Turning up or turning down the heat

Some yoga instructors and yoga schools believe in heating the exercise room. The idea is for the excess heat to warm and loosen your muscles, making them easier to stretch. People turn up the thermostats in exercise rooms for the same reason they take warm baths. Heat relaxes muscles from the outside in. It allows for a greater range of motion in the ligaments, joints, and muscles. Capillaries — the extremely small vessels in body tissue that transport blood from the arteries to the veins — dilate in the heat, which helps deliver oxygen to tissue and muscles.

Exercising in heat also offers some subtle benefits:

^ The heat may force you to slow down and do the exercises safely.

^ Your heart beats faster to cool down your body, and this stimulated circulation speeds up body metabolism.

^ The increased circulation and pumping action of your heart breaks down glucose and fat.

^ The heat gives you a cardiovascular workout.

^ The heat cleanses your body as you eliminate toxins through sweat.

Doing yoga with weights in a heated room sounds like a good deal. Stretching is a vital part of yoga with weights, and the heat helps you stretch. And the other benefits of exercising in a heated room aren't too shabby, either. You should run to your exercise area and turn up the thermostat immediately, right? The answer is: maybe. Exercising in a heated room has disadvantages, too.

Different people have different reactions to heat. Some of the reactions are harmless quirks:

^ You may get very uncomfortable when sweat pours down your back and your heart starts beating faster.

^ Sweat can be slippery on your yoga mat.

^ The heat can keep you from relaxing, and relaxation is an essential part of the yoga frame of mind — a frame of mind that keeps you safe and growing in your practice.

Exercising in a heated room can also give you a case of lazy muscles. When a muscle gets too warm and relaxed, it can get lazy or groggy. It doesn't want to work anymore, and neither do you. If you've had the experience of sitting in a warm, comfortable bath and not wanting to ever get out, you know what lazy muscles are. You can find yourself stopping in the middle of a workout to use your yoga mat like a hammock rather than an exercise device.

Some reactions to heat are dangerous. Heat can add some unwelcome dimensions to the yoga practice:

^ If you have high blood pressure, and you're concerned for the health of your heart, exercising in a hot room and cracking a profuse sweat can be frightening. Avoid exercising in the heat if the health of your heart is compromised or if you suspect in any way that exercising in the heat is bad for your health.

Consult your doctor before you decide to heat your exercise area if these thoughts enter your head.

i If you put an emphasis on pushing yourself further every time you exercise, you may do more harm than good in a heated environment. More is not always better, especially when it comes to your joints. Because warmer muscle tissue yields more easily, you run the risk of stretching beyond optimal limits and compromising joint tissue. A loose joint that you overstretch is like a loose door hinge that prevents the door from closing tightly and fitting in the frame.

Exercising in heat pushes you to the edge, and some people like being there. In our experience, certain type-A personalities who like getting their adrenalin and endorphins flowing enjoy the extra challenge of exercising in hot rooms. However, exercising gung-ho style can get you in trouble. When you exercise, always work to your capacity without compromising the stability and integrity of your joints, connective tissue, and muscles. Going at it full bore in a hot room makes it harder to maintain the mindfulness and awareness that yoga with weights calls for.

Still, some like it hot. If you're that kind of person, and you don't have health concerns, go ahead and raise the room temperature to 85 or 90°F. But remember that it isn't necessary to go that high to have a good yoga-with-weights workout; you can push yourself with 70 to 75°F just fine.

Don't expose yourself to drafts or a cold room when you exercise, because the cold air makes your muscles contract.

Jazzing up your workout with music

You may remember exercise programs from the 1980s that featured aerobic workouts accompanied by upbeat music. The idea was for the music to motivate you to exercise harder and to help you keep a tempo. These programs introduced many people to the concept of exercising to music. Thanks to modern portable music players, you can take your music with you when you exercise. It seems that half of all joggers have portable music players attached to their arms or waists. Half of all gym goers are also wired for sound.

It's up to you to decide whether you want to listen to music as you do your yoga-with-weights workouts. As the saying goes, music calms the wild beast. It can relax you, inspire you, motivate you, empower you, or rev you up, depending on your state of mind and what type of music you're listening to. In terms of yoga with weights, music can

1 Help you set a pace for your workout 1 Inspire you to keep going

1 Comfort you when you're struggling with a difficult exercise

Meeting the challenge of exercising on your own

If you're the kind of person who likes to exercise on your own, or if you can't find yoga instructors where you live, you face additional challenges when exercising with yoga with weights. Here are some tips to help you on your way:

i Take your time. Nobody gets it right the first time. Take your time to understand what you're supposed to do in each exercise. Fortunately for you, yoga is an intuitive discipline. Nine times out of ten, you can "feel it" when you're doing an exercise right. You can feel the muscle groups at work and understand how each exercise is supposed to challenge you.

i Start with warm-ups. In a yoga-with-weights exercise class, instructors never neglect the warm-up phase of a workout, but people exercising at home often skip the warm-ups because they want to jump right in. Chapter 6 explains how to warm up for the exercises.

i Practice the exercises without the weights initially. Mastering many of the exercise forms is hard enough without having to lift the weights as well. After you understand how to do an exercise, strap on the ankle weights and grab the hand weights.

Use a mirror. The first few times you do an exercise, do it slowly and watch yourself in the mirror. See the section "Exercising in front of a mirror" earlier in this chapter for advice about what to look for when you exercise before a mirror. Try to make your reflection in the mirror look like the exercise photographs in this book.

Read this book carefully. You are your best teacher and guide. You have wisdom and intelligence within you, and you have to tap your inner resources. In the end, because no instructor can tell you whether you're doing an exercise correctly, it's up to you to understand how to do an exercise and get the most out of it. That means reading this book more carefully than you would normally read an exercise book.

Record your voice reading the exercises aloud, and play back the recording as you exercise. This gives you the illusion that you're in an exercise class and spares you from having to interrupt an exercise to consult this book.

However, music can also be a distraction. Throughout the exercises in this book, we ask you to "listen to your body" — to feel your muscles and ligaments as they stretch or contract so you can exert just the right amount of pressure and effort. If you introduce music into your yoga-with-weights workout, it can i Prevent you from hearing your body and the sound of your breath i Speed up the tempo of an exercise so you move too quickly i Keep you from focusing and working out safely

If you prefer to exercise to musical accompaniment, ask yourself from time to time in the middle of a workout whether the music is a distraction. If it isn't a distraction, enjoy it for all its worth. Experiment with different kinds of music to find recordings that help you work out. We know people who listen to sounds from nature — ocean waves and babbling brooks — when they exercise; others love a good rhythm and beat. Any recording that deepens your yoga-with-weights workout is okay with us.

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