This is the second in a two-part series. The first part discusses how to start an exercise habit even if you’ve failed before, motivation, the importance of positive self-talk, and mindset.
It’s hard to stay motivated long term, so I started doing research to give myself more reasons to go to hot yoga. I learned that repetitive movements myelinate the brain. That means the signal that passes through neurons is well-insulated by myelin, a rubbery sheath that also allows signals to travel up to five times faster. Neurons are protected from degeneration by taking part in any repetitive exercise. Movement grows the brain. Inactivity shrinks it.
I learned that the more I practiced balancing, the better my balance would be. Unused synaptic connections are pruned away every seven years. I could work on improving my balance, or lose what balance I had—the choice was mine. I wanted to be a winner. I wanted to be flexible and mobile into my nineties. I realized that what I chose to do today would impact my future self enormously, so I got up off the couch more and more.
I discovered that high intensity aerobic exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression, according to research. You can find out more about this in the book Spark, by John Ratey, MD.
My body finally figured out how to sweat, which made both hot yoga and hot summer days easy to tolerate. I started being able to catch my balance and stay in a pose instead of falling out easily. I was able to prevent falls that I would have taken in everyday life by my improved reaction time—improved because increased myelination meant signals directing me to catch my balance were being sent and acted on more quickly.
I learned that hot yoga helps release molecules of emotion, known as neuropeptides. Exercise in general helps release emotion, but I’ve found that hot yoga is the best for me because of both its intensity and the stretching, which helps release fascia that often locks these neuropeptides in place. The mind/body aspects of yoga allow us to connect inward and accept what is, which enables our unconscious to learn from the emotions and release them. It’s the reason why people sometimes feel emotionally uncomfortable doing yoga, but it’s worth facing these emotions and sensations because then we are free of the past. You can read more about neuropeptides in Dr. Candace Pert’s book, Molecules of Emotion.
I realized when I didn’t go to yoga, I was more emotional and unable to cope with the events of the week, as compared to weeks when I went three times a week. This helped reinforce my hot yoga habit. I also discovered that if I didn’t go, my lymph system didn’t work as well, and I would invariably catch a cold. That kept me motivated to go regularly, too. Telling myself all of these facts kept me going. If I caught myself having a negative thought about going, or comparing myself to others in class, I substituted a positive thought and imagined sending a hug to that part of myself that was feeling insecure.
It only took three months to turn my spinal degeneration around and have normal sensation return. My hot yoga habit began in 2011 and is still going strong three times a week six years later. At first I seldom saw people in their forties and fifties going, but now there are many of us. I even see people in their sixties and seventies. I look forward to being one of them.
Why not give hot yoga or some other kind of repetitive exercise a try? Whatever it is, know that I’m rooting for you. You can do it.
Elizabeth Gould is the author of Your Best Health by Friday: How to Overcome Anxiety, Depression, Stress, Trauma, PTSD, and Chronic Illness (Rincon Star Press, November 2017, available at lulu.com and amazon.com.) Elizabeth is the founder of Right Brain University. She lives in Santa Barbara, California.