Yoga, a Whole Body Workout

Yesterday I was yammering on about how my yoga journey affected my hockey game. Along the way I referred to a few of the non-hockey, exercise related, benefits I gained from a regular yoga practice.

When I get into something, I generally don’t dabble. If I don’t like it, I drop it fast, and if I do like it I go all in. When I started rock climbing, I did rope 3 days, and bouldering 1 day, per week. When I got back into hockey, three or four games a week. When I first discovered yoga and Pilates, I started going six days a week.

When a hot yoga studio opened up in our area, I dabbled a bit, fitting 1 class a week into my regular runs and hockey games. But, when I got a full membership I went full out; 3 – 4 times a week until the birth of my 3rd child.

Okay, I went a lot. But what about the benefits?

Well, everyone knows yogis are bendy, right? In fact, one of the primary guys-who-hate-yoga excuses for not trying yoga is, “I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible enough.” To which I reply, “Yeah, I know, right? ‘Cause you sure can’t go on a diet if you’re fat.” One of the primary purposes to practice yoga is flexibility, and by the end of that first summer, I was more flexible.

How much more flexible? Well, I’m made of steel cables. I can remember a doctor’s appointment when I was maybe 5 years old. The doctor asked me to touch my toes and I couldn’t. What 5 year old is so inflexible he can’t touch his toes? Well, my second son and I, to name two. When I began this regular practice, I could stretch to my mid shins. After four months I could touch my toes, and after 1 year I could put my palms flat to the floor. Yoga is definitely a stretching exercise.

I mentioned wearing a heart rate monitor during class. What can I say? I’m an engineer and I love numbers. Resting heart rate, 60 beats per minute. Peak heart rate during yoga, 172 bpm (at age 40, theoretical max heart rate, 180 bpm). Approximate calories burned per 90 minute class, 1000-1400.

You read those numbers right. Hot yoga almost tripled my heart rate, and burned ½ a days calories in 90 minutes. Yoga is an aerobic exercise.

I also mentioned that in my first year of yoga I gained 10 pounds. Now, I imagine a few of you out there are thinking, “Gained weight? I thought the purpose of hot yoga was to lose weight.” Wellllll, not exactly. The purpose of yoga is to serve your body’s needs. Do you need flexibility? Do you need mobility? Do you need aerobic exercise? Yoga will serve these needs.

Do you need to lose weight? Once upon a time I had a yoga teacher, Measha Brueggergosman, a Canadian opera soprano who, along the way, became a yoga teacher. If I’m remembering correctly, Measha lost 80 pounds in 6 months of daily practice. If it is your need, yoga will help you lose weight.

I’m 6’1”. Well, I used to be. I’m probably 6’ ½” now, but that’s not important. When I started regular yoga, I weighed about 162 lbs, and had weighed about 162 lbs for 10 years. My weight was so consistently 162 that I never weighed myself, since I knew what the scale would read. Then, after about a year, year and a half, I found my pants were getting tight.

Pants getting tight? That didn’t make sense, I’m exercising 3, 4 times a week. I’m doing a yoga famous for weight loss, so what’s going on? I weighed myself. 172lbs. Umm, I’m supposed to be 162, scale must be wrong. Seriously, my weight was so consistently 162 that I, an engineer, doubted my measuring instrument rather than believe I gained weight.

Here’s the thing. I did gain weight. A bunch of it. Over the course of 4 years of Bikram Yoga, I gained a bunch of lower body mass. My skating got better, and my pants got tight in the thighs and butt. Later, I began doing an Ashtanga based Power Yoga class, and I gained a bunch of upper body mass, and my suits and jackets got too tight. If it’s what your body needs, yoga will help you gain weight.

Over the years, I gained 20 lbs, but my waist size is still the same. I had to replace a bunch of clothes, but not for the middle age spread. For the first time in my life, I had a resistance exercise that didn’t bore me to tears (seriously, I hate lifting weights), and worked to help me gain strength and mass, and keep them. Yoga is a resistance exercise.

Exercise gurus put tremendous efforts into creating whole body workouts, and there are plenty of them. My first, and still primary, is yoga.

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