It’s 6:50 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in Manhattan, and I just finished teaching my first yoga class of the day. A year ago, I would’ve made a beeline back to my apartment and straight into bed. But today, just like most days, I’m headed to Orangetheory Fitness on 39th street to work out. Even though the workout is different every time, I always know what I’m getting myself into.
What Exactly Is Orangetheory?
Picture a rectangular exercise studio, jam-packed with fitness equipment: half of the room is filled with treadmills and rowers, and the other half contains weights, risers (like the kind used in step aerobics classes), and TRX straps. The room is illuminated with a dim orange light and along each corner of the room are flat-screen TVs. In the beginning of the class, you’re given a heart rate monitor, which ends up being your compass for the entire hour-long class. On the TV screen, you can see the number of calories you burn as well as your heart rate—in addition to the calorie-burn and heart rates of everyone else in the class.
Now, I’m a yogi through and through—conditioned to avoid comparison—and so I’m not a big fan of competitive workouts. But there’s something about seeing these number-filled boards that excites me. In fact, during my Orangetheory workouts, my heart rate is my main motivation. (And if I’m honest, I’m checking my numbers against the others’ in the room, which helps motivate me to stay focused and to really push myself!)
Finding My ‘Flow’ on the Treadmill
Before class starts, I set up my heart rate monitor on my upper arm. The heart rate monitor is linked to the TVs throughout the room so that no matter where I am during the workout, I can monitor my heart rate—and use that number as a benchmark to push harder or scale back. Each class is typically split in two groups: the first group begins on the treadmills and the second group begins in the weight-lifting section. The treadmill portion of the class is about 25 minutes of intervals, with everything from endurance to speed training. The weight-lifting portion of the class involves full-body exercises using the weights, TRX, and the rower. I like to start on the treadmill first, since I find it’s the hardest to get through. But once I’m a few minutes in and start to feel (and see!) my heart rate spike, I do everything I can to keep it there. My mind loses its initial focus on how much further I have to go, and I start to home in on how I can calm my breathing while still keeping my heart rate at a consistently high level.
You know that feeling you get when you are flowing through a yoga sequence effortlessly with the breath? That’s what it feels like when I find my groove on the treadmill. I’m in it. I’m in sync with my breath. And I’m flowing.
3 Ways Orangetheory Helped My Yoga Practice
Although these cardio- and strength-focused Orangetheory classes are vastly different than the asana classes I teach and take, I find that the mind-body connection I’m inspired to have when I’m sweating it out on the treadmill and powering through the strength routine is as present as it is when I’m flowing through my vinyasas. Once my heart rate monitor fires up, my body is my guide. And while yoga has always put me in touch with my breath, connecting with my heart in the way that I do during Orangetheory classes inspires an incredibly deep connection to my entire body.
As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I’ve been able to take what I learn in the Orangetheory studio and put it into practice on my mat. Here’s how:
1. My heart is now my guide.
Orangetheory measures your heart rate in five zones (gray, blue, green, orange, and red). The workout really begins when you hit your green zone, because gray and blue are your rest and warm-up pace. The orange zone is supposed to be uncomfortable (you’ll hit 84-91 percent of your maximum heart rate), where you create excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), aka “the afterburn.” The red zone is where you empty your tank with everything you have left.
Watching my heart rate move through these various zones is not only fun, but it also touches me on a deeper level. In a lot of other workouts, I brush up against the fear of the unknown: Will my body be able to handle an extra push? Because I can constantly see my heart rate, the fear of pushing myself to the brink is eliminated. In fact, being able to monitor my heart rate gives me confidence to go further and push harder based on how my body feels—not what my mind is telling me. “It is all about the mind understanding what the body is capable of, as well as the heart being tested and learning how to recover and become stronger,” Lisa Birer, the owner of the Orangetheory Fitness studio where I work out, tells me.
As a result of this learning, I find myself more mindful of my breathing and heart rate in every workout I do now—not just in the Orangetheory studio. Once you learn to listen to your heart rate and observe the connection to your breath and beating heart, it’s hard to not feel it.
2. Modifications can lead to big gains.
When I first started taking classes at Orangetheory, I was intimidated by any form of running—especially on a treadmill. That all changed the moment I walked into the Orangetheory studio for the first time. Each workout is tailored so that you can walk, jog, or run on the treadmill; the trainers offer all kinds of modifications—so if you find yourself getting nervous about falling off or hurting yourself, you can scale back while still keeping your heart rate up.
When I first started, I wasn’t ashamed to walk or jog. Eventually, I built up to where I am now, which is running—fast!—during the treadmill portion of these workouts (and scaling back to a walk or jog when I’m not feeling super-strong). This has reminded me that modifications are important in the yoga room as well—not just for my students but also for my own practice. Even though I’m an advanced yoga practitioner, I’m better able to see now that the occasional prop or modification can be exactly what I need.
3. I feel more connected to something bigger than me, both on and off the mat.
So many of us practice and teach yoga without remembering the fact that millions of other yogis are practicing at the same time, all over the world. In an interesting way, my Orangetheory workouts have inspired me to think about the power behind people connecting through fitness all over the world—every time I step on my mat.
Here’s why: At Orangetheory, a national fitness chain, you’ll do the same workout as everyone else doing the workout that day. And for me, knowing this workout draws more than just a group of 40 people in the room in New York City that I’m in makes me smile as much as I sweat. It both inspires me to work out harder, and to remember that when I’m teaching yoga, it’s an opportunity to truly connect—with my students in the room and even people out of the yoga studio. Now, I always dedicate my practice or workout to someone I care about, and I encourage my students to do the same. And on the days where my motivation may be lacking, reminding myself that people are doing the same practice all over the world keeps me grounded, present, and open to growth.