Sweating it out

PHOTO: Sweating it out

From running to bowling to yoga, it's been a lifelong struggle to find an exercise I can remain faithful to The smell hits you the moment you step out of the lift and into the centre.

I wrinkle my nose and hold my breath.

Sweat smells sweet and sour.

But 10 seconds later, I can't smell it anymore. I've been absorbed by the sweaty vapours. In fact, in just a while, I'll be contributing to it too.

In November last year, I joined a yoga centre. I'm into the fifth month of my latest exercise fad - hot yoga - and I've been sweating like I've never sweated before.

I can normally withstand heat well and it takes a lot to make me perspire.

But when you're in an enclosed space with 30 other people packed barely one foot apart and the temperature is set at 38deg C and you have to contort your body for 60 minutes, even I can't take it.

Sweat oozes from every pore and from places I'd never sweated before. The first time I saw globules forming on the back of my forearms and on my shins, I stared at them in wonder.

Very soon, I'm dripping, dripping, dripping, and so is everyone else. There are worse sweathogs than me - you can tell by the puddles of perspiration forming around them.

I like hot yoga. I like the heat prickling my skin and I like the sweating, which is supposed to detoxify the body.

I like how the heat makes me more pliable, and I like being part of a class as it feels as if we're in this together.

I like my teachers and I like that sense of satisfaction at the end of each session.

After more than 70 hot (and normal) yoga classes, my arms and legs are more toned, my posture has improved and I seem to have become a little calmer too.

But I haven't lost weight, not one single pound.

In fact, I'm heavier now than when I started.

The weight gain is inexplicable because for my build and the amount of energy I put in, I'm supposed to burn about 400 calories in a one-hour hot yoga session, which is comparable to if I were to go for a leisurely run.

This lack of weight loss is disappointing and I sometimes wonder if doing all those downward dogs is worth it.

It's the story of my life.

I'm not a naturally sporty person and one key reason I do any form of sport or exercise is to lose weight or, at the very least, to maintain it.

To this end, I've flitted from one form of exercise to another, but it's been a struggle to find something I can remain faithful to.

Sooner or later, I discover that it isn't burning enough calories, I grow disillusioned, feel no incentive to continue, start getting bored, then abandon it. The love affair is short-lived.

I wasn't athletic in school and started exercising only at university because I wanted to lose weight.

Inspired by The Runner's Handbook by Bob Glover and Jack Shepherd, I embarked on 2, then 4, then 10km runs around the neighbourhood.

Over the next few years, I finished two Singapore Marathons, two half-marathons and two 10km races.

Running in the 1980s wasn't the fashionable sport it is today. The Singapore Marathon was a lot more low-key. It attracted smaller crowds and people weren't kitted out in snazzy gadgets or gear. (It was just me and my plain Brooks running shoes.)

I finished my first marathon in about 4 hours and 40 minutes; the second took over five. I have stored somewhere a tiny newspaper clipping that shows my name among the top 20 women runners in a 10km road race. (There must have been 20 female runners in the race.)

Running gave me the slim thighs and ribs-revealing body structure I desired. But it was also really boring, and after completing those races, I grew tired of them.

My father bought me a Jane Fonda aerobics video tape which I loved. For a while, I was obsessed with it - until exercising in front of the TV became tiresome too.

In my early 30s, I took the plunge and finally learnt to swim. For the next few years, swimming was my thing. But while it kept my weight in check, it didn't produce the bony look I wanted.

For a period in my 30s, I stopped exercising altogether (bliss). When I hit 40, I started doing yoga (the normal version) once a week, and also jogged and skipped.

Sure enough, boredom kicked in again, so I learnt bowling. That was fun but it's not a serious calorie burner.

When I got married, H tried to teach me tennis but I hated it. Let's do badminton, I said. It works up a sweat - but is a killer on the knees. It's also almost impossible to book a court and I gave up after six months.

Then late last year, we signed up to the yoga centre, which has a sister gym, and did yoga more intensively.

I've since found that I'm not cut out for the gym. He can happily spend two, three hours there but I want to flee after 20 minutes. Machine-work is torture, I nearly fractured my ankle at spin class, and gym- goers have this combative don't-talk-to-me air about them.

Yoga suits me better. The classroom vibes are warmer, there's less narcissistic preening in front of mirrors, and people don't seem to feel the need to outdo one another the way you see them do at the treadmill.

Yoga is also fun, which is more than half the battle won when it comes to sticking to a workout.

The only problem is, I'm not losing weight.

The older you get, the harder it is to keep the pounds at bay. Most disturbing is the layer of fat that suddenly appears around your middle. You now understand why there are all these advertisements on how to fight "belly fat".

The solution for me is to combine yoga with some high-intensity workout that has helped me lose weight before. But I'm lazy, so the key, I suppose, is to start small.

I woke up today and started Googling this topic on my iPad.

I was sprawled in bed but decided to get up. I went to the stationary bicycle in the living room and spent the next 15 minutes pedalling (slowly) as I read.

I burnt barely 100 calories but it was better than nothing.

It is going to be a lifelong struggle to find an exercise I like and can stick to it.

For now, it is hot yoga - sweaty smells notwithstanding.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.