Beginner’s Guide to Hot Yoga

CALLING ALL HOT YOGA BEGINNERS

Hot yoga means sweating
Hot yoga means sweating

You probably wouldn’t be reading this unless you or someone you know is interested in taking your first hot yoga class. Or maybe you’ve already taken a couple of classes and that has peaked your interest to find out more about hot yoga. If you haven’t yet, you should read my post about the different types of hot yoga classes in the yoga market place these days.

If you’re looking to try a hot yoga class the most accessible way for many people is to find a studio nearby that offers hot classes. Location and convenience is an important factor when you’re starting anything new. You’re just more likely to go if it’s easy to get to with convenient class times that suit your schedule.

I started  hot yoga classes at my local studio and that was perfectly fine for me as a beginner. Now, I’m willing to travel a little further to go a studio that is dedicated to hot yoga. You will know when and if you are ready for that. For more information about two styles of dedicated hot yoga series please see my review Bikram vs Moksha.

So, dear hot yoga beginner, let’s arm you with some information to give you the best start possible in your first hot yoga class and beyond.

BEFORE YOU GO

Just kidding, please use tissues!
Just kidding, please use tissues!
  1. Make sure you arrive about 20 min ahead of class time.
  2. Pre-hydrate. No one ever told me this until much later and I wish I had known better. Drink at least a litre of water 30 min-1 hour prior to class.
  3. Eat a light snack about 1 hour before class, a piece of fruit, small sandwich, snack bar, etc.
  4. Make sure you don’t eat a large meal closer than 2 hours before class.
  5. Clean your nostrils. No, I mean it. It really helps your breathing once you’re in the class. Those of us who have been through traditional style of yoga teacher training will fondly recall the lessons on the “Neti-pot”. Beginners, if you don’t know what a neti-pot is, you won’t need to, I digress.
  6. Wash any make up, sunblock or moisturizer off your face and chest as these products can run into your eyes along with your sweat and may cause your eyes to burn.

WHAT TO WEAR & WHAT TO BRING

Ladies Yoga Wear:  Sleeveless, stretchy tank style top or sports bra, stretchy shorts with a deep crotch or yoga pants

Mens Yoga Wear:  Luckily you can go topless. Bike style shorts or Underarmour.

What NOT to wear: Loose gym shorts with or without netting. There are alot of forward folds, you may unknowingly expose people behind you to an “eyeful”. Gym shorts with a netting inside will restrict your movement in the standing series of postures. Loose tops on ladies will have the girls spilling out during forward folds, as said there are a whole lot of those.

Stuff you need: A water bottle, insulated stainless or glass, plastic is not recommended for hot yoga. A good mat, rent one from your studio if you don’t have one. Don’t buy a higher end mat until you’ve practiced for at least 30 days and determined that hot yoga is indeed up your alley. 2 towels, one to lay on your mat and one to shower with afterwards.

ONCE YOU’RE IN THE HOT ROOM

Savasana
Savasana
  1. Before the class begins take Savasana (Corpse Pose), with your feet pointing to the back of the class (lay in the direction everyone else is laying in). Breathe naturally and enjoy the heat. If the class is crowded, pull in your wings!
  2. For at least the first few classes choose a spot nearer to the back of the class so you can see what the other participants are doing.
  3. Place your mat in a position that allows you to have at least a partial view of yourself in the mirror and don’t place your mat directly smack dab in front of someone else’s mat eliminating their view!
  4. Try to do a “single entry”. That means go in and stay in, not in and out to get water, have a chat, go pee, etc. Do everything you need to do before you go in, then stay in. This helps the room retain the heat and courteous for the practitioners who arrive early just to enjoy their pre-class Savasana.
  5. Once in the hot room, silence is usually observed until the teacher enters.

