Hot yoga in particular has become very popular, as aficionados say the heat helps achieve deeper stretches and boosts heart rate to add a stronger cardio component than might be found in a class taught at room temperature. Hot yoga, which is taught in rooms heated to temperatures up to 105 degrees, is not for the faint of heart and even athletes believe it’s one of the most challenging workouts out there.
Yoga is open to practitioners of all levels and anyone can get benefits from a regular practice, but especially with hot classes, preparation is key. Here’s a list of ten ways you should prepare before trying out hot yoga for the first time:
Determine the type of class: For some, the term ‘hot yoga’ automatically means Bikram, a popular type of yoga that focuses on the same 26 postures in each class. But there are studios who offer hot Vinyasa classes as well, which gives a very different experience from Bikram. Vinyasa involves flowing between different postures and each class is different. Hot Vinyasa is typically taught in rooms heated to around 90 degrees and classes usually last an hour rather than Bikram’s 90 minutes.
Vinyasa is generally less intense than Bikram and more highly recommended for beginning yogis, though if you’re already used to tough workouts like spinning or long distance running, then a more disciplined class like Bikram might offer an easier transition into the yoga philosophy. Either way, make sure you know what you’re getting into and don’t make the mistake of thinking all yoga is the same.
Bring towels: So you probably know you’ll need a yoga mat for yoga class, but in hot classes you will sweat so much that doing the postures will be nearly impossible without a towel laid over your mat. If you’re going to do the practice regularly, it’s recommended you invest in a special yoga towel that is the size and shape of a mat and has one grippy side that will keep it in place.
For your first class, you can probably get away with laying a beach towel over your mat, but make sure you don’t skip this step or your experience will likely be ruined by your own inability to perform the movements while your feet and hands slide around on a sweaty mat. Yes, you will sweat that much. Many people also like to bring hand towels to wipe themselves in quick breaks between postures.
Hydrate: The term yoga may conjure visions of hippies rolling around on the floor while burning incense, but hot yoga is one of the most intense workouts you can get. Classes guarantee to work every muscle in the body while raising the heart rate, detoxifying, and learning relaxation techniques that can be applied to stressful situations off the mat. Try getting all that from running on a treadmill.
You need to prepare for a hot yoga class by seriously hydrating in the hours before you go, or you’ll be liable to feel awful or even faint during class. You will sweat more than you have ever sweat in your life, especially in a Bikram class, and your body needs more fluids than it would for other types of exercise. Drink a lot of water throughout the day before you practice, but don’t only chug immediately before class. That will only give you a stomach ache. For that same reason, avoid the urge to guzzle water during class and instead take small sips between poses. Save the guzzling for after class, when you’ll need to replenish yourself with all the water you just lost. Coconut water is a great post-workout option.
Listen to your body: It may seem contradictory when yoga instructors are simultaneously pushing the class to go further while also encouraging the class to lay down in child’s pose or savasana if need be. What’s important to understand is the yoga concept of finding your edge. Your edge is the place where you are working your hardest, but not pushing yourself too hard; a place of ideal balance. If you feel like you want to get out of chair pose because your legs are burning, then you probably haven’t reached your edge and can stick with the pose a bit longer. If you feel dizzy or sick or like something is hurting in a bad way, not a building-muscle way, then ease off.
As a first-timer, you’re going to be engaging muscles that don’t get worked in other forms of exercise and so you will probably have to take more breaks than the people around you who may have been doing it for years. Be kind to yourself and lay down on the mat when you need to. One big philosophy of hot yoga is that it’s a victory as long as you manage to stay in the room through the entire class. So don’t go bolting for the door as soon as things get hard. Just lay down on the mat and breathe through the heat. Especially in super-hot Bikram classes, it’s reasonable to spend a decent portion of your first class laying on the floor.
Wear the right clothing: You don’t need to buy expensive outfits from Lululemon, even if many of the people you’re in class with do. What you need is form-fitting clothing that won’t interfere with movement, and those baggy shorts and t-shirts you use for running aren’t going to cut it. Leggings and tight shorts are both good options. Some like to go with longer leggings as it makes the legs easier to grab onto during certain poses while you’re pouring sweat, but some prefer to wear as little as possible to keep cool. Don’t worry about being judged; everyone is working out too hard to notice, and no one looks good when sweating profusely. Be careful with shorts, though, as if they’re not tight at the leg openings you can end up revealing much more than you’d like while twisting into different poses. Tight and breathable clothing is key. Fitted tank tops are nice, but often end up coming off before the class is over. At a bare minimum, you need a good sports bra and either leggings or fitted shorts.
