whether manufacturers would always specify the words “partially hydrogenated” when that was the type they used? Is it enough to just look for trans fat content and assume that if there are no trans fats there are no partially hydrogenated oils?

I don’t know so I’m going straight to the source. Dr. Weil has a section on his website called “Ask Dr. Weil” so I’m going to.

Will I ever hear back? Who knows? The point is I’m going to try. I’ll keep you posted.

Mini-Resolution #10: Attend a Hot Yoga class

And because it’s not all about Dr. Weil, here’s something a little different.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m cringing. It just seems like such a bad idea. Here’s why: Hot Yoga or Bikram Yoga is practiced in a room heated to 40.5 degree Celsius. A class lasts 90 minutes.

Just take a moment and think about that. 40.5 degrees. 90 minutes.

And I don’t even do yoga under normal conditions.

Apparently, the idea is that the heated room is a safe environment for deep stretching without the risk of  injury and that the insane heat also works to flush the body of toxins and restore its natural balance. The critics say that the increased flexibility caused by the heat allows practitioners to stretch past a safe limit, and that sweating doesn’t do much for getting rid of toxins anyway since the liver and kidneys do most of that dirty work.

Then there is, of course, the risk that I’ll just pass out in downward dog and give myself a concussion.

Nonetheless, I’m giving it a try. We received a flyer in the mail which advertised free Hot Yoga classes this weekend only. Free. Now that’s incentive. Added incentive is the fact that the classes are offered at Bikram Yoga Saanich, just two blocks up the street. Free and convenient.

The flyer promise these classes are suitable for beginners. They may change their minds once they see my complete lack of skill.

Wish me luck.