Oh, yoga. Some of us are obsessed with it, many of us dabble in it, and others are totally intimidated by it. Any which way, yoga is on our radar and the Hong Kong yoga scene is a bustling one. Certainly, the health benefits are no secret, but the variety of pretzel-y practices can seem as convoluted as a “bird of paradise” pose. And what’s the deal with the classes with amped up temps? Does perspiring actually help you find your zen? Yoga guru and Hong Kong Mom Missy Szymanski, an instructor at Pure Yoga, gives us the scoop on sweating it out.
What is your background and how did you end up in Hong Kong?
I am from the beautiful city of San Diego, CA and have spent many years living by the beach. I have two small children: Luke, who is five-years old; and Sofia, who is one-year old. We moved to Hong Kong three-and-a-half years ago for my husband’s job in manufacturing. We thought we would only stay a couple years but fell in love with Hong Kong and have made it our home.
When did yoga become an important part of your life?
The first time I took yoga was in 2000 and it was a 90-minute hot class. I fell in love with it immediately. I had suffered from edema, swelling of my lower body, and had not found anything to help alleviate the discomfort. After taking the hot yoga class I felt an immediate physical change. I practiced regularly for a few years and all of my physical symptoms of edema disappeared. In 2007, I wanted to take my practice to a new height and also share how much I loved the yoga with others so I enrolled in the Bikram yoga teacher training.
How has yoga benefitted you?
Yoga has helped me live a more balanced life. Prior to having my two children, I worked as the Director of Business Development for a litigation support company and had the pressures and stress that many Hong Kong people can relate to. The yoga gave me an outlet to release my stress and tension both physically and mentally. Now that I am a stay-at-home mom I find that I still use yoga as the place where I find balance and peace. Every mom/parent needs an outlet outside of work and family to relax, release stress and well “come back to normal”. Whenever I start to get a little cranky at home my husband usually tells me to “go take a yoga class” because I come home a better mom, wife and person. I have a little more patience and more energy to give to others when I have taken just one hour to myself.
How long have you been at Pure Yoga?
I have been teaching at Pure Yoga for three-and-a-half years. I just love all my students and yoga community with Pure. They inspire me to be a better teacher and to keep doing what I love.
Why did you choose to specialize in hot yoga?
I chose hot yoga because it healed me and I wanted to share and teach what worked so well for me.
Tell us about hot yoga and the benefits of doing yoga in a hot room.
There are so many benefits to doing yoga in the hot room, I could probably write a novel. The heat allows the body to stretch, detoxify, relieve stress, tone, and heal chronic pain and injuries. The sweating, twisting and flushing out toxins from all organs leaves the body feeling lighter and healthier. The heat also allows the body to go more deeply and safely in the postures. Working in the hot room helps the body to relax, improves breathing, focuses the mind, which develops better mental concentration and ultimately leaves you with an incredible feeling at the end of the class.
What tips can you give someone new to yoga or someone intimated about going to their first class?
The key to enjoying your first hot yoga class is to go in prepared and take it easy. Hydrate well and do not eat two hours before class. Replenish lost minerals and electrolytes during and after class with an Emergen-C or coconut water. Don’t try to do everything the first class. As a beginner, you are getting used to the heat and the postures and it may feel overwhelming so, take a break and breath. I think having a good sense of humor is important too! Be able to laugh at yourself and smile. You don’t have to be perfect in the yoga room.
How does hot yoga help injuries?
Hot yoga uses static holds or flows in a series. Which means you are contracting and holding specific parts of the body and muscles for a prescribed number of seconds. Then when you release the hold or posture, fresh blood and oxygen releases to that area healing your joints, ligaments, organs, muscles and tissues. Many students find the hot yoga improves arthritis, joint pain, knee pain, chronic back issues and many other diseases.
Is it ok for bouncing back post-baby?
Yes. I started practicing hot yoga six weeks after having both of my kids, with clearance from the doctor. The key is to take it slow and easy. Practice as if you were a first time student again. Don’t try to do everything — and listen to your body. Your body is starting back at the beginning and making those muscle memory connections from scratch. Try not to overdo it in class, you still have a little one at home that will need your energy. Best to practice slowly and mindfully.
How do you recommend getting over that “why am I doing this to myself?” moment in a hot yoga class?
The key is to try to put your thoughts aside. Focus on the dialogue and exactly what the teacher is asking you to do at that moment. It becomes your meditation. And all the other thoughts going on in your brain start to disappear. Eventually, you will want the intense feeling because you are learning how to control your mind and body.
Has anything really embarrassing happened in a hot yoga class? And how does one recover from that?!
Of course! But my lips are sealed! What happens in the yoga room stays in the yoga room… Flatulence is probably the most common. That is why I mentioned that ‘having a sense of humor’ is vital! It’s just yoga and you have to let go of your ego in the yoga room.
Aside from yoga – any other tips for maintaining a healthy, happy, balanced life?
I recommend taking time for yourself every day to do something that you love. Even if 15 minutes is all you get. If you take care of yourself you will be better at taking care of the ones you love in your life.