Know your yoga etiquette: You will eventually learn yoga etiquette if you continue to venture back to the mat, but some knowledge beforehand can help you avoid doing anything too embarrassing or annoying to your fellow yogis during your first class. After entering the room, don’t talk, or at least keep conversation quiet as many like to meditate before class. Sit near the back so you can observe other practitioners as many instructors, including Bikram teachers, only guide the class vocally but don’t practice alongside you.
Try to avoid blocking a fellow student’s view of themselves in the mirror if you can help it. Don’t wear perfume or scented lotion to class, as the heat can intensify the smell and not everyone has the same taste in perfume. Try not to leave and re-enter the room. Doing so is not only distracting for everyone else, but it won’t help you adjust to the heat and get the full benefits of the practice. In Vinyasa classes you’re typically free to take a water break whenever you need to, but Bikram teachers are a bit more strict and ask that you wait until between postures to do so.
Arrive to class early: For your first class you’ll need to sign a waiver and discuss whether you’d like to buy a drop-in class or purchase a package. Many studios offer cheap packages of classes for first-timers that are a good idea to take advantage of if you’re serious about giving yoga a shot. In general the locker room space where you store your stuff will be very crowded, so don’t expect to show up to the studio five minutes before class starts and be ready for practice in time.
Hot yoga is a very popular workout, so arriving early will ensure you get a decent spot for your mat and give you a chance to relax your mind before starting class. Rushing to get to class on time can make it take much longer to get into a yoga mind set once class starts. It’s also rude to show up late and make everyone move their mats over for you when class is about to start, and some studios even lock the door once class has begun to prevent the interference of late comers. Just show up at least fifteen minutes early your first time.
Don’t eat before class: It’s very possible you will feel like you’re going to puke at certain points during your first, second, and maybe even hundredth hot yoga class. The heat will be overwhelming. Putting your head below your heart and doing back bends can both lead to feelings of nausea. Your teachers will tell you to breathe through it, but not eating for two to three hours before class will help minimize that nausea and ensure that you don’t actually vomit on anyone. If you have to eat during the couple hours before class, stick with a very light snack like fruit or crackers and keep drinking lots of water.
Remember, there are other instructors out there: If you don’t like the music being played or the instruction or the general flow of the class, the instructor could be to blame. Each yoga teacher goes about things differently, and some just won’t click with you. Bikram teachers are a bit more uniform and give off a more intense vibe for those looking for the biggest challenge. Vinyasa teachers can vary widely in the poses they choose and the direction they give. Don’t let a Bikram class convince you that all yoga instructors are drill sergeants, as a hot Vinyasa class could place you in the arms of someone more gentle.
Some teachers are more into the spiritual eastern roots of yoga and some are more straight forward about just providing a good workout. Don’t let a bad experience in one class lead you to ditch the practice as a whole. Once you find an instructor you click with, they can help you achieve postures you may never have thought yourself physically capable of and can also be great sources of advice for dealing with challenges off the mat.
Give the hippie stuff a chance: There’s a good chance you might absolutely hate your first class. It could be the heat, the teacher, the weird feeling of being in a room with a bunch of half-naked sweaty people breathing really loudly, or yoga might just not be for you. Don’t come to that final conclusion until you’ve gone to more than one class and tried different types of hot yoga. Your first few classes will feel strange and uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to working out in a group. Give the ohms, the spiritual rhetoric, and the loud breathing a chance.
Even if it seems strange or you don’t agree with some of the philosophies, ohms and deep breathing feel really good. Even if you can’t get behind the idea that you’re sending your energy to help everyone in the room, sighing and ohming along with everyone else releases tension and will feel better than you might think. Overall, if you don’t keep an open mind then you won’t like it and there’s no point in even trying it out.
If you do stay open minded then you’ll have found a workout that offers cardio, strength training for every muscle group, stretching, and relaxation all in the time it would take you to put in a few miles on the treadmill.
Photo Cred: Hot Asana Studio