Whether you’re injured, have lost your mojo or just fancy some cross-training, increase the temperature and take a proactive approach to recovery with hot yoga, says Running Magazine’s deputy editor Evie Serventi
We’ve all heard of yoga, perhaps done a class or two, and can rattle off the benefits to flexibility of practicing a regular downward dog and salute to the sun. The benefits of yoga, however, stretch way beyond bendability to include building core strength, improving balance, coordination and proprioception, sharpening concentration, boosting breathing efficiency and metabolic rate and, importantly, strengthening and conditioning muscles.
For runners, who likely thrive on getting that cardiovascular fix and the endorphin rush that only running and fresh air can provide, yoga often doesn’t appeal as it’s perceived as a slow, gentle practice, with lots of lying down and relaxing. I get it. Yet when I tried my first hot yoga class just to stop myself from going completely nuts while a knee injury took time to heal, I was surprised and satisfied with how challenging it was. My heart rate was up around 75% for over half the class, and by the end, I felt like I’d done a tough interval running session. And I felt mentally cleansed. Hot yoga or Bikram is practiced in temperatures ranging from 35 degrees C to 43 degrees C for up to 1hr 30 mins, and involves the same types of yoga as those in non-heated yoga (such as Hatha, Vinyasa Flow, Core Yoga; with Bikram a set routine of poses). With a mix of body weight and flowing poses, deep yogic breathing (constantly) and balancing and strengthening poses, hot yoga is a complete mind and body workout.
Within a month of doing three hot yoga sessions a week, the muscles around both of my knees were noticeably stronger. My injured leg felt more stable and less inflamed. And while it was partly down to the natural healing process, even my sports doctor and osteopath were astonished at how flexible and strong the knee had become. My breathing had become more rhythmic, deeper and automatic (by doing diaphragm breathing for every inhale and exhale – expanding your tummy on inhalation; pulling your tummy in towards your belly button on the exhalation), I was sleeping better and I felt stronger in my core and upper body. My entire body felt stronger and less stiff, and it felt like I had better coordination between my upper and lower limbs. I felt more alert, my skin looked healthier, I felt happier. My upper body strength improved dramatically (great for my triathlons) as did my glute, pelvic and hamstring functionality, and my feet, calves, quads, shoulders, neck and back got regular stretching and conditioning.
It got me thinking. We can become blinkered when it comes to “progressing”. We focus on getting faster, nailing PBs, racing and training more. Are these the only measures of progress?
Acknowledging the physical benefits of hot yoga, what about the mental and emotional benefits? Such as feeling calmer, mentally stronger, improving your balance, and conditioning your
body to the point of optimal injury-free running? Or becoming acutely aware of how your body feels, so as to know when to stop pushing it? Without these fundamental skills, your chances of getting faster and clinching PBs is short-lived. A year on, I’m injury-free, running more economically and with more strength and speed, and most importantly, feel free and happy in my running. Namaste.
This unique massage is a great way to get used to feeling warm and hot, before progressing to hot yoga. It’s also an effective therapy on its own and is the flip side to traditional massage, literally. You lie on your back, on soft mats filled with warm water, resting a bolster under your knees, allowing your whole body to relax. The heat warms your muscles evenly and quickly so a massage therapist, such as Rick Stone (stonesaquamassage.com) can start massaging straight away, instead of taking time to warm the muscles. Rick applies pressure to your muscles from underneath them (in an antigravity motion) which means your muscles are less likely to tense up and he doesn’t have to “go mad” applying pressure (though it still feels quite strong). I melted into the mats during the treatment, and floated on air afterwards.