As a yoga practitioner and teacher in our community, I often have the opportunity to talk to others about yoga. In many cases, people have never tried yoga and are curious about it. I am asked these questions with some regularity: “I was thinking about trying yoga- which class will I burn more calories in Hot, Warm or Flow? Will I lose weight?”
It takes me back to my own experience, when I was running and circuit training- often twice a day and “rest” was the ultimate four-letter word. Before I started my yoga practice, my muscles were tight, short and I spent a good deal of time feeling “sore”; I was 39 years old and couldn’t touch my toes. It was that moment that caused me to wake up. I could continue down this path or change. I took the change route and started yoga, each class I felt a little better and I found a place that left my body, mind and spirit feeling refreshed- that often lasted well after the class had ended. I wanted to do more yoga but was afraid that by giving up the intense activity calorie burn that my training and the running provided, my fitness would decline.
Last November, I ran my 16th half marathon in Savannah, Georgia. Despite my best efforts to be “rested,” I felt tired. I ran, finished, felt even more tired, and missed my goal time by 30 seconds. It was a long ride home to Tampa; I took the time to think and reflect. I didn’t like the way my body felt, I didn’t like how my mind felt- although I still ran well and I refused to accept it because I didn’t meet my expectation. It was on the long ride home that I decided to change my routine in an attempt to refresh my body and mind.
I stepped up my yoga practice, started barre workouts- both of which are low/no impact activities with a focus on working with one’s own body weight for resistance and strengthening. I scaled back my running to focus on shorter distances. In the next 2 months, the difference I experienced was dramatic. My body felt good, my mind and spirit felt renewed. My body transformed from muscular to lean and I gained space in areas that were previously tight. I shifted from a place of “fitness” to “wellness”.
Through a more regular yoga practice, other things began to evolve. I couldn’t eat right before class, so I would modify and eat after or eat a large balanced meal a few hours before. I started to crave more nutrient rich foods, I was eating more sensibly. I was avoiding foods that didn’t fuel me well. Don’t get me wrong, I still love cake and a nice glass of wine, but I have them as treats rather than something I regularly gravitate towards just because I think I am hungry.
Yoga conditions the whole body with no impact and minimal repetitive motion. At the end of class, I feel my whole body had been worked. Most importantly, yoga conditioned my mind and spirit. How much time had I spent setting an expectation for that race? How much energy did I waste beating myself up about the result? Certainly more than I care to think about. The inward focus of the yoga practice taught me that expectation almost always results in disappointment and stress. I still run and run races. Some of my better events have been when I focus on each breath, stride or step- accept where I am at and do my best with it. Sometimes the result isn’t spectacular, but I accept where I was that day, reflect and adapt if needed for the next time. When I approach my training and practice from a place of acceptance and doing my best with what I have I feel a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders. I feel light and energetic.
I have no idea of the calories burned and or the weight I lost since I started a regular yoga practice. I think my weight stayed about the same yet my body composition changed. What is far greater than losing weight is that that through yoga practice that I lost anxiety, fear, doubt, self-criticism. I burned calories, but more importantly, I burned barriers and old patterns. In losing these things, I was able to allow my true self and all of it’s potential rise to the surface and shine.