It may have been a long time—maybe never—since you’ve asked every muscle in your body to move, strengthen and stretch in quite this way! Chances are, you’ve never been in such a hot room, surrounded by so many other bodies, and be asked to bend your total spine backwards or touch your forehead to your knee. Take heart! You are not alone. For each of us on this journey, there is a process by which we become familiar with our bodies, comfortable with our breath, and acquainted with this series of postures by which we become strong, flexible, in tune and fully balanced.
If you are new to the Hot class, it’s helpful to approach the class in a series of stages:
1) Simply get familiar with your own body as you move and stretch in a hot room. Don’t struggle too hard or push into what you think the posture “should” look like or what you see the person in the front row doing. Chances are, that person has been practicing diligently for a while—maybe years! Just begin to notice what the postures are asking of your body, go right up to the place where your body says, “stop” and experiment with breathing into the stretch right here at your “edge”. If you don’t force things, you will quickly see your edge begin to grow and change.
2) Familiarize yourself with the order of the series. As you begin to get a feel for the rhythm of the class, you will start to understand how to pace yourself. As you’ve noticed, the standing series can be challenging—we begin by breathing deeply, warming up the spine and joints and raising the heart rate, working into the balancing series and reaching our pinnacle with Triangle posture. Soon you get to rest on the floor for a full two minutes (the longest posture in class!). Take advantage of those two minutes by focusing on using your breath to calm your nervous system and let your muscles recuperate. The spine strengthening series will challenge you to build back strength and prepare you for Camel (your deepest backward bend) and Rabbit (your deepest forward bend). Then we will do a final stretching and twisting, and end with a powerful breathing exercise. Between each posture on the floor, focus on your breath and allow both mind and body to relax. Start to build awareness by developing the capacity to watch and feel for what is happening moment to moment, breath by breath. Remember, true concentration happens when we stop thinking!
3) In the beginning, challenge yourself to concern yourself with form only, not depth. You can’t start to move deeply into the postures until you have correct form, and as you see, there are many details that are important to getting the most out of the posture, as well as getting in and out safely. It’s better to focus on correct form and work hard at 1% depth than to push too far, too fast, and sacrifice your form to try to be somewhere your body is not ready to take you yet. Find your best posture for today, and set your intention to set forth your honest effort right where you are.
4) Start to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Is it the backbends that cause you anxiety? Is it your knees that feel weak and wobbly? Is it balance that most challenges you, or is balance your strong point? Keep in mind that where we are strong in our bodies, we often lack flexibility. (Same is true when it comes to the mind!) The opposite is also true—if we are very flexible, chances are we need to develop more strength and endurance in our bodies. Yoga is a practice of creating balance between the two, and it is useful to understand where you fall on this continuum and what your goals are. Use your practice, especially at the beginning, to diagnose where your limitations and strengths are and where you need to focus your attention.
5) Expect some discomfort. Change in the body can’t happen unless we are willing to put forth our efforts and endure some discomfort. Still, you want to remain mindful of the difference between discomfort that comes from stretching tight, underused muscles and pain that indicates injury. Err on the side of being conservative until your body awareness grows. Start to experiment with increasing your efforts slowly and watch carefully the effects on your body. Always back out of a posture if you feel pain, or become overwhelmed by dizziness or disorientation. Allow your endurance to build slowly, over time. Keep in mind that this practice is designed to build over a lifetime, working one stage at a time to bring your body and mind into optimum balance. This won’t happen overnight, but at the same time, you will start to feel benefits immediately if you practice with the right intention.
6) Rest when you need to. Be sure that in each posture you are still able to maintain your breath, even if your heart rate is elevated. If you feel completely overwhelmed, it’s better to stand still or take a knee (remain focused and still, attentive of your breath) than to force your way through a posture and risk injury. Give yourself time to build your endurance one class at a time. Remember, it’s a process! The satisfaction of the practice comes from growing in your practice day to day, week to week, month to month. Give your best effort and the reward will come
See you in the Hot Room!
Keep on the lookout for Stage 2: “Advancing in Your Postures”
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