Ten tips for starting HOT yoga
Hot yoga may not be for everyone, but those of us who love it, LOVE it. And there are many people out there who would like to give it a try, but may be intimidated, or unsure how to start. If you go to hot yoga, chances are very good that you will either sweat, or sweat a LOT. Most hot yoga classes are also taught at a faster pace than your typical class. The sweatiness and rigor require some extra attention and preparation.
1) Choose your style and studio – The two most common styles of hot yoga are hot vinyasa, and Bikram, and although they are both taught at elevated temperatures, they are very different. Vinyasa is a style that links movement to the breath, flowing from one posture to the next. There are a variety of teachers and studios that offer vinyasa, so the temperature, poses, and pace will vary. Temperatures may be anywhere between 90 and 100+ degrees.
Bikram is a specific style created by a teacher named Bikram Coudhury, and is meant to be standard no matter which studio you go to. Each class goes through the same 26 postures, and the temperature is cranked to 104 degrees!
Even within a style or studio, teachers can vary greatly. One may remind you of a boot camp drill sergeant, and another may sound like a loving caretaker soothing you with a lullaby. So do a little bit of research, find out the options near you, get some recommendations, and if you don’t like one, give another a try before you throw in the sweaty towel.
2) Get the right yoga mat – yoga mats are designed to be sticky, but guess what happens when they get wet with sweat, they turn into a Slip ‘n Slide. This is not only uncomfortable, but dangerous. I once saw someone slip out of triangle pose into a full split! Some mats are designed to stay sticky even when wet, such as the Jade mat. I use this one and have been really happy with it. I also like the fact that it’s made of natural rubber, and not synthetic. Another popular mat with hot yogis is Manduka . Note that both are pretty heavy. Mats come in a variety of lengths and thicknesses, so again, do some research before you buy!
That said, if you already have a yoga mat that you are happy with, you probably don’t have to buy a new one, instead, see below!
3) Get a large towel to cover your mat – If you don’t have a mat that stays sticky when wet, or if you want to protect your mat from all those gallons of sweat, think about covering it with a large towel. For people who sweat a lot these are great to absorb, and not make such a mess. Believe it or not, they make towels designed especially for this purpose. It may seem silly, but having one that stays in place while you go through a vinyasa flow, can make all the difference between a great practice, or a frustrating one. They are also a lot easier to clean than a yoga mat, because you can throw them right in the washing machine. Yogitoes is the most common, and a really good one. I’d say it’s really worth the investment if you plan on practicing regularly.
But if you are just trying hot yoga out and not sure yet if you’ll stick with it, you will probably be okay with a large beach towel. People use them, don’t worry, you won’t be laughed out of the room.
Note that any of these towels tend to be slippery when dry, and get their grip when wet. So you may want to sprinkle a little water at the top and bottom of the towel to get started.
4) Bring a hand towel – this is a tip more for comfort than for safety. Chances are good that at some point you will want to wipe the sweat out of your eyes, and keep it from dripping up your nose when you turn upside down. It can also good to have a small towel handy to keep from slipping, for example if you want to rest your hand against your lower leg in triangle, or your foot against your inner thigh in tree.
5) Get a GOOD water bottle – This is one of my favorite topics, because I LOVE my 40 oz. Klean Kanteen water bottle (pictured above.) It is big, and the Sport Cap means I can take a quick sip without having to unscrew the cap every time, it also means the water won’t spill all over the place if the bottle gets knocked over. The stainless steel is virtually indestructible. If I had to buy a new one I may be tempted to get an awesome color, but paint does chip off over time. Seriously, if this thing were to get hit by a car, I think the car would get more damaged than the bottle! (One note is the sport cap is not leak-proof.)
6) Get the right clothing – For about the first ten years I did hot yoga, I would just wear my full length, cotton, $18 yoga pants, a sports bra, and a cotton t-shirt. By the end of the class my clothes would be heavy with sweat, but I didn’t really know any better, and I did just fine. This is to say that I still consider the “fancy” yoga clothes optional. But a couple of years ago I did finally invest in the lighter, sweat-wicking fabric, and I have to admit that it is more comfortable. Also, you may want to consider clothing that doesn’t turn transparent when wet… And stuff you can turn upside down in without exposing more than you intended to…
Different studios have different cultures about what is standard to wear. When students showed up with too many layers on, Bikram Coudhury was known for telling them to strip down to their underwear before they could practice. Although practicing in underwear is now explicitly discouraged (at least at the studio in Harvard Square that I visited, which had a warning sign in the bathroom!) the culture of wearing as little as possible in the 104 degree room has carried on. The vinyasa studio I go to looks more like an advertisement for Lululemon. You can wear anything you want, but unlike at Bikram, you’d probably get some sideways stares if you showed up in a Speedo.
Other considerable mentions are hair ties and headbands for people with longer hair. May seem insignificant, but going through the heated flow with hair stuck all over your face can be pretty distracting. Many studios keep a little stash of extras behind the counter if you forget.
7) Prepare for class – in the hours leading up to your class, you may want to spend some time planning what you eat and drink. You don’t want to show up to class with a stomach full of dinner, and you probably don’t want to be starving either. A good rule of thumb is to eat 2 or 3 hours before class. If you are starving, you may be okay with a little snack to keep your blood sugar up. You also may want to pay extra attention to making sure you are well hydrated throughout the day. This may seem like a lot to think about, but as you get used to going to class regularly it won’t be such a big deal. Either you’ll be in a good routine and won’t need to plan so much, or even if you show up starving or full, you’ll just adapt your practice. But because the class can feel intimidating in the beginning, it’s good to have as much going for you as possible.
8) Pace yourself! – aka, listen to your body. If you’re not used to exercising in temperatures about the 90s, it’s probably not a good idea to go full out and give it 100% on your first day. The heat can make you feel light-headed at first. Sometimes it can feel hard to breath. (Believe me, it gets easier.) Go easy on yourself, give yourself time to adjust. My teachers always encourage people to go into Child’s Pose anytime they need to, throughout the class. Modify as much as feels right, maybe starting at 60%, taking breaks as you need to. This is actually true for anyone, not just those new to the practice. When I did my teacher training we would take as many six hot yoga classes in one weekend, as many as three in one day!! Even though we were all pretty experienced yogis, you can bet we learned how to modify and pace ourselves!!
9) Hydrate! – After class (and probably during class) you need to make sure you hydrate! And be sure to add some electrolytes, not just plain water. I like Ultima because it is all natural, and less expensive than other options. You can also make your own!
10) Go again! – When I first started going to hot yoga, I felt like everything in my life had to line up perfectly for me to make it to class. I had to be well rested, feel energetic, be well hydrated, not too hungry, and not too full. Well, as you can imagine, I didn’t make it to class very often in those early days! But now I don’t worry about any of those things. It’s partially because I know how to adapt my practice to meet my needs, but it’s also because like most new things, it really does get easier. So give yourself permission to be a beginner, give it a fair shot, find a teacher and studio you like, and most importantly, enjoy yourself!!
Photo details: This photo was taken at my home. This is my “yoga nook.”