Posted by: Will | January 16, 2009

How To Survive Your First Hot Yoga Class

by Crisitunity

Disclaimer: Because my experience with hot yoga is currently confined to one studio (although my browsing on the internet seems to have shown that it’s a pretty standard experience), what I’ve written here might not apply to all studios, everywhere.

As yoga in general has become more and more popular, hot yoga has sprouted up as an option for people who are looking for something a little more hardcore than the average Iyengar class. The wisdom runs that if you sweat like mad in a 100-degree room, you will sweat out all kinds of impurities and toxins and leave them on the studio floor. This, combined with the emotional/mental cleansing properties of the poses, means you will be as clean as a line-dried sheet when you walk out of the class.

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Hot yoga started because Bikram yoga had gained popularity, but Bikram Choudhury, its founder, was unwilling to allow any studio to offer Bikram classes unless the instructors had undergone training at his own hands, and unless his organization had given its blessing to the studio to do so. He even initiated lawsuits against studios that used his name without getting the go-ahead. This has caused a good deal of discomfort in the yoga community, because after all, the practice should positively not be about money and notoriety. But I digress. Bikram yoga involves a room heated to 105F and a specific sequence of 26 poses done twice over the course of a 90-minute class. Hot yoga, because it’s deliberately not Bikram, is entirely different.

I went to my regular studio for my first hot yoga class that Friday afternoon in April not really knowing what to expect, or even if what I was doing was a good idea. I was curious about hot yoga, and because I totally adore hot weather and abhor wintertime, I thought I might just take to it. After a life-changing workshop a couple of Sundays previous, I had decided that I wanted to do yoga for the rest of my life, and with this journey laid out before me, I wanted to see what different kinds of scenery the various roads had to offer. The friendly studio owner told me that for my first hot class, I should probably park myself near the door, and if it got to be too much, I was always free to take a child’s pose (a resting pose with chest between knees), or just to leave.

welcome1

What she failed to tell me was that the class was being taught by a lithe, gorgeous ballet dancer with an exotic Greek accent. Really, a ballet dancer. That’s what she did for a living, with yoga instruction on the side. So my self-confidence started a slow nosedive into the toilet pretty much as soon as the instructor started the class, and as I huffed and puffed and sweated and felt like I might faint, or fall over, or die, the surface of the water just seemed to dip farther and farther down. There were two other instructors taking the class that day, along with a woman who I think was a fellow ballet dancer, and all of them were obscenely flexible and strong. I was barely able to do one vinyasa (a specific series of poses – plank, chaturanga, upward dog – bookended by downward dog), and over the course of this class I was asked to do dozens of them, it seemed like.

Even though the instructor was challenging to the point of horror, and beautiful enough to make me avoid the mirror for days, I found that I was really enjoying myself. The heat felt wonderful, like a Jacuzzi of air, and the sweat was just pouring off me like it never has before in any situation I can remember, not even a sauna or a Louisiana summer. It was so much sweat that when I tasted it, it wasn’t even salty anymore – the water from my water bottle was just evacuating through my skin.

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Another of the named purposes of hot yoga is so that your muscles, warmed by the heat of the room, become more flexible and allow you to get a deeper stretch than usual. I’m not sure I found this to be true in my first class; it’s true that my hamstrings were playing themselves a little banjo tune for days after the class, but I think that’s because I pushed myself too hard, not because I was bending too far without realizing it. (That’s a permanent lesson in yoga: get your ego out of the way and only bend until you need to stop. Don’t compare yourself to the instructor who can wrap her hands under her heels. It’s a waste of energy.) But I did feel forty feet tall when I walked out of the studio that day, and my limbs felt lean and long and wiry.

I went back a couple of weeks later to another hot class, taught by a different instructor (the ballet dancer has since moved to Virginia, thank God). She was a little less intimidating, and I took it a little easier. I went back week after week, and soon I was doing a classful of vinyasas without grunting, without suffering. I have muscle on my arms and legs that sort of alarms me. And I can’t tell you how good it feels to sweat and sweat and sweat, to actually wring out a small towel at the end of class. I’m not sure I totally buy the toxins-out thing, but I definitely feel fresh and happy, ready for the next set of challenges, when I wake up the next morning. And, yeah, okay…a little sore.

