I've never been a person who likes yoga. Or meditation. Or basically anything that moves at a slow pace, thereby leaving me alone with my thoughts. I prefer an intense workout class that allows my mind to blank out — which is why I do CrossFit five times a week. But as a naturally anxious person who also writes about wellness for a living, I'm well versed in how beneficial hot yoga can be in relieving anxiety. Multiple studies, like this one from the National Institutes of Health, back up the popular belief.
My stress levels have been through the roof lately, so it felt like time to put these studies to the test. While it's certainly not the weirdest thing I've done for a story (that honor would probably have to go to giving up coffee for a week, which was a nightmare), it was an experience. "Yoga helps decrease activation of the adrenal glands and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels," NY Medical Director of Parsley Health Dr. Soyona Rafatjah says. "This will decrease your 'fight or flight' response and activate your 'relax, digest, heal' response." Yes to all of this. But the true test: Could I survive a whole month of doing yoga, something that I generally find mind-numbingly boring?
I'd only done hot yoga a handful of times before this month and decided to opt for this type as opposed to the traditional method, as the benefits are believed to be more fruitful. "Hot yoga induces profound sweating which is incredibly detoxifying. You can detox from heavy metals, pesticides, and other chemicals this way," says Rafatjah. "It also improves the health of your autonomic nervous system, the system that controls your blood pressure and heart rate." Plus, it just so happens that the one yoga class I can make it through without dying of boredom is Y7, which is hot yoga set to hip-hop and R&B. Oh, and it's candlelit and there are no mirrors, which creates this really peaceful, kinda sexy environment.
The only downside: Y7 only has locations in West Hollywood and Silverlake. I live in Venice. If you live in Los Angeles, you understand the predicament I'm in. If you don't live in LA, let me just tell you that even though it's only about a seven-mile drive, it can take up to an hour to get there. Luckily, I'm used to getting up early for workouts so I would go before traffic started to minimize my stress (otherwise, it would kind of counteract the good-for-you benefits). Rafatjah recommends doing 90-120 minutes of yoga per week for at least four weeks to see the benefits, so that's what I committed to.
There's also a Modo Yoga that opened up near my apartment, so I decide to take some classes there as well, even though it's more traditional (read: they don't play Nicki Minaj while you flow). There were also days where I really just didn't feel like leaving my apartment, so I would do a flow using the at-home workout platform obé. LA (and the rest of the country) experienced a pretty severe heatwave, and I don't have AC, which basically mimicked the environment of a hot yoga class.
I have a hard time relaxing in general, but after a couple of classes I started getting into the groove, and found myself leaving class in a better mood. Pro tip: Make sure you really hydrate, because you lose a lot of fluids in hot yoga. The first couple of days I developed a headache in the middle of the day because I'm really bad at remembering to drink water. But once I got my sh*t together (in regards to water), the headaches went away.
After about two weeks, I began to notice small changes — I was feeling more rested in the morning, and having an easier time falling asleep. I was also just happier in general. By the end of the month, I noticed that I was coping with stressful situations better.
Instead of going into a neverending wormhole inside my own head, which is sometimes how my anxiety can feel, I would only slightly spin out of control. (Hey, it was hot yoga, not a magic pill that would cure everything.)
I'm of the opinion that the best healthy lifestyle isn't the same for everyone — and the best one for you is the one you can stick to consistently. So while my month of hot yoga really did help me relax, and I got a lot more flexible, in the end I don't think it's sustainable for me. Unfortunately, the stress of trekking over to the other side of town to do some downward dog started to take its toll, which probably cancelled out some of the benefits. But, that doesn't mean I'm giving up on yoga altogether — I plan to incorporate a class a week into my routine to get some of the stress-relieving benefits without further stressing myself out.
While this may not have been the anxiety cure I would have liked (because how cool would it be if a single workout class could cure all your problems), it did teach me more about my anxiety. As with everything in life, managing my anxiety requires balance; and now hot yoga is another tool in my stress-relieving arsenal.