What I wish I knew before starting hot yoga

Hot yoga, or Bikram yoga, is a sequence of 26 postures in a room heated to 104 degrees. (Sorry for the let down if you thought it was a bunch of hot people doing yoga.)

photo credit: dollen via photopin cc

I love hot yoga. The heat helps me sink deeper into poses, the sweat makes me feel cleansed and it's done wonders for my skin.

But I'll admit — I didn't always love it.

I took my first Bikram class in 2006. Confession: I did it because I read in some silly magazine that allll the celebs were doing it to lose weight before awards ceremonies. Because of this, I expected a posh, clean room full of really attractive and trim people who had bodyguards waiting for them outside. (Jeeves, get my fair trade, organic cacao snacks!)

I'm sure my shock was blatantly displayed on my face when I walked into the space — a large, carpeted room that smelled like a dirty, wet gym sock. I saw a diverse range of bodies and ages, all of whom were presented in scant clothing that allowed you to see just about every inch of that diversity.

I probably would have been more self-conscious about the contrasting amount of coverage my yoga pants and t-shirt provided, but I was too busy trying to stifle my gag reflex from the giant gym sock I was in to focus on anything else.

Spoiler: I made it through that first class. I attended a few, in fact, before I decided that it just wasn't for me. Now, I take 3-5 hot yoga classes each week.


Well, I came back. To a different studio. Different city, even. And with more knowledge. If I wouldn't have given it another shot, I would be missing out on a very important part of my practice. If you've never tried hot yoga, or have tried it and had a poor experience, this list is for you. These are 12 things I wish I knew before I started hot yoga. 

  1. Stay away from carpeted studios if you have a sensitive sniffer. The studio I go to has pergo floors and they clean them between each class. It doesn't smell like a gym sock. Or even a sock, for that matter. Check out the studios near you and look for pictures of the space.
  2. Don't eat Arby's before class. Generally, the rule is that you shouldn't eat 2-3 hours before practicing yoga. However, I've found that I can have a light snack an hour before. Just no big meals! You'll regret it. Trust me.
  3. Wear the right clothes. I'm all about cute yoga clothes, but function must come before fashion. I usually wear head-to-toe moisture-wicking clothing — a tank with a built-in bra (the fewer layers, the better!) and crops.
  4. Get your hair out of your face. All of it. I know the messy yoga hair is cute on Pinterest but that cuteness quickly fizzles when it gets drenched in sweat from a 104-degree room. I usually wear mine in a bun on top of my head so it's all up and doesn't annoy me in savasana. 
  5. Go early and tell the teacher it's your first time. They'll probably make sure they're explaining each posture really well and can talk you through what to expect, show you variations to poses for a beginner, etc. 
  6. Be prepared to sweat. Like, a lot. At first this is uncomfortable because we aren't used to sweating so profusely and from every pore of our body. (Interesting fact Google just told me: The average human has 3 trillion pores on their body. Whoa.) Eventually you will get used to this feeling. You'll still sweat (it's called hot yoga), but you'll stop feeling uncomfortable.
  7. Bring towels. Plural. One full-sized towel to cover your mat and one hand towel to wipe your face. Yogitoes towels are great, but certainly not necessary. 
  8. Hydrate! Drink the day of your class and bring a practical water bottle — not a fancy one that takes 5 minutes just to open the top. You need quick hydration. I'm pretty much attached to my Camelbak. 
  9. If everyone in the class seems to be steering clear of one guy (or gal) — follow suit. He's probably a farter and you don't want to be forward folding behind him.  I'm only kind of kidding about this one. 
  10. Smile! If a pose is particularly challenging, smile through it. Smiling makes the body automatically relax. If you see me grinning in a pose, it's not because I'm laughing at you. I'm probably struggling a little.
  11. Take it slow. I used to try to be competitive in yoga, which is totally not the point. Yoga is about honoring where your body is today. Each body is different and each day is different. Start with the modifications of the poses and gradually work toward their full variations. If you have patience with your body, you'll feel better and see better results. Some days I can go into the full variation of hero's pose without an issue. Other days I can barely stand to keep my knees together while sitting up. It's amazing how much our body changes from day to day.
  12. Clean your mat. Even with your full-size towel on it for protection it can still get that gym sock smell. I love my Zum Yoga mat cleaner from Indigo Wild (a Kansas City company!). It smells amazing (like all their stuff), is super affordable and non-toxic.

That's it! Hot yoga might sound intimidating, but 99% of the yoga classes I've taken for the first time have been incredibly welcoming. I wish I would have known this list of things before my first time, however I have never once felt awkward, unwelcome or like I didn't belong in a class. Give it a go! 

Update: I teach a class format called Hot Power Fusion at CorePower Yoga. Hot Power Fusion is based on the traditional Bikram format but it varies a little bit. It's only 60 minutes, 100 degrees and ditches the dogma. I may be biased, but I love it. I'd love to see you in class on Monday nights!