I’ve had an interesting relationship with exercise for most of my life. Before I got my period and started to feel somewhat comfortable in my skin, I was the chubby kid in class. Bullying was never something I had to worry about, but I still felt uncomfortable changing my clothes before gym class and having to endure “harmless” jabs from my sisters. It hurt my feelings, but I wanted to do something about it instead of complaining.
So as soon as my mom bought a treadmill for the house, I took advantage. Dieting alone wouldn’t cut it, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t ready to part ways with my daily bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Running became my saving grace in middle school. Like clockwork, I woke up every day and clock in 20 minutes on the NordicTrack. I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I knew it would help me lose weight. Eventually, I did drop a few pounds and thin out, thanks to puberty, genetics, and my commitment to burning calories.
It became less about looking a certain way and more about the confidence it instilled in me.
And by this time, I had grown to love the adrenaline rush that running gave me, too. It became less about looking a certain way and more about the confidence it instilled in me. However, I did grow bored with it by my freshmen year of college. I wanted to keep going, but knew that I would have to mix in other forms of exercise to keep myself motivated. Since then, I’ve tried just about any and everything—boxing, swimming, aqua cycling, zumba; you name it and I’ve probably done it twice.
However, nothing has made me happier than hot yoga. Holding poses in a 100-degree room may sound like torture to some, but I love to sweat and do headstands. So when my studio announced a 30-day challenge last month, I immediately signed up. Another fall season had commenced, and I figured it would be a cool way to hit the reset button and jumpstart a healthy routine. And though I succeeded in doing that, there are a few other things it made me realize about myself, besides the obvious need for a place to unplug.
Mind Over Matter
At first glance, it might appear that running and yoga are on opposite ends of the exercise spectrum. One is fast-paced and generally done alone, while the other is slower and practiced in a room full of people. However, I found them to be more alike than ever after my first full week of the challenge.
Despite being in a room with dozens of other yogis, I realized that everyone was focused on themselves, whether they were looking in the mirror or down at the floor. It’s the same laser focus I feel when jogging outside or on an elliptical. There are people around, but I’m paying them no mind. Better yet, I’m not worried about whether they’re doing the same. And when the pressure of being looked at disappears, you don’t care about messing up a pose. Instead, you start to notice the small improvements you make day by day.
By the time my challenge ended, I started to feel muscles I didn’t even know existed and could stretch my limbs a little further than I had before. The endurance I had acquired from years of running also helped as I was able to hold poses longer than required. Oh, and I can do an actual pushup now, too! It’s the small things, right?
When the pressure of being looked at disappears, you don’t care about messing up a pose.
The Glow-Up is Real
As you can imagine, sweating is an inevitable part of the hot yoga experience. It can be very uncomfortable and slippery as you’re attempting to hold poses, but perspiration is essentially an air conditioner for the skin, opening up and clearing the pores as you endure the heat. It also clears away toxins, which is why experts usually recommend exercise and water if you want clearer skin.
I got plenty of both over the past month. Because I was in a hot room every single day, I had to put a lot of water back into my body after the heat sucked it out. In fact, I found that my body actually craved water throughout the day. If I drank juice or tea, my stomach would start turning. Admittedly, I sometimes had to satisfy my sweet tooth with a flavor enhancer. But I must say, it felt good to drink water without making a chore out of it.
The obvious result of sweating and drinking water consistently is that famous “lit from within” glow experts love to talk about. My skin has never been problematic, but if I had a dollar for every, “Wow, your face is glowing!” compliment I got these past few weeks, I’d have enough for plenty of new yoga mats. Pro tip: If you really want to up the ante, I highly recommend adding a brightening serum into the mix. I swore by this one after every class.
I’m Not Perfect and It’s Okay
I’ve never been the girl who plasters magazine photos on her wall or obsesses over celebrity diets. But I’ve fallen victim to comparison—even in the yoga room with men and women who don’t look so different from me. It’s easy to look at someone with a flat stomach and think, “I wish I had that,” instead of doing the actual work to get it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where I’m completely freed of that ugly habit, but having to look at myself in a mirror every day made me love myself a little more (corny, but true).
Having to look at myself in a mirror every day made me love myself a little more—corny, but true.
No day was the same. Some days, I’d be in love with the way my thighs looked in tree pose. And when I was having a bad day, the only thing I could see were my love handles. What I realized is that my body isn’t the problem—it’s the mindset I walk into the room with. I don’t have the physique of a Victoria’s Secret angel, and that’s okay. Regardless of how I felt on any given day, my body still grew in strength and stamina. The curves I carry are capable of doing amazing things… like 30 straight days of hot yoga!
I realize that it’s not easy for everyone to pick a workout and magically have better self esteem, but finding one that makes you feel like a badass is a great place to start. Once you do that, you may realize that half the things you complain about are non-issues. And sometimes, those aha moments are the key to a major breakthrough.