This January marks 5 years since I started my 200-hour yoga teacher training! And this year I will be co-leading our studio’s 200-hour teacher training, which starts tomorrow! I think I can safely say that while I love all of my many jobs, teaching yoga is the one that lights me up the most and it brings me so much joy. I really want to focus on bringing you more yoga content in 2016 so I can share my passion and my knowledge!
Today we’re going to talk about hot yoga. I recently received the following topic request from a reader…
“Hi Jen! Topic suggestion – you frequently post ‘Hot Yoga’ as a workout in your weekly routine. Would like to hear any recommendations or insights how to safely start practicing “hot” classes – especially tips for pre/post hydration, and any benefits or downfalls to the experience altogether. Thanks for a fun and inspiring blog! Cheers!!”
I love hot yoga. I dabbled in yoga for many years because I knew it was something that I “should” do as a runner. Hot yoga finally got me hooked. I started practicing about seven years ago when I moved to Charlotte and have never looked back. It’s a huge part of my overall fitness and has made me a stronger person inside and out. If I could make time to practice every single day, I would. It’s that good for my head, heart and body.
Our studio is primarily a hot power studio. We do offer non-heated power flow classes, deep stretch and an ashtanga program but hot is our bread and butter. As a teacher and the marketing director, one of the biggest barriers to entry that I see with hot yoga is intimidation. People are so terrified to walk through the doors for the first time. They create all of these stories in their heads about why they can’t do it.
“I’ve never done yoga. What do I even need for a hot yoga class? I can’t touch my toes. I don’t know if I can take the heat. Will I get dehydrated? What do I wear?…and on and on and on…”
I’m here to tell you that YOU CAN!
Here’s my insight and advice for breaking the barrier to entry and starting a hot yoga practice.
Why hot yoga?
Why practice yoga in a 90-100 degree room (humidity levels will vary depending on studio, some do dry heat, others add more humidity). Great question. As much as you may hear about “sweating out the toxins,” the real reason is to get you out of your head and more in your body. You don’t sweat out toxins. You sweat out water, salt and electrolytes. Does it feel good sometimes to sweat a ton when you’re feeling especially water-logged and bloated? Yes, absolutely. But you’re not eliminating toxins.
The real purpose behind the heat is to provide a distraction from the thoughts in your head and what’s going on in the world outside. When you are drenched in sweat and focused on maintaining your breath and posture, you can’t do much thinking about other stuff. It helps the mind not to wander. Also, the heat provides assistance in warming your muscles so that you can move a little deeper into the postures. That said, mindfulness and awareness of how your body is feeling is still crucial and it’s important not to get a false sense of openness and push too hard.
What should I wear to class?
I recommend comfortable, sweat-wicking/dry-fit, fitted clothing. You can find this type of clothing for all budgets. Look anywhere from Target to to Lululemon…and many places in between! Here in Charlotte, I love The Track & Field Store for functional and fashionable hot yoga gear. I’ll do a post with my staple/favorite yoga apparel soon.
Hot yoga is not the time to wear your baggy sweats and t-shirts. Avoid cotton clothing because it will become extremely heavy and water-logged and avoid really loose clothing because it can get cumbersome in dealing with both sweat and it flying up and moving around while you’re practicing.
If you feel comfortable, guys can go shirts off and girls can go sports bra only. I also like to practice in shorts. A headband can also be helpful for keeping sweat and hair out of your face.
What should I bring to class?
A yoga mat, a hand towel, a water bottle, a mat towel and an open mind. Start out with any mat that you have available (or rent one at the studio). Once you’re ready to invest, I recommend the Manduka Pro or ProLite mats.
Mat towels are a MUST in hot yoga and are a game changer for not slipping on your mat. Again, many studios have these available to rent but once you’re ready to invest in your own, consider a YogiToes or Manduka eQua mat towel. I promise these are 100% worth the investment.
Leave your keys, bags, shoes, phones, personal belongings and self-doubt outside of the studio!
How do I survive class?
1) Child’s pose is your home base and safe place.
If at ANY TIME you are feeling overwhelmed or like you need a break, take child’s pose. No teacher will EVER, EVER, EVER judge you for taking child’s pose and it’s likely you’ll get a nice back rub while you’re there.
2) Try to stay in the room, but leave if you have to. Have you ever heard stories about teachers locking students in a hot room and not allowing them to leave? That’s a little extreme (more common in Bikrim yoga) but not the normal. Staying in the room is beneficial, even if you have to sit in a cross-legged position and observe class or stay in child’s pose. This allows your body to acclimate to the heat. But if you need to step out, don’t stress! Get some air and come back in.
3) BREATHE. Breath first, posture second. If you’re not breathing properly, your body will react. The breath calms the body so deep breaths first, deeper postures second.
4) Monkey see, monkey do. Your instinct will be to set up shop in the back corner of the room but that’s the worst place you can position yourself! Try to practice in the middle of the room so that no matter what direction you look in, there’s someone to see and mimic. The first few classes you will feel like “what is this secret language and how do all of these people know it?” but with every class you will quickly pick up more and more on the yoga lingo and postures.
5) Remember that every single person in that classroom once endured their first hot yoga class.
How will I feel?
You may experience a range of physical and emotional feelings and this is totally normal. When I walked out of the first hot yoga class that truly hooked me, I seriously felt high. But during the class I went through a ton of feelings from self-consciousness to physical shaking (what are my muscles doing and why are they shaking like that!?) to nausea (oh my god my heart is going to beat out of my chest) to elation to tears (watch out for those hip openers).
Everyone’s experience is so different. Just remember that it may take you a while to acclimate to both the postures and the heat. It probably took me a good 2-3 months before I could get through a practice without being pushed to my absolute edge. In the beginning, I sometimes experienced mild nausea and headaches after class, this is mostly learning how to hydrate.
How do I hydrate?
Proper hydration is a huge piece of the key to success with hot yoga. And you can’t just chug a bunch of water during class, PRE-HYDRATION is where it’s at. You’ve heard that whole thing about “if you’re thirsty then you’re already on your way to dehydration” right? This is especially true for hot yoga. Make sure that you drink plenty of water in the hours before class. During class I recommend drinking an electrolyte replacement drink, especially if you are a heavy sweater. My favorite is Ultima (grape is my flavor of choice). I put a scoop in my water bottle, give it a shake and I’m good to go. Remember, you’re sweating out water, salt and electrolytes so it’s important to replace all three.
On a related note, it is advised NOT to eat before practicing hot yoga. I’m sure you can imagine why a heavy meal and sweating and twisting in a hot room is not advised. If you need a light snack, try fruit, almonds, a green juice, a light smoothie but avoid heavy meals within 3-4 hours of practicing until you know how your body will react.
Like everything in life, hot yoga isn’t for everyone. Give it more than one chance but if you just don’t enjoy it, don’t do it! There are SO MANY amazing styles of yoga to explore and I firmly believe there is one for everyone.
But watch out, if the bug bites…it bites hard! In the first few years of my practice I would physically crave the practice and count down the minutes at my desk until I was on my mat. It’s an exhilarating practice of learning how strong you are and how much you are capable of.
Hot yoga…love it, not so much or never tried it? If you love it, why? If not, why? And if you’re one who hasn’t tried it, what’s holding you back?
As always, I would love to answer any other questions you might have or provide insights.
*Backbend, teaching and class photos are courtesy of my amazingly talented friend and photographer, Wanda Koch.