Some like it hot

I always roll my eyes when people here complain the weather is “too hot”. I know no “too hot”, but I am very well acquainted with a number of different “too colds”; wet miserable cold, bitter stinging cold, shivery cold, numb cold… I sleep with a duvet all year round and get teased at work for turning all the fans off.

But a little part of me wondered if actually, I would deal well with heat when it was more than our mild British summer heat. Or would I also be reduced to a limp lettuce leaf, meek and uncomfortable?

As I looked forward to my first Bikram yoga class – years after promising myself I would try yoga and months after being given a recommendation for Bikram Yoga Chiswick – I wondered if my right to roll eyes would be swiftly revoked.

I had packed my bag full of towels and electrolytes, made sure I had eaten sensibly and stayed hydrated, and slightly nervously asked the surprisingly welcoming staff on reception what I should wear and how much water to take in. I had a vague idea of what to expect, but turns out it was all the opposite.

Here are the experiences that stand out from this first encounter with hot yoga:

Day 1 – first practice

I had been warned to take it easy, to make it my goal simply to stay in the room for the full 90 minutes, and to take breaks whenever. One litre was the standard amount of water taken in, and most women wore sleeveless tops and capris rather than the sports bra and short shorts I had expected.

I actually didn’t struggle with the heat one little bit. I didn’t yearn for sips of water and took them mainly out of precaution, not even finishing my 750ml of water+electrolyte in the 90 minute session.

I surprised myself with my strength in postures, but felt disappointed in my lack of concentration and meditative abilities. Nothing felt overly fatigued, nothing felt overly painful, balance was better than average and even flexibility wasn’t as horrendous as I had feared. The back-bends were by far the worst bit, as I seemed to go from “absolutely fine, am I even bending” to “oh god oh god oh god by spine is about to snap and I have no way out of this” in a matter of millimetres.

After class, I finished my water, and promptly refilled my bottle with a second sachet of electrolyte – which I was unable to finish during the course of the evening. I didn’t feel particularly exhausted, rather more like I had just had a long shower after a busy and warm day.

Towards the end of the evening I started to get a dull headache that prompted me to retire to bed early, only to lie awake as I realised I wasn’t really all that sleepy. As I lay down, I felt relieved, and realised at that point that actually, my body had been through quite a bit.

Day 2 – day after first practice

Woke up with a slightly dull headache, but not noticeable enough to do anything about. As it grew in intensity, I counted up how much water I had consumed in total on the day of my first practice; only about 3.5 litres – what I would aim for on a warm and active day anyway. I promptly took a painkiller and chugged down a 750ml bottle of electrolyte, and the headache faded.

Meanwhile, the muscle soreness crept up towards early afternoon; achey hips, a tight upper back, and sore traps. Good to know something had been working!

Day 4 – second practice

Felt horribly waterlogged and soggy – a combination of humid weather and, I suspect, the onset of my period. Otherwise felt healthy, strong, and looking forward to pushing myself a little more in practice now I knew the postures.

The complete reverse happened. Although I felt incredibly strong in the first 25-30 minutes, I very quickly felt dizzy, the outsides of my field of vision darkening into a fuzzy tunnel, legs and back weakening and a very slight sensation of nausea. I took many breaks to kneel down on the mat and try to refocus my energy. It was a real struggle.

I didn’t finish my water in class, but I finished the bottle when we finished, and guzzled an entire fresh bottle of water on the way home. This time, I felt absolutely fine – invigorated, even – throughout the evening, during which I gulped down a couple more glasses of water.

Day 5 – day after second practice

No adverse effects this time. Made sure to stay hydrated throughout the day, and although my back felt worked, the only real muscle soreness was in my hips (and one forearm, though that could have been from anything) .

The main thing was that I felt great. All the bloating and fluid retention melted away! That could have been due to my period starting to ease off, but I feel the sweating did accelerate the process.

After 5 practices

Although I haven’t struggled with hydration again, the amount of progress I perceive and the way my body feels completely varies from one session to the next. Some days some postures are solid and strong, some days those same postures just don’t even begin to work.

