how to prepare and get the most out of a hot yoga or bikram class
I was at Bikram the other day and couldn't help but notice a guy in the back row struggling. He fell out of every posture, lay down on numerous occasions, and left the room twice (to the dismay of the teacher). He kept trying until the very end though, and I gave him huge props for that. It brought me back to my first Bikram class almost six years ago now. Let me tell you about that experience...I had taken a few beginner level yoga classes before that day, but nothing in the heat. I was not prepared to say the least. I was wearing a cotton tank top (talk about uncomfortable sweaty shirt cling!), a cheap, thick mat, and the worst part of all - I went without water. I was a floppy mess. I was in a daze and had no clue what I was doing. I left the room numerous times but thankfully a fellow yogi had an extra water bottle I could use. I kept coming back after that first class not because I wanted to suffer again and again, but because of the incredible high I felt after the class ended. I felt energized, I had mental clarity like I hadn't experienced before, and i'm not going to lie, my stomach was a bit flatter. I had been searching for an exercise routine that I could stick with for the long term. Something that I looked forward to and gave me the health benefits I needed. I decided after that first class that this was it. I do spin, practice ashtanga, and go for long walks when I can fit it in, but Bikram is my main form of exercise.
I decided to write this post for those of you considering either Bikram or a hot yoga class of any kind, hoping that you can be at least a little more prepared than I was. Falling out of postures and feeling like death is inevitable for the first few classes (at least!), but having the right props and preparing correctly for the class will go a long way.
- Drink lots of water, stay hydrated throughout the day - not minutes before class! Chugging water right before may cause nausea during class and you will probably have to use the restroom at an inopportune time.
- Try not to eat at least two hours before class. Just as with too much water right before, eating right before can cause nausea. If you are hungry and can't wait, eat something small that won't cause flatulence (please!!), like a banana.
- Try taking electrolytes about an hour before class. Ash calls this one a "game changer". It helps reduce symptoms of nausea or dizziness during class. It can also help your muscles to perform better. This is really only needed if you are going to classes multiple times per week.
- Dress in sweat wicking, tightly fitting clothes. It is uncomfortable to have a wet tank moving around and clinging to your body for 90 minutes. Our favorite brands are Teeki, Lululemon, Beyond Yoga, and Onzie.
- Get a thin, dense mat. The thicker the mat, the harder it will be to balance. A dense mat will keep you comfortable when practicing floor postures. We love Manduka and Yoga Design Lab. I use a Yoga Design Lab mat. They are machine washable, which is fabulous for the clean freaks out there (like me!!). I don't have to worry about cleaning it by hand, I just throw it in the wash after every class. Also, because of the material I don't need a towel to go over the mat during class and I don't have to worry about slipping or sweat getting on something I can't thoroughly clean. Manduka mats last a lot longer though (lifelong warranties for some) and are fabulous for all forms of yoga. That's what Ash uses.
- If you have a non machine washable mat or you find that yours gets slippery when wet, you are going to want a yoga towel to place on top. Ash uses a Yogitoes towel.
- Bring a regular, full size towel. This will be to dry off with after class and sit on for that drive back home if you can't shower at the studio.
- Bring a hand towel too. Use this to dry hands and feet during class for a good grip during some of the postures.
- A large water bottle for class is necessary. If you have an insulated bottle you'll be better off. The water will stay at a nice temperature and it won't "sweat" in the hot room. We use Hydro Flasks.
- Don't come in late! In fact, come early. This will help your mind and body acclimate to the heat. Plus, coming in late will disrupt the class. I have actually known teachers who will not allow students to join after the class starts at all.
- Find a spot in the back of the room if you are new to the class. Usually the teacher is not demonstrating the postures (for all of Bikram this is the case and for most of hot yoga classes). You will know what to do by the explanation the teacher gives and by seeing what other yogis are doing. Sitting in the back gives you a better view of the more experienced students.
- In Bikram, only start drinking water during the designated water break, right after Eagle Pose. After that you can drink water whenever you want, as long as it is not during a pose. The same goes for any yoga class, do not drink water during the pose, this can be distracting.
- Try not to fidget. This means stay calm and try not to move even in between postures unless you have to. These classes can transform you into a calm, meditative like state. If you start fidgeting you will break concentration and won't get the full benefits. It also takes more energy when moving around, something needed during the postures.
- Stay silent throughout class. This goes along with that calm, meditation like state of the practice. Talking with your neighbor takes you out of that mindset and distracts everyone else in the class.
- If you feel dizzy, lay down in Savasana for a posture or two. We all do it here and there, don't feel ashamed for having to sit out. It is part of the practice to become self aware and take care of our bodies and minds, which might mean to lay down when not feeling 100%. This does not mean to stop the posture and go outside. That is a big no-no in Bikram. Stay in the room, on your mat.
- Do not wipe off sweat unless you have to. You may need to if the sweat drips into your eyes or makes your feet/hands slippery during a posture, but besides that your body knows what it is doing. The body sweats to cool you down and maintain normal body temperature so let that happen.
- Stay in Savasana for a full two minutes minimum at the end. This is a posture just like any other. Allowing yourself this time helps your body digest all that it has accomplished, and gives it time to cool down before standing up and leaving the room.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Replenish your body with water, add in some electrolytes if you want.
- Shower as soon as you can! When sweating as much as you have in class, your body has rid itself of toxins that are now sitting on top of your skin. Your pores become open after a hot class and you want to clean those toxins/impurities away before they re-enter through those pores.
- Just sit still for a few moments and notice what that class has done to your emotional state. Do you feel lighter? More energized? Happier? Less stressed?
- Come to a second class! It only gets easier and more enjoyable from here.