If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you know that this winter has been cold. Really cold. Now, not as cold as a friend of mine in Chicago is experiencing, but pretty damn cold. The worst thing about this time of year in Washington is that it isn’t just cold, it’s wet. The combination of the two seems to sink into your core, and if your anything like me, you may feel like you haven’t been warm since late September. To be fair, I managed to fit in some travel to warmer places like San Jose and Brisbane over the past few months, but you get my drift.
Here’s the thing about being cold: it sucks. It doesn’t just suck, it makes you stiff. I find it really hard this time of year to get up and get moving because a) my bed is a cozy heap of blankets, warmth, and snuggles & b) I find myself extra stiff and sore because of the cold weather. Even though I am still celebrating birthdays south of 30, I often get sore from my every day life and weight training routine. Soreness coupled with some chronic back pain I’ve been dealing with since November motivated me recently to return to one of my oldest loves: yoga.
Yoga was my very first form of fitness. When I was little, my dad, now a prominent local environmental attorney, was a yoga teacher and landscaper by trade. As the result, I ended up taking many a kids yoga class from him beginning before the age of three. As I got older, I began playing soccer, and didn’t return to yoga until my early teens, when I used it as a way to build flexibility and cross train for ballet and modern dance. No matter where I am at in my fitness journey, yoga is always something that I have come back to.
It wasn’t until I was 21 that I discovered the wonder that is hot yoga. Thanks to the encouragement and motivation of a friend, I started going to a vinyasa hot yoga class near my house, and the benefits were instantaneous. Being that it was January, there were some definite benefits from just being warm for once, but I also noticed benefits in my strength, flexibility, mood, stress levels, and core stability. I was hooked for the next 5 months until warm weather returned to Seattle.
Every winter since, I have found myself returning to hot yoga. These days I am lucky enough to have a plethora of amazing friends who happen to be yoga teachers, one of whom teaches incredible hot vinyasa classes near my home. This winter yoga has had a particularly powerful impact on me because it is one of the few things that offers me relief from the back pain I am struggling with (more on that later). It has also helped me get grounded, let go the stress of my busy work days, and helped me find deep and restful sleep in the evenings. This year yoga has finally stuck, and I’ve realized that it needs to be a part of my everyday life and wellness.
In my mind I often struggle with a bit of a hierarchy when it comes to fitness. It goes something like this: heavy weight training > high intensity interval training (HIIT) > pilates > yoga. I know this is wrong, partially because of the stress I’m currently experiencing in my bones & joints for heavy weight training, and also because I don’t want to train simply to be a big wad of muscle that can pick up and put back down heavy things. I want to have long and limber muscles that aren’t sore, and that can allow me to do all of the active things I love.I’m working on shifting this hierarchy to something more like this: moderate weight training + HIIT + pilates + yoga = a healthy life. And I’m also working on trying out new forms of training, and returning to old faithful routines to maintain my goals and ease the stress on my body.
Let’s be clear, there is no perfect formula for fitness. However, I truly believe that yoga is something that every human body can benefit from. I see it in the people I know that practice it, whether it has been for fifty years or fifty minutes. My recommendation is simple: give it a try. If you live somewhere cold, definitely give hot yoga a try. You will see the difference in your sweat, strength, stability, and stress levels. And those kind of results are always worth the effort.