By Medora McGinnis, RN, whose last post for this blog was “Practically a Nurse: Life as a New Graduate RN.” Medora is now a pediatric RN at St. Mary’s Hospital in the Bon Secours Health System, Richmond, Virginia, as well as a freelance writer. As a nursing student she was the Imprint Editor for the National Student Nurses Association.The room is dark, and hot; 105 degrees, to be exact. I carry my mat, towel, and water bottle to the back corner of the room and settle into my space. I drink some water and lie down, trying to let go of all of the thoughts racing around in my head. A few minutes later, class starts and we start breathing, moving, stretching, and sweating . . . and really sweating. I’m shaking as I try to hold my plank position (which I still have to modify on my knees), then relaxing into a forward bend. Breathing, drinking water, moving, and stretching—and without realizing it, my thoughts are only about the present moment.
When I decided to try hot yoga about a month ago, I knew it would help me reduce stress and gain flexibility, and I was even hoping I’d lose weight. As a present day RN and a former ballet dancer, I looked forward to some of the health benefits I’d heard about, as well as the possibility of gaining back some of my old self-confidence. I figured it would take a while—in my mid-30s and doing the mom thing, I haven’t had time (or made time) to consistently exercise. But after 30 days of practicing three times a week (and these are 75-minute classes, no less), I’ve noticed a few benefits that I never expected.
- Mindful eating. As a night shift nurse (and mom of four), caffeine is my friend. I tend to drink soda like it’s going out of style. I eat on the run, and I snack a lot on nights. But over the last month I’ve noticed that I’m drinking more water, and I’m more careful about what I’m eating. Drive-through on the way home? I’d rather stop at the store and grab something healthy. Soda? Maybe one (because I love them), but only as a treat halfway through my shift. And I’m craving sushi and salads instead of ice cream.
- Superstrength. I had no idea how much strength it requires to keep up with a full yoga class. I’ve been taking vinyasa flow classes, which just involve more “moving through poses” and linking them together rather than standing static and holding a pose. But regardless of the type of yoga, some serious strength is required. By my second class, I already felt stronger in certain poses and could really tell a difference.
- Compassion, for others and for myself. Who would have thought? As the instructors encourage us to “practice wherever we are” and modify movements as needed, I’ve learned to take it easy on myself—both physically and spiritually. We are all in a different place in our lives, working with what we have. Patience with my yoga practice has translated into patience with others, too.
- Confidence. Just showing up with my yoga mat three times a week for class has given me a renewed faith in myself. I am consistent, and I am capable! Gaining strength and flexibility and seeing the physical progress of my practice just help that much more.
- Slower pace. In class, we hear a thoughtful quote or passage at the start of each practice, and several of them have involved slowing down and breathing. When we are feeling rushed, slow down and take a breath. It’s a gift, and by slowing down we can enjoy each moment. I’ve noticed myself laughing more and stressing less.
- Savasana. This is one of the most powerful things I’ve learned—resting is doing something. Before class starts and at the end of each class, I mindfully lie on my back. Completely flat, arms by my side with palms facing up, eyes closed, just breathing. Concentrating on relaxing, sinking into the mat, and letting go of the fluttering thoughts—that’s what savasana (literally, “corpse pose”) means to me. And it’s remarkably rejuvenating.
- Less back pain, more energy! My favorite side effect of my first month of yoga? My back pain is less and less—I had lumbar surgery for a herniated disk about seven months ago, and haven’t done any regular exercise since then, until now. (Honestly, just working was all I could manage.) Now that I’m yoga-ing, my constant ache has lessened. I’ve also noticed that I seem to have more energy—during night shift, I don’t “drag” quite as much as before, and maybe don’t need that caffeine like I thought I did.
I’m kind of loving hot yoga. While I’m not really a fan of sweating, I love to imagine I’m sweating out toxins in my body and drinking in fresh, clean water. I love the way I feel after a good workout in class. And I’m loving the way I look forward to my next practice. I think I’ve found my new self-care method—what’s yours?