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Calm Amidst the Torture Chamber

Depression is a thinking man's disease.

Without thought, there's nothing to overanalyze.
Without thought, there's no nagging voice in your head, telling you those negative things.
Without thought, there is no regret, anxiety, or anger.

I think every intellectual must at some time in his life come across the question: would it be better to be ignorant and happy? My answer has always been a resounding "no," for I would have to be a completely different person in order to make my mind an ignorant one. I do love to think, I love to analyze. But sometimes when my mind is off involuntarily rehashing something for the 100th time, I wish my mind came with an off switch.

Unhappy teenagers in small towns around the country have long perfected the unhealthy off switches... drugs, drinking to the point of memory loss, perhaps mind-numbing distractions like TV or video games. But I'm not interested in using any of those as the solution to sooth my mind.

On the healthy side, the first answer is always meditation. Just clear your mind. Let the thoughts pass through, observe them, and let them go. Anyone who has tried anything like this knows that the worst way to try to clear the mind is to force it to be cleared, for that leads to more thought. I'm also not all that awesome at observing without thought. So while this might be a good avenue for me to explore and get "good at," there's no instant gratification and more often than not, there's some added frustration at my inability to succeed.

So where do all the Type As go to clear their minds, since theirs are probably minds that particularly need to be cleared? Freaking hot yoga, that's what. Bikram describes his studio, heated to 110 degrees or so with a dose of humidity to seal the deal, as a torture chamber. And that's the idea, torture the crap out of you until your mind can't think about anything. As an added bonus, it's a good workout!

I initially wanted to try a yoga class because I knew I was extremely inflexible, to the point where it was probably going to cause me injury in the future. (And this is true: can't touch toes = tight hamstrings = lower back pain down the line) Not knowing exactly where to go, I searched my company discount site for "yoga" and came up with two hot yoga places, both in my very own city of Kirkland. Yelp reviews pretty much summarized one as excellent and one as a stinky, crowded meat market, so you can guess which one I went to.

I definitely got a surprise. This was no "relax and stretch" class like I expected. My first class was a Bikram style class, 26 postures repeated twice for a total of 90 minutes in the hot, smothering torture chamber. I wasn't in bad shape, so I could manage the quad-busting "Awkward" series at the beginning and most of the standing series, but by the 20th pose or so, I was down in corpse pose for the rest of the class, fighting waves of nausea due to dehydration. Another plus of hot yoga: forces me to drink water. But laying there, waiting for class to end, I realized that my mind really hadn't wandered much during that class, which isn't the case for other workouts I do.

As my work life got interesting over the next few months, I relied a lot on hot yoga to keep my mind steady. My studio offered two types, the Bikram style that I first tried, and a Baptiste style Power yoga, which was a "flow" class that I hated at first due to the amount of time spent in downward-facing-dog. But now, I like the way the class moves and the fact that it's a great core workout (they actually do a brutal abs sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with yoga). I'm nowhere near bring a yoga expert, and I'm usually still one of the lower level people in the classes, but I can now touch my toes. :)

My body likes the exercise. My mind enjoys the break.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 21, 2009 11:59 AM.

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