The physical benefits derived from hot yoga are evident to anyone who has ever taken to the mat in a hot yoga studio filled with sweaty yogis. The mental benefits of fighting your way through 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises during a demanding 90-minute class are equally compelling, maybe more. Hot yoga doesn’t include formal meditation. We call the practice of yoga through postures a moving meditation. It is because a regular hot yoga practice can have an equally profound impact on the mind as much as the body.
Mental and physical toughness are required to meet the demands of daily living. Each hot yoga class, with its challenging postures and heated environment, provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen key aspects of the mind. The five qualities of mind which are essential include: faith, self-control, determination, concentration and patience. Let’s examine how a consistent hot yoga practice can build each characteristic.
This refers not to a blind faith, but a questing faith. A willingness to be tested. Stepping onto the mat is an act of faith, as is tackling each pose. You press on, though your mind and body rebel. You fight past the physical obstacles: tiredness, stiffness, sore muscles. Proof that you’re stronger than you think. Your yoga practice amplifies the mental strength you already possess.
As you stick with your practice, you get stronger and more confident in each posture. You are energized. The faith you demonstrated by showing up to class and taking your place on the mat is rewarded. You develop a deeper trust in yoga and in your ability to persevere through difficulties in order to achieve your goals—on the mat and off.
Self-control is the ability to govern yourself, despite the growing din of temporary wants and appetites that would veer you off your chosen course. Developing this level of self-control enables us to make good choices when it comes to our well-being. For instance, choosing to attend a hot yoga class when it would be easier to settle onto the couch for the evening.
Employ self-discipline in your yoga practice. Don’t leave your practice to chance, attending class only when the inclination strikes. Make it a priority. Block out time on your calendar to practice. Then keep those appointments.
As a modern society, we tend to give up and move on when things become difficult. However, you can battle this natural inclination. It has been said that in extreme heat we forge bodies and minds of steel. Resolve to meet your weekly goals. Keep attending class, even when it feels hard. Stay in the room and practice savasana, the resting pose, if you need a break. Reach for the ceiling or the back wall in those challenging standing poses. See if you can hold the pose a little longer. Focus on where you want to go, not on what you fear.
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, yoga is 90% mental. The other half is physical. If you fall out of a posture, your mind wavered, not your body. Don’t compare your practice to your neighbour’s. Be so attentive to what’s happening inside your body that you lose track of the world around you. Develop a single-minded focus in your practice. This level of focus permeates other parts of your life including work, athletics and family life.
In a society filled with shiny distractions, one of our greatest challenges is maintaining focus. So it may prove difficult to remain engaged during an easier posture or to maintain concentration during an especially demanding pose. Stick with your practice. As you learn to eliminate internal noise and ignore outside distractions, memory and concentration improve.
The Original Hot Yoga does not include a formal meditation component. The class itself serves as a practice in meditation. Bring awareness to your alignment in each posture. Focus on your practice, your posture and your breath. As you concentrate on each aspect of your practice, your mind shifts from the problems of the day. Bringing a heightened level of concentration to your practice provides a mental reprieve, similar to what one experiences during a formal meditation practice.
During a lecture for Bikram yoga teacher certification, Bikram spoke about the five qualities of the mind. He ran off the first four rather quickly, then seemed to forget the fifth. Pen poised above my pad, I got restless, then antsy. I could barely concentrate on what he was saying for wondering about that fifth quality of the mind. Then he named it: patience. An object lesson in why we must cultivate patience.
There will be countless moments during your practice that will test your patience. Don’t let them. Be patient with yourself, your fellow yogis and your teacher. Most of all, be patient with your progress. Remain open to approaching every single practice as a beginner. Listen to the teacher. Abandon preconceived notions of what progress should look like. Be in the moment.
Recent studies indicate that yoga reduces exaggerated stress responses, which alleviates anxiety and depression. The reduction in stress levels also impacts physiological factors, like lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rate. In one German study, emotionally-distressed women found significant relief from back pain, headaches and poor sleep quality after three months of twice weekly 90-minute yoga classes. Even a single yoga class has been shown to reduce tension and anxiety levels in patients struggling with major depression and other disorders.
Mental strength creates the foundation for all other achievements. Establish a consistent practice that will train your brain to have faith in your abilities, demonstrate self-control, develop determination, improve concentration and cultivate patience. Just as hot yoga is a perfect balance between strength, balance and flexibility, the five qualities of the mind must also be in harmony. Determination without patience = recklessness. Patience without determination = laziness.
Develop these five qualities of the mind in harmony. Keep working at your practice with faith, self-control, determination, concentration and patience. You’ll experience remarkable results on and off your yoga mat.