As the founder and CEO of Circle of One Marketing, Suzan McDowell leads a fast paced, busy life. While in the midst of expanding her company to the west coast by opening Circle L.A., she and her team have also helped to expand Jazz in the Gardens into one of the country’s most popular music festivals, (this year’s event saw a record-breaking 73,000 people in attendance.)
McDowell said that a practice that she started last summer has been instrumental in her ability to manage her personal and professional life by, essentially, learning to breathe. She admits that the only reason that she attended a hot yoga class was because a friend in a women’s wealth group invited her.
“The first time that I went, I thought, oh my God, that’s some foolishness. It’s so hot,” she said of the 90 minute class in a room that is heated to 95 degrees. “But then all of a sudden, I felt so much better.”
McDowell explained that the instructor guides participants through all 26 of the traditional yoga poses, however, with hot yoga, “within five minutes, you’re sweating from head to toe.”
The impact on her isn’t just physical.
“I’ve learned more how to breathe, and to breathe in moments when I’m stressed,” said McDowell, a self-proclaimed exercise hater. The practice also has a tremendous spiritual benefit, she added. “It’s really calming. There has been times in hot yoga where I’ve literally cried from the beginning of the class to the end of the class, just based on stuff that I’m going through in my life.”
McDowell said she knew she was addicted to the practice that creates a toned and lean body when “I found myself getting up to leave my house in the middle of a ‘Law and Order’ marathon to drive to Brickell, and I live in the Shores, at 10:30 on a Saturday, then again on Sunday.”
The mother of a college freshman said that her lifelong search for endorphins has been satisfied.
“It’s the first thing, in addition to Zumba, where at the end of it, I felt good.”
According to the Fred Busch hot yoga website, “Physically a regular yoga practice brings strength, muscle tone, weight loss, increased range of motion, improved blood flow and improved immune system and digestion.” The site also indicates that yoga benefits participants mentally by increasing “concentration, reduces stress by providing a calm state of mind and bringing a general sense of well-being.”
Lorri M. Key is a licensed clinical social worker who tried Bikram yoga after turning 40 and being advised by her doctor to “lay off the weights” because she’d had two accidents. In her blog post (Lorrikey.com), “Bikram Yoga: Black Girls Can Do It Too,” Key encourages African-American women to embrace the sweatiness that ruins hairstyles because the health benefits are worth it.
The difference between Bikram and hot yoga is about 10 degrees; however, both are said to benefit participants in similar ways.
Key said that she began the practice instead of popping pills to deal with back pain.
“I started yoga for back pain and early arthritis. After the first class, I noticed a difference in flexibility and less back discomfort,” she wrote in the post.
“There’s a rigidity and a freedom, if you can put those two together, and it’s something about the system of making your body move from one thing to the other,” McDowell explained. The motivational aspect of hot yoga keeps her going back for more.
“The whole time that you’re in yoga, the person is giving you a motivational class, but in a very spiritual kind of way. ‘Don’t resist, life is about love,’ not platitudes necessarily, there’s a yoga speak,” she explained. “It triggers stuff in you as you’re working out, as you’re sweating. He’ll say something and it’ll make perfect sense,” McDowell said.
Key wants black women to give the practice a try.
“I advocate for every Black girl to try Bikram at least once for the challenge of learning to control your breathing, experiencing a new form of exercise, and using heat to reduce your body’s natural aches and pains,” Key said. “The benefits outweigh the heat and frizzy hair and gives everyone a sense of accomplishment.”
Loving and appreciating the self are also benefits of the practice, according to McDowell.
“At the end of the class, thank yourself for being able to make it to your mat,” she said of the practice that encourages a, “Lot of self-love.”