DURING THE CLASS

  1. Breathe, make this your #1 focus. In and out THROUGH THE NOSE, unless otherwise instructed by the teacher.
  2. Listen to the teachers instructions and watch the people in the front row, they’re usually the more experienced participants.
  3. As a beginner don’t try too hard to keep up. Rest when you want. Take a kneeling position to rest if you’re just tired or take child’s pose, then Savasana if you really need to.
  4. Resist the urge to leave the room, even if you need to lay down for most of the class, just remaining in the hot room for the whole class is the end goal the first few times.
  5. If you start to feel dizzy, don’t try to leave the room quickly because you could fall over. Stay on your mat, take a kneeling pose first, concentrate on breathing in and out through your nose, if you feel you need to go to child’s pose, then take Savasana if your body tells you that’s what you  need. If, after the dizziness subsides you really do need to leave, then do so for a few minutes, once your heart rate calms down, GO BACK IN.
  6. If you feel nauseous, don’t be shy, let the teacher know and they will assist you.

AFTER THE CLASS

Replenish Electrolytes
Replenish Electrolytes
  1. Re-hydrate and replenish electrolytes. Lemon water (or a small chunk of himylayan salt in your water), unsweetened coconut water or kombucha are all good choices.
  2. Now you can eat a healthy meal, you’ve earned it!
  3. Book your next class right away. In order to feel the full benefits of hot yoga you should try to go to at least 3 classes the first week. Even if the first class is a challenge you may feel quite different after the 3rd class. Like anything else, you should give hot yoga a chance to produce positive effects (although I personally did feel fantastic after my very first hot yoga class).
  4. Wash your mat and use a mat spray, then hang it to dry. If you don’t it’ll get funky on you.

IS HOT YOGA GOOD FOR EVERYONE?

No, it won’t be for everyone. Nothing is good for everyone. You know you, you know your body, you know your health history. So, use your common sense. If you try it out for a couple of weeks and it doesn’t make you feel good or you don’t see the benefits, maybe it’s not for you. Just because everyone and their down dog are into hot yoga doesn’t necessary mean it’s the right thing for you. Only you can decide that. And if you decide hot yoga’s not your fancy then check out NOT HOT YOGA.

IS HOT YOGA OK DURING PREGNANCY?

Hot Yoga During Pregnancy
Hot Yoga During Pregnancy

Please talk to your doctor about this and/or discuss with the manager of the studio you’re going to. I’ve seen over the years at least a dozen different pregnant ladies practicing hot yoga right up to full term, always adjusting their postures accordingly and never seen or heard of any negative effects on those particular pregnancies (gone to a few yoga baby showers!). However, every woman and every pregnancy is unique and what one pregnant woman can do isn’t any indication that it’s ok for every other pregnant woman to follow suit. At bare minimum you will need to have proper instruction about how and when to adjust the postures to suit the various phases of your pregnancy. Some postures are absolutely not suitable for a pre-natal practice regardless of whether it is a hot class or not. Please remember that even though you are the one attending the class (which may feel good to you) your unborn baby may be affected differently and cannot exactly voice their opinion yet!

I will say that I love seeing the beauty of those glistening bellies practicing along side me, it’s a testament to the fact that women can be at their strongest, and triumphantly active during these nine special months. Both my boys were born before my “yoga revolution” but I swam 40 laps every other night during both pregnancies up until the week of delivery and there were people who thought I was crazy doing that. Both my boys today are robust specimens of perfect health, so to say I believe in staying active during pregnancy is an understatement. But just to reiterate, please seek the advice of your health care professional before participating in hot yoga during your pregnancy. If you have specific questions regarding practicing Bikram yoga or Moksha yoga during your pregnancy, I touch on this in my review Bikram vs Moksha.

Also, check out → 21 HOT YOGA Q & A.

In the meantime, if you have other questions that aren’t answered here…your comments are welcome, please leave them in the box below.

Regards, Connie.

 

 

 

About Bikram Yoga

REVIEW OF BIKRAM YOGA

Why do they call it the torture chamber?