Some sessions feel like they have a huge impact on my body shape and how I feel, some sessions leave me fairly unchanged. My back always feels like it has been worked hard after a session, and I fall gratefully into bed a few hours after each session.

Part of the next-day wellbeing is undoubtedly to do with the fact that after a session I crave watery fruits and vegetables, which steers me towards salads and smoothies for dinner rather than more starchy dishes.

Overall, I do feel I am more flexible and my lower back certainly feels stronger, while my upper back and neck feel significantly less tight. These are huge positives, particularly the neck easing off – it has been a very long time since I have been able to look over my left shoulder without pain.

… How many more practices?

It will soon be time to ask myself whether I renew my membership and what sort of plan to renew with.

The pros: I have enjoyed having structured classes again, a block of time where I cannot be reached by the outside world, a chance to focus on me. I have loved sweating, and pushing myself in a way that I can only do when I know I have no more work afterwards. And of course, I have been appreciating a greater range of motion in many joints that I had given up on.

The cons: Well, it’s fairly expensive. It takes a lot of time out of the day: 90 minutes for the session, 30 minutes to remain in savasana then shower and change, plus I normally arrive at least 20 minutes early. Not to mention travel time. And frankly, last time I planned to attend a class I scrapped my plans, simply because I couldn’t face having to go through the exact same routine, sit through the exact same script, yet again.

The bottom line: I think I will take out a 10-session card and continue to attend once or twice a week, but probably not more than that. When I go back to jiu jitsu and get my fill of back-breaking effort and sweating, I may only go once every 10-14 days to iron out the creases, which is why I wouldn’t splash out on the yearly membership.

Update:

Having found out about the dark and dirty side of bikram yoga – its founder, Bikram Choudhury – I will not be practicing any more bikram yoga. As much as the postures remain traditional postures, I just can’t take the whole set-up seriously anymore. There are too many other types of yoga, and even hot yoga, out there for me to support an industry I don’t believe in.

I am more curious now – and less apprehensive – to explore different types of yoga and to seek out one-to-one tuition so I can really get the most out of each pose and understand the practice a little more personally.

Meanwhile, it is now clearer than ever to me that while yoga is undoubtedly a hugely beneficial activity which has grown in popularity as people seek more holistic and spiritual ways to ease the stresses of daily life, bikram yoga in particular has enjoyed a surge in popularity due to the highly in vogue “detox” sensation from sweating profusely. I fear that many bikram yoga enthusiasts have bypassed the spiritual side of what should be an entire lifestyle, treating it as a high-horse on which to quietly sweat out a hangover – I particularly like the Economist‘s analogy that “Bikram is to the yoga world what fast food is to the culinary world” – but then… does it really matter why people enjoy it, if it makes them feel good?

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Sunday thoughts: 24th August 2014

I don’t think I had quite realised how much I needed wanted a quieter week. Ben and I enjoyed a couple of earlier finishes this week, as well as a couple of well-timed daytime breaks during which we could train together. Not a huge amount of training, mind, as Ben had hurt his wrist and my thumb was trying out some new styles (let’s just say I’m lucky it hasn’t been dislocated) so heavy lifting was not really an option, but I enjoyed some sweaty cardio work on the bike.

I just feel like I’ve had a little more time to breathe this week, and it feels good.

