When I am at the gym, I go hard and God forbid I don’t sweat – in that case, I didn’t even work out. I’m sure many of you can relate. I love intense, crazy exercise, and I always will. That being said, I am here to tell you that many of your yoga conceptions are wrong and that it may just be the piece of the puzzle that you are missing.
– Jourdan Brown.
Get Your Om On
by Jourdan Brown
This article is for all of my exercise fanatics (you know who you are). When you think about yoga, if you think about yoga at all, you probably cannot comprehend why anyone would spend an hour at the gym “relaxing.” I was once, not too long ago, just like you. When I am at the gym, I go hard and God forbid I don’t sweat – in that case, I didn’t even work out. I’m sure many of you can relate. I love intense, crazy exercise, and I always will. That being said, I am here to tell my fellow fanatics that many of your yoga conceptions are wrong and that it may just be the piece of the puzzle that you are missing. Don’t flip the page now that I am talking yoga, just hear me out.
Around eight months ago, after a particularly tough week of exercising, I went to get a massage at Incentives with Jenn. My body was sore, which I typically enjoy being the psycho that I am, but it was also feeling achy and a bit run down. After my massage, Jenn told me in the kindest way possible that if I did not start stretching this pain would not be going away anytime soon. Ugh, the dreaded stretching. Who has time to stretch? Well, for some reason I decided to listen to Jenn’s stretching advice (which I have heard my entire life and always ignored) and I went to hot yoga the following day. Although I have spent my entire life at Fitness Incentive, it was only the second time I had ever stepped into the yoga studio to take a class. Of course, I immediately embarrassed myself by setting my mat up in the front of the room where the instructor typically goes, and a member asked me if I was teaching the class. I instantly went red in the face and scurried my mat back, sat down in my best yoga position, and tried to act natural. I was beginning to fear this whole yoga thing was a mistake, and I had started mentally searching for the exit when the instructor, Alissa, walked in. My last thought before class started was, “Relax, this class is going to be a piece of cake. After it’s over you will go into Kelly’s class and get a real workout.”
Well, no exaggeration, Alissa’s hot yoga class ended up being the hardest workout I had been through in months. I was holding intricate poses while my legs quivered and sweat poured off my body. Keep in mind I also had to continuously glance around the room to watch what everyone else was doing to make sure I didn’t make too big of an ass out of myself. I was dripping sweat from the 100-degree temperature in the room but even more so from the demanding physical challenge of the yoga itself. Needless to say, I did not take Kelly’s class afterwards but practically floated home and ran into the house declaring to my parents that I had been enlightened. I know this might sound like an exaggeration, but this is exactly what happened. And I was enlightened. The next day I woke up and every inch of my body was sore, but also my neck felt significantly less tense and I was beyond elated. Since that class, I have attended Alissa’s Monday and Friday hot yoga classes every week and have learned so much, not only about my mind and body but also about the approach we take to exercise.
My yoga practice first and foremost taught me that it is okay to just take a yoga class and be content. Being someone who is obsessed with the notion of sweating I never really got this until I took hot yoga. Hot yoga offered me the opportunity to sweat while also improving my strength, balance, and flexibility. It has also taught me the importance of quieting my mind and being present in the current moment. So often our minds wander when exercising, but yoga challenges you to let go of your worries, anxieties, and apprehensions and to just be present. It also represents a space where there is constant growth and no limit as to where you can take your practice. If you have never had an opportunity to experience a yoga class or a savasana (the name for the ending segment of a yoga class where your goal is to relax every inch of your body and mind) it is hard to explain the feeling you have when you are complete. It is what many of us call a “yoga high.” You leave renewed and refreshed and ready to take on the day with a clear head. Not to mention a more toned body and a sweaty shirt.
My yoga practice has also opened up my eyes to the greater picture of physical fitness. We exercise for many different reasons: to live longer, healthier lives, to look a certain way, to relieve stress— the list goes on and on. But many times our relationship with exercise becomes simply a means to an end. We exercise because we want to “be thin” or because last weekend we ate and drank like a pig and now have to make up for it. As a result, we overcompensate by spending too much time at the gym, and instead of achieving our intended goal we end up breaking down our bodies. As a matter of fact, over-exercising can cause our bodies to actually retain fat due to the stress of exercise and the inflammation that it can cause. It also causes the body to breakdown muscle which is essential to the efficiency of your metabolism. My point is your body needs to be treated with respect, and some rest is, in fact, not only good for you but an essential component of fitness. I am not saying sit around on the couch eating a bag of potato chips, but taking a day or two off from the gym to allow your muscles to repair is essential to weight loss and maintaining a healthy body. Yoga can also provide an outlet for a “rest day” from your usual routine, but it is truly much more than that. It is a unique form of exercise that marries the mind and the body and teaches you to respect the whole person. Try it yourself and don’t be surprised if you also emerge sweaty and enlightened.
Jourdan Brown is an AFAA certified Group Exercise instructor who teaches, among other things, Circuit Burn, Insanity and Cycling at Fitness Incentive. An accomplished athlete, she is also a certified in Youth Speed & Agility Instructor.