It’s been nearly 3 years since I attended my very first hot yoga class. I stepped into the Bikram studio with so many questions and just one goal: get rid of my running injury ASAP. Because yoga was for wusses and marathons were where it’s at.
Since then several other injuries (not yoga related. i’m a walking disaster) have kept me from getting back into running. But I now practice yoga more than ever, and last month I decided that 2016 is going to be the year in which I attend teacher training. I have drifted away from the classic Bikram yoga, but hot yoga has a space in my heart that won’t yield soon.
Back to my first class. Before attending I wondered a million different things. I think I even asked someone on Instagram if she thought my studio would have shower facilities… HAHA. Below are my 5 tips for your very first hot yoga class. If you have any other questions at all, feel free to ask away in the comments!
1. FUEL YOUR BODY
Drink enough water, eat enough food. You are about to get into a hot room while physically working your body: you don’t want to be dehydrated or starving, trust me.
Personally, I always aim to drink a minimum of 1.5L of water during the day before class. This easily adds up to about 2L if I take a class in the evening.
Now, if you are taking the 7AM at your local studio I wouldn’t recommend gulping up a massive bottle of water right before you go in. In this case, make sure you drink a good amount the day before and about half a litre right after waking up.
As for food, I always feel best when I am neither hungry nor full. This often works out to eating a large but light meal about 3 hours before class. I would definitely advice against eating anything substantial less than 90 minutes before.
Obviously it is not possible to not eat anything 3 hours before class if you take a class first thing in the morning. I find that I do pretty well on just a piece of fruit, provided I ate enough the night before. If I didn’t, or I am taking a class first thing in the weekend (which tends to be a bit later in the day than during the week… because #namastayinbed) I usually have something dry & dense like a protein bar. I find this works for me because the size doesn’t fill me up too much, but it does yield enough energy. I prefer the dryness because anything that sloshes around in my stomach other than water makes me super nauseous!
I know we all want to be amazing at everything we do immediately, but unless you are a super strong & flexible prima ballerina, chances are you won’t be.
That’s okay. You have never done this before, you don’t know what you’re doing. Leave your ego at the door, watch the more experienced students around you and most importantly: listen to your teacher.
Yoga is amazing for healing your body, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to hurt yourself. Poor alignment and pushing too hard can result in injuries (trust me I’ve been there). It is possible that your body is able to bend a certain way, but that doesn’t mean it is ready to. Take it easy andlearn correct posture before pushing yourself further.
3. FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH, NOT YOUR WATER BOTTLE
When I just started practicing Bikram I had a lot of trouble regulating my body heat. I got overheated & dizzy all the time and would have to sit down, convinced that all I needed was some water. Provided you hydrated properly, your body should be fine getting through 90 minutes of sweating with very little water.
Instead, move your awareness to your breath. Are you breathing frequently and consistently? Bending your body into strange shapes, finding previously unused muscles and balancing on a single leg makes a lot of people unconsciously hold their breath.
If you do get dizzy, chances are that instead of asking for water, your body is asking for oxygen.Stand still and take a couple of deep breaths, try to pay attention to your breath for a while and guide it back to a constant pattern. Over time you will build your stamina, raise your level of fitness and it will become easier to keep breathing calmly. As a result the heat won’t bother you as much, and your body will stop asking for ‘water’.
4. DON’T FIDGET & BE QUIET PLEASE
So you’re lying in savasana (dead body pose) and there is sweat running down your shoulder blades and your scalp is itching and there is a strand of hair stuck to your face that begs for attention and -oh god- are your yoga pants giving you a camel toe?
Resist! You can do it! Yoga is a mental practice as much as it is a physical one. When a posture asks for stillness, really try and be still. Don’t move, clear your thoughts. Fidgeting is a waste of energy, wicking away sweat will not cool you down and both will distract you -and those around you- from what you’re there for: surviving finding your calm.
Some teachers call savasana having a nice little break on the floor, and in my mind I always yell ‘screw you and your little break, I bet you don’t have ADD’ at them. But I don’t move and sometimes my mind will be quiet too. Fake it till you make it!
As for talking in the studio space before, after or during class: just don’t.
5. GO AND GET NAKED
Okay maybe not entirely bum-baring naked, but consider wearing a little less than you are comfortable in.
The obvious reason for wearing as little as possible (shorts & a sports bra are perfectly acceptable) is not overheating. Though very nice, it’s not where I’m going with this.
When we look in the mirror in our everyday lives, about 90% of the time it’s to check our appearance (do these earrings match my eyes and does my fringe look odd today and do these jeans make my thighs look bigger than they are?). During yoga, spend 90 minutes of your day observing your body in the mirror while focusing on something other than looks: appreciate it for carrying you.
Shy away from the long sleeves and look at your body in its full glory. Despite of what it might look like on Instagram, most yoga poses are not designed to make you look graceful. I want you to give yourself permission to be unflattering, and to watch your reflection doing really cool & hard stuff. Fall down and stand up and smile at yourself: your body deserves to be seen & to be loved by you.Build a relationship with it that isn’t dependent on looks.
… if you are set on covering up, think of an outfit you wouldn’t mind falling into water in. If you’d have to swim fully dressed, what would be most comfortable? I strongly advice against anything floppy that will soak up a lot of water (sweat).
☆ most yoga studios rent out yoga mats (& towels).
☆ bring two towels: one big one to practice on, and one to use after the shower.
☆ bring an extra pair of pants! you will not want to get back into the knickers you wore during class after your shower.
☆ bring at least 1L of water with you into the room.
☆ lay down in the 2nd or 3rd row, in the middle of the room. This way you’ll always have some more experienced students in front of you to look at for guidance.
☆ if you’re nervous about the heat, ask the teacher or someone at reception where the ‘cool spot’ in the studio is.
☆ rehydrate after class ☆ take it easy ☆ feel free to kneel down if you feel like you need it ☆ when you do sit down, sit and don’t lie! & keep your head above your heart ☆ whatever happens, stay in the room ☆ smile at yourself in the mirror ☆ HAVE FUN! ☆