I like to practice what I preach, and so when I saw the “This Girl Can” campaign from Sport England, I thought it was about time I tried something new! I grew up playing team sports, and freely admit I am much more comfortable charging around a lacrosse field in sub-zero temperatures than I am in a yoga studio, particularly one that is heated to a tropical 40 degrees, yet that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I had heard a number of my patients mention hot yoga in Chichester, so after a brief chat with Natalie the owner, we went along for our first session.
Bikram Yoga is a series of 26 yoga postures with breathing exercises, and the temperature of the room is designed to warm and ease your soft tissues (muscles, ligaments and tendons) to allow a deeper stretch, as well as adding a little bit of mental challenge to the exercises. Anyone who thinks that yoga is a bit of deep breathing and a gentle stretch- think again!
Our clinic manager Rhiannon is already a bit of a yoga bunny, so she kindly accompanied me for moral support. It may surprise you to know that chiropractors can suffer with back pain too (mine is related to one-too-many falls off a horse) so I was hesitant about contorting myself into the bizarre postures that I’ve seen yoga fans perform, envisaging a few days of the inevitable grumbling lower back pain and achey I’ve-done-a-workout shoulders afterwards.
90 minutes? 40 degrees? We must be mad! However, fuelled with images from Sport England’s advert of women looking exhausted but triumphant, I decided that I wanted to be one of them and was determined to give Bikram a go. Trying something new and totally different was a little nerve-wracking (“What on earth is a tree pose? Who is savasana and why do they keep asking her to lie down?”) but after a while, and with some gentle advice from the instructor, I managed to get the hang of the exercises.
There’s a moment when you’re exercising or trying to get fit, where that little voice in your head tells you “It would be so much easier if you stopped”, or better yet “You really can’t do this. You’re never going to look like that girl over there so why bother?” Ignoring that little (or not-so-little) voice in your head is the real challenge. For me, that little voice kicked in after about an hour, when I caught sight of my red, puffy face in the mirror and realised that no, my leg really doesn’t bend that way. So I took a break. Yep, I stopped, sat down, reassessed, and watched everyone else sweating and stretching away. This Girl Can is encouraging us all to “wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgment is a barrier that can be overcome.” So when I sat down in a sweaty heap on my mat, a part of me expected to receive the inevitable raised eyebrows or smug “I’m-fitter-than-you” smirks. But no, not ONCE did I feel embarrassed about it, or lazy, or feel like a failure. I was amazed to receive a smile and a wink from the instructor, the girl next to me gave me a relieved s
mile and then plonked down on her mat for a minute, and the chap at the end of the room mouthed “You ok?” to me. That was when the dawning realisation came to me that we were all there trying to acheive the same thing- relaxation, fitness, flexibility, and I’m sure a few other things too! There was no shame in taking a break (yes, I got back to it a few minutes later) as we were all supporting each other to help get through what was a challenging activity!
Taking breaks when it becomes too much allows you to establish where your limits lie, and gives you an opportunity to identify problem areas that you might want to work on in the future. We all have to start somewhere, so whether you are an exercise addict already, or just want to try and get back in to shape, try something new, bring a friend with you, make it social and fun, or do like we did and go to Bikram and make it sweaty!
We conquered HotYoga, and although I am a little achey today, I know I’ll be going back. Because this girl can!