No, I did not make that up, they really call it that. This is straight from the lips of almost every Bikram yoga instructor I have had which is roughly 30 different instructors. The phrase is supposedly coined by Bikram Choudhury himself, the man who developed the practice and put together the sequence of postures that now has devotees and franchises all over the world. First, I will provide the details and description of what exactly Bikram Yoga is and then I will review Bikram Yoga with full disclosure that I have practiced this series for over 4 years and continue to practice it whenever I get the opportunity.

The Facts:

Bikram Yoga Postures
Bikram Yoga Postures

NOTE: Below is the description of Bikram Yoga as presented by their website literature, studio owners, and instructors.

Temperature: 105° Fahrenheit, 40% Humidity

Duration: 90 Minutes

Postures: 26 Hatha Postures, each posture done twice, 2 Pranayama (breathing exercises).

Level: Beginner, and all levels (please read the above note, then my review below)

Instructors: All certified specifically to teach Bikram Yoga.

Variations: There are no variations on the original series. Some studios may offer advanced level class (usually by invitation only).

Good to know: Instructors teach from a memorized “dialogue” (their word). There are no variations to the order of the postures unless the instructor makes a mistake.

 

MY RATING: ♦♦♦♦◊

The Positives:

Consistency. I started Bikram yoga after attending my neighbourhood yoga studio hot classes where every teacher had a different take on what they wanted to teach in their hot yoga class. Some teachers would launch right into dancer’s pose at the get go (which is not an appropriate way to start ANY yoga class), yet others would put a camel pose in the first 4 or 5 postures (that, folks, is not safe to do at the beginning of any class). In Bikram, that never happens. Every posture comes in the pre-ordained order, every instruction has been scripted, every detail of the poses spoken to by the instructor. You would think hearing the same “dialogue” every class would be boring, but actually knowing what is coming up next allows you (after a few classes) to take the attention off the instructor and onto yourself and you really notice how you are performing each posture. I do admit that I don’t understand why the teaching script is called a “dialogue” because it’s obviously a monologue (no one else is talking!)

Noticeable Improvement. Because you perform the same postures every class you will notice incremental improvements in your ability to do each pose. One day in the wide legged forward fold you will realize your head just touched your mat with ease where it was 5 inches off the mat a few weeks ago. Same goes for almost every posture. This, I would say is the most satisfying and rewarding part of practicing the same series over and over again on a regular basis.

Challenging. First off, I disagree with the Bikram notion that this series is for beginners. Case in point, I took a friend to Bikram with me who had done a few Hatha yoga classes but never hot yoga. After their first Bikram class, they said they never wanted to go back. Actually what they said is, “I’d rather lay in the middle of the Highway on a scorching hot summer day than go back to Bikram ever again.” This made me consider the fact that I had participated in at least 50 hot yoga classes as well as non-heated classes at my local studio for over a year before going to Bikram for the very first time. I have also seen numerous first time Bikram students in class, only to never see any sign of them ever again. So, how does this become a positive? Well, for those of us up to the challenge, it is an exhilarating feeling to go into the “torture chamber” and make it out of there feeling more alive than ever before. There is challenge in every class, sometimes every minute of every class. This for me, is a huge positive. For others it may not be.

Somewhat Militant. Yes, this to me is a positive. I have heard tales of Bikram teachers yelling at or berating participants for not trying hard enough or not doing postures correctly. This never happened in

Militant yoga
Militant yoga

any of the classes I attended but many Bikram instructors do take notice when you are “flaking out” and not keeping up. They tend only to call you out if they know you are a regular participant. They do expect you to try hard and do your best. It isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy atmosphere in the torture chamber, if you know what I mean. Perhaps that is why the gender ratio in these classes is often close to 50/50. I once had a teacher come over because I was in Savasana when I should have been doing the triangle pose. He asked me if I was feeling ok, I said yes, but that I was tired. He said as long as you’re not feeling sick please get up and do the work because if you came all the way here then you might as well do the work. He was 100% right. Bikram instructors tend to be edgy, they drop the “f” bomb once in awhile and they will catch you out if you are lazy. If you’re a very sensitive soul, Bikram might not be your cuppa tea. Me, I can be a little lazy in a hot class (cuz it’s darned hot) and can use the extra push so yes, somewhat militant is fine by me.