TIPS:

-Try taking a power yoga class before you take a hot class, to see if you and “athletic” yoga are a good fit.

-For your first class, don’t lay your mat down near the heaters to try and be tough. Park near the door and accept your limitations.

-BRING A TOWEL. Or two.

-Bring a bottle of water and don’t be afraid to drink from it…but be wary of possible upchucking if you overdo it.

-Ask the instructor how hot it gets, and decide whether you can actually handle it. My studio only goes to 95-100F, and I’m not sure if I could go to a 105-110F class.

-If you need to slow down or stop, slow down or stop. No one’s judging you (the serious practitioners have all been where you are), and if they are, it’s their problem.

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Responses

  1. This looks so cool. I so want to try this!

  2. […] changing course abruptly, here is an article (well, closer to a blog post) written by yours truly that just went up on Billy’s fitness […]

  3. At the invite of my boss (who prefers to be called my yoga partner), I took my first hot yoga class last August (actually it was my first yoga class of any kind) and have been hooked ever since. I thought I was going to die from the heat (the studio I use heats to 95 degrees) for the first few sessions, but I eventually became acclimated to it and now even prefer to stand by the heater. I did make one major mistake before my first class…not ever having taken a yoga class, I thought it would just be some foo-foo stretches…so I went to the gym directly before class and did my regular cardio and strengthening routine. Big mistake. Huge. My legs violently wobbled throughout the entire yoga class. I quickly learned that yoga is a very serious form of exercise…especially when it’s that hot. I’ve taken a couple of regular yoga classes since then, but I greatly prefer the hot variation. I really do think that I am more flexible in the heat. I can tell that yoga has re-shaped me, and I love the challenge of trying to master a pose that I never thought would be possible…right now I’m working on ‘Standing Bow’. Someday it will be mine 🙂

  4. The women in the first photo look okay, but those in the second and third photos look repulsive, to me.

    You may recall the scene in “Total Recall” when Schwarzenegger’s character is given three options for the figure of the woman he wants on Mars: slender, voluptuous, or athletic. He chooses athletic. But I’d choose voluptuous!

    I was born in 1966, the same year that goddamned Twiggy Lawson hit the scene–and when the Barbie Doll (one of the worst inventions, ever–even found, by a leading anatomist, to be “anatomically impossible” for a human female) was starting to get really popular.

    Women are not meant to be slender (at least to the extent of today’s cele-babes) or muscular. They’re meant to have more body fat than men– as close to voluptuous (though not obese) as possible. It’s evolutionary. For the last 100,000-500,000 years, we men have preferred the voluptuous women–they are the most suitable for child-bearing.

    And we still do! I used to think I was alone, in this–until I discovered that a recent poll, of at least 1,000 randomly-selected American men, revealed that most American men prefer size-10 women. Not size-3, not even size-6, but size-10! In fact, Marilyn Monroe was a size-12!

    I mean no offense, if you prefer athletic or slender women.

    But give me the voluptious babes!

  5. […] Image Credit – macabrefitness.wordpress.com […]

  6. Hi,

    HealthYoga.com is a Yoga Social Network for both the consumer and professional public. The sole purpose of HealthYoga.com is to offer a free outlet to the public for those seeking advice on a variety of yoga related topics from professionals. It is the only social network of its kind, directed specifically towards those in the yoga field with chat and web cam capabilities. I have come across your website and have noticed you link out to great resources online, we would love to be included within the list of great resources you acknowledge online. I appreciate your time and await your response.

    Please email me back with your URL in subject line to take a step ahead and to avoid spam.

    Thank you,
    Kathy
    kathy.healthyoga.com@gmail.com

  7. […] * – First Hot Yoga class photo credit: Macabre Fitness […]

  8. This was very helpful! I’m going to a beginner hot yoga class tomorrow.


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