19 January, 2012

The difference between hot and warm

Today was Hatha with Colette.

Most of the time, in hot yoga classes, you sweat. A lot. Sometimes, you sweat a lot and you feel good. Sometimes you sweat a lot and you feel bad. I am not exactly sure where the cutoff line is, in terms of temperature, and it definitely depends heavily on humidity. For instance, in Hawaii, a Bikram class at 95 degrees was almost unbearable heat. Oftentimes at Urban Yoga Spa, where the humidity is much lower, temperatures of 105 are just fine. Suffice it to say that there's a combination of heat and humidity where class becomes significantly less comfortable. And, of course, it depends entirely on one's frame of mind.

Today was not one of those classes. For whatever reason, today's class was the coolest "Hot" Hatha class that I've ever attended. Not sure why, and I am not complaining. It was actually quite interesting to experience the class from a less sweaty perspective. For the record, "Not Hot" meant that the room was around 87 degrees at the end of class. At this temperature, my towel was dry enough that I was able to use it to dry the little sweat there was on my body after class. In a typical class, my towel is drenched with 1-2 liters of [insert unpleasant description of bodily fluids].

The thing about a cool class is that I was able to really focus on my breathing without anxiety, without struggle. I know that there's benefit in struggle, and I am not going to suddenly start attending "Cold Hatha" classes. But it was kind of nice.

That said, I found myself, at the end of class, thinking "Did I really get a hard enough workout here?" There's a tendency to correlate the more extreme experience with being a better workout. I am not sure if that's true or not.

Colette's class has a very "Bikram-esque" flow to the order of poses. Her guidance method also tends toward the Bikram method, including the adherence to a full minute on many poses, and ensuring that we get two sets of particular poses like Standing Bow and Eagle.

I'm thinking about the temperature thing again... it is occurring to me that, while I can handle the 102, 105, even 108 degree temperatures in a Hatha series, usually without much struggle, it's the Vinyasa classes in which I'd really be just fine with the temperatures not being so extreme. In Hatha, there are only a few places in the workout where heart rate tends to go way up. This is pretty much during the Balancing Stick, Standing Bow, and Triangle portion of the class. But in Vinyasa, there can be 30-40 minutes of constantly elevated heart rate. I recognize that there's a mental element to coping with the heat. And I have not yet settled on what I believe is the perfect balance between "This is making it harder, but it's making me stronger," versus "This is making it harder, and... nothing."

There are all the adages about "That which does not kill us makes us stronger," and I can buy into that. But we are really talking about an optimization here between maximal mental gain, and maximal physical gain. There must, indeed, come a point where the heat index in a room has a detrimental effect on cardiovascular function that cannot be adequately compensated by any amount of mental toughness. So, in this optimization equation, the question then becomes: "Is the degree to which our capacity for physical benefit is reduced potentially outweighed by the degree to which our capacity for mental benefit is increased?"

Unfortunately, I am pretty sure that the answer to that last question is "Yes."

The reason I say this is because we will, unfortunately, experience many uncomfortable situations in our lives; both physical, emotional, mental. And we have the capability of developing a tolerance to these situations that enables us to handle them with more grace, and better judgment, if we can learn to be okay with them in spite of the discomfort, and (as Cassandra said yesterday) to resist the urge to create drama.

So, I say, "Bring it on!"

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