International. There are Bikram studios in most major cities around the world so when I’m travelling I can practice anywhere. Language isn’t an issue because I know the whole series of postures, it’s the same everywhere so I don’t need understand what is being said and still participate.

Bikram for Weight loss. There was a recent study done by the American Council of Exercise (ACE) that disputed the correlation between Bikram yoga and weight loss. The same study also maintained that it could be considered a health hazard to practice hot yoga that could potentially raise your core temperature above safe levels. I am a member of ACE and I read their report very carefully, noting their concerns with interest.

However, I have also watched a man in his 40’s named Donald who started Bikram yoga after his doctor told him that if he didn’t change his diet and start exercising he would be dead in a couple of years. Donald weighed well over 250 lbs when he started. He went to Bikram 5 times a week, sometimes more. At the end of a year Donald was unrecognizable. I mean, literally, I didn’t know who he was because I had been practicing at another studio in between. I didn’t ask him how much weight he had lost after a year but it looked to be at least 50 lbs. He was also beaming from ear to ear. As for my personal experience, I started Bikram and during my initial 30 days of practice in July of 2008 I lost the proverbial last 10 lbs. But if anyone tries to tell you 30 consecutive days of Bikram yoga is a cinch, don’t buy it. It was a gruelling 30 days and I am still patting myself on the back for ever pulling that off.

The Negatives:

Inconsistent Heat. This has been the case at each Bikram location I have practiced at (6 so far). Keeping the room at 105° with 40% humidity is apparently a difficult task. I have been to studios that were overheated to the point that more than 6 people were left the class. Sometimes you may get 1 person leaving the hot room if they aren’t feeling well, but if there’s half a dozen leaving there’s something wrong. I use this as an example because I was the 7th person out the door. I went back in as did the others but we all agreed the room was much hotter than usual. The opposite can also be true when the room isn’t hot enough. The humidity level is sometimes also an issue. One studio had numerous portable humidifiers lined up in the back of the hot room. This caused the humidity in the room to be uneven and if you were the last one in and got the spot right in front of the humidifier you were in for a double roasting. Still, this was not a new issue for me having come from another studio that offered mainly non-heated classes peppered with maybe 1 hot class a day. The temperature was sometimes 90°, sometimes 95° and so on, depending on how long beforehand they remembered to turn on the heat. In many studios that aren’t focused on hot yoga, just offering hot classes as an “add on” there may not be a humidity component.

Intimidating. This isn’t the case in all Bikram locations but in several that I’ve been to the front row is filled with die-hard practitioners, instructors practicing on their off time, and others who I am affectionately labelling the “human rubber band gang”. Even after practicing Bikram for over 4 years, I dare not breach the front row. I am not worthy or rubbery enough (or both). So, yes, I find the aficionados of this practice to be intimidating. They know they can bend in ways I never will be able to (or really want to).

Bikram Choudhury. This is the founder of the series based in Los Angeles, California and unless you’ve been under a rock somewhere for the last 10 years you will have heard some negative press about him. This is a review of the Bikram practice and not of Bikram Choudhury. In light of recent events and certain legal allegations in the last few years various owners of Bikram studios around the world have felt it necessary to distance themselves from the mother ship by clarifying in writing that they are independently owned and operated and are not funded or give funds to their namesake. Some Bikram studios around the world have chosen to change the name of their studios completely. I personally, will keep practicing this series of postures sequenced by Bikram Choudhury in the torture chamber because they work for me. Despite many in the Bikram fold who revere him as some kind of mega-guru, to me he is a person who may have done some reprehensible things, but just because I practise the yoga bearing his name does not mean I condone his actions or that I am obliged to worship at his altar. Enough said.

Wrapping up

That’s all folks, my on review on the practice of Bikram Yoga. Click here to see my review of Bikram vs Moksha (Moda) yoga.

Your comments are welcome, please leave them in the comment box below. Thank you, Connie.