New things I have learnt this week

  • Well. I finally thought to actually look up the origins of bikram yoga… and I was shocked by what I found out (and also shocked that I had neither heard of the controversy before nor actually looked it up sooner). Egocentricity, arrogance, greed, bigotry, sexual harassment, rape… Nothing that I would want associated with my yoga practice. No, no, no thank you. (Full post on my experience of bikram yoga coming this week!)
  • I read about beetroot juice supplementation (for its nitrate content) in Personal Training Quarterly and while its effectiveness wasn’t news to me, the stats were: one study quoted found the best results with an 8mmol concentration, which improved time to exhaustion by 14% when consumed 2h30 before performing a high-intensity exercise for about five minutes! However, another study quoted had found no improvement in cycling time trial performance after beetroot juice consumption, while yet another couple showed improvements after regular use of beetroot juice. Meanwhile, other nitrate-rich foods like leafy greens have yet to be tested. As always, there is no substitute for a balanced and well-timed diet, hard work, and the right blend of confidence and optimism.
  • I was pleased to see a bit more talk about how eating breakfast will not necessarily solve all of your life’s problems (or something to that effect). I have already written about my views on the matter, and can report that I currently sometimes eat a full breakfast shortly after waking up, sometimes snack on bits and pieces within a few hours of waking up, and sometimes don’t eat anything for hours. The only thing that makes a difference as to how I feel later in the day is whether I eat to the full satisfaction of my cravings or not; the days where I do so resulting in more focus, higher energy levels, and smaller meals in the evening.
  • I loved this TED talk by Kelly McGonigal on learning to accept stress. Although it is obviously aimed at the world of high-pressure careers, it is so easily applicable to fitness (your heart is beating through your ears and your throat is dry and raw, the last thing you want is to panic about it), nutrition (you’ve eaten something you have been told will make you fat or unhealthy and your stomach starts knotting up as you fill with a sense of weakness and incompetence), and taking the Tube at rush hour (enough said). Another scientific angle to the spiritual benefits of meditation, which helps me build bridges between two worlds I sometimes feel torn between.
  • I also learnt that diced watermelon in a freezer bag will freeze in one solid block that will freezer-burn your hands in the time it takes to work them apart. I also learnt that using a hammer to break the pieces apart is highly effective but will also destroy the freezer bag you had planned to reuse.

New things I have eaten this week

  • I finally tried matcha! I mixed a quarter teaspoon of the attractive green powder with freshly boiled water as directed, and had a small sip. Not a fan – I found it bitter without the crispness of green tea brewed from leaves, but then it always takes me a while to get used to anything new. In the meantime, I heated some milk with the remains of a scraped-out vanilla pod (waste not want not) and added that to my matcha for a matcha latté, which I enjoyed much more.
  • Not new but definitely noteworthy, I made some awesome banana ice cream: frozen banana, a drizzle of soy milk, a drop of vanilla extract, a couple of cubes of frozen watermelon for bulk, a generous teaspoonful or two of carob molasses, all blended and creamy… then pulse in some mint dark chocolate – delicious! I used Green & Blacks but I’m now wondering what a peppermint cream chocolate like Fry’s would be like…

Other highlights this week

  • I loved having a couple of earlier evenings this week – we even finished dinner before 9pm on a couple of occasions, which is earlier than we often start cooking!
  • I felt great for doing a bit more cardio, especially sitting on a spinning bike next to Ben (racing him and beating him helped with the enjoyment too).
  • We went shopping for a new blender on Friday afternoon as we were both off! I was set on a NutriBullet having heard good things from reliable sources (and having dismissed the idea of spending £400 on a Vitamix or Blendtec), but when we found it in the (metallic) flesh we were a little alarmed at how big the base is, how small the cups are, the use of plastic for the cups, and the fact that there are no different speed settings. Right next to it, for the same speed of 600W, but with a much larger glass jug, was the Breville Pick & Mix blender. Priced at £40 (with an extra 10% off as we found out at the till), we figured that even if it wasn’t omnipotent (nor omniscient, nor omnipresent) it wouldn’t set us back in the pursuit of an all-singing all-dancing blending device, whilst allowing us to create more elaborate creamy fruity beverages than our stick-blender currently does. So far, it has managed to tackle cashews, chia seeds, and the aforementioned watermelon ice rocks, and is proving to be a fun new toy that actually looks great on the crowded kitchen worktop too!Breville Pick & Mix blender
  • Although we had to wait until almost 10.30pm for dinner last night (a visit to the driving range plus the meticulous rolling, chopping, unravelling of homemade fettucine/papardelle), it was so worth the wait. An obscenely large bowl of pasta with a thin but oily homemade tomato sauce and fresh black pepper. I won’t tell you that we binge-watched Masterchef Australia whilst ploughing through our carb-fest, lest you think any less of me.
  • But it is completely acceptable blog content to reveal my giant breakfast/lunch smoothie this morning/afternoon (it’s Sunday, everyone knows Sunday mornings don’t exist). Soy milk and water, plain soy protein powder, frozen and fresh banana, frozen watermelon, frozen blueberries, raw cashews, dried dates, cinnamon, vanilla extract. It was huge and it was just thick enough to consider eating with a spoon but I couldn’t resist my new glass straw. And it may have been the best smoothie I have ever made.Blueberry smoothie
  • This. This has been a highlight. Writing. Typing. Reading articles about whatever takes my fancy and turning laundry-pegging into a leisurely opportunity to watch TED talks. Having time and not feeling guilty about enjoying it.

And on that note – go forth and be merry, or don’t, or nap, or don’t, or basically do whatever you want… orrr… do whatever you want. It’s your time, use it however wisely you wish.

But I highly recommend smoothies, mint choc chip banana ice cream, huge bowls of pasta and maybe a little sweat; after all, it worked for me this week!

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London Vegan Festival

If I’m honest (and why wouldn’t I be?) I very nearly didn’t go to the London Vegan Festival. I was tired and was quite sick of public transport by the end of the week. I doubted whether it would surpass Vegfest, I wondered whether there was really anything new the London vegan scene could offer me at a collection of stalls, and if so, I didn’t want to go through the “I want to buy everything” anxiety that would necessarily beset me.

But I had a last-minute look at the list of stallholders, and realised many names were new and unfamiliar to me. I also knew I would regret sitting at home all day more. And, frankly, it was comforting not to be so rabidly excited about vegan baked goods – maybe I could remain somewhat civilised. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 17th August 2014

This big lump of a week has truly been about the little things.

Although all the days have now all blended into one, the things that stand out are the moments spent indoors looking out at the sporadic downpours, the reasonable bed times that have allowed for a bit of fiction reading, the showers after working up a sweat in the gym or yoga studio, the cancellations that have allowed me to crawl back into bed, the tasty improvised meals (from pasta by Ben to giant salad by me via pizza by Village Pizza), the bus journeys into work for a nice change from the train, the genuinely kind smiles from shop keepers and kiosk vendors and random strangers on trains… and I could go on.

But I won’t, because I have set headings for this weekly review, and none of them reads, “Fairly insignificant miscellaneous happenings and coincidences”. Continue reading

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Stretching the truth

I rarely get my clients to stretch. In fact, I never do unless they have some injury or niggle that could be caused or aggravated by overly tight muscles in a particular area (glutes and hamstrings are often the culprits here) – and yet, nobody seems perturbed by the fact that I can go from not giving a single stretch to a client, to making them stretch in between every single set, nor by the fact that other personal trainers around them in the studio get their clients to stretch.

Nobody has ever mentioned it to me, and yet the topic deserves a little more airtime (or whatever the internet equivalent is… megabyte-time? That sounds delicious). Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 10th August 2014

Despite a strange start to the week that involved waking up in France on Monday to have a leisurely morning, a lovely family lunch, an afternoon walk with my granddad… and then missing my train to Paris, being driven to the next big town, and finally making it to Paris and then back to London, the rest of the week has been highly normal!

A bit of training here and there, a few clients dotted around, a bit of translating, a few cups of tea in my local haunt, and a couple of catch-ups with friends. Just life doing its thing, really. Continue reading

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Sunday thoughts: 3rd August 2014

Happy August from France, where August = holiday!

I had completely forgotten how much of an institution summer holidays are here; it’s not unusual to find local businesses closed for 2-4 weeks during August, and it’s not frowned upon. This might sound crazy if you’re used to the 24/7 everything-NOW city lifestyle, but I think it’s nice to see, actually see, people taking time off – not just posting photos of their coconut water on the beach on Instagram.

So with that in mind, a slightly lengthy post with plenty of links to places you can waste time and soak up some words. They all contain plenty of other links to other places you can while away some time. Remember, that limbo of in-between-things might be all we have. Enjoy the journey. Continue reading

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