If I could attribute the start of my fitness journey to one single thing it would be hot yoga. Specifically, Bend Beyond Yoga Studio in the heart of downtown Bozeman. I took my first class when I was 18 years old during my Christmas break. I had just put on some much feared college weight and needed to get back on track. That's when two of my friends suggested I try Bikram Yoga.
Sure, why the hell not? Yoga is supposed to be easy AND who doesn't want a yoga booty?
So they drug me to class with little to no pep talk on what to expect......
mistake number one (but I'll get to that later).
That hot yoga class was anything, but easy. I never knew that much sweat could come from one person, let alone me. At 90 minutes in a room heated to around 105 degrees with 40% humidity, I was challenged both physically and mentally. I sat down probably 6 or 7 times during that first class for fear of passing out or yacking on the person next to me. If I had the choice to take a million dollars or leave that room early, I would have chosen the freedom....but something kept me in that room and that same something got me addicted.
In that room, I've never felt more at home. As you listen to the teacher guide you through the poses step-by-step, it allows you to take a break from thinking. There is no place for your stresses, negativity or problems.
It's just you and your mat.
As one of the most challenging workouts I've ever done, hot yoga is a calorie-burning, strength-defying and character-building phenomenon. It increases flexibility, helps your circulation, and tests your endurance and strength. Now, there are many forms of hot yoga. Some of the most popular are Bikram Yoga, Sumits Hot Yoga and Core Power Yoga. No matter what studio you choose, the prepping both mentally and physically is about the same.
The single most important thing in hot yoga is making sure you drink enough water before, during AND after. Being properly hydrated will keep you from passing out mid-class.....and believe me, I've seen it happen first hand. It's important to drink enough water the night before. I recommend 24-32 oz. (and no I'm not talking about whiskey waters) This will also help you, for lack of a better term, "relieve yourself" when you wake up and get your digestion prepped. During the morning of, I like to have a full glass of warm water with lemon and honey. Don't bother drinking a ton of water on your drive to class, as it takes nearly 2 hours to fully hydrate your cells. Chugging water before class will only make you bloated and uncomfortably full during class. While you are in class, make sure you have a full water bottle that you can take sips (keyword: sips) of whenever you need a pick-me-up. When you are finished, you MUST re-hydrate your body. I recommend drinking half your body weight (in ounces) and then some of not only water, but electrolytes as well. I like to get a Smart Water or add in my own electrolytes (I use the brand Elete).
Yoga is meant to be practiced on an empty stomach for optimal performance. You do a lot of twisting and bending and you don't need your full tummy to get in the way. From personal experience, eating before class is a definite no no. A full stomach mixed with tropic-like conditions makes for one sick yogi. Now as a personal trainer, I know the body needs fuel to power through a tough workout. If I practice first thing in the morning, I like to have warm lemon water with 1 tbsp of raw honey. This gives me a little jolt of energy without leaving me full. If I practice later in the day, I'll avoid eating at least 3-4 hours beforehand. After class, it is key to get a combination of lean protein and complex carbohydrates in order to refuel your body and replenish your system. My go-to is a huge salad topped with every veggie under the sun, a hard-boiled egg and beans. Then, I'll pair that with a Kombucha in order to get my electrolytes.
WHAT TO WEAR
I find that no matter what you wear, you will always be hot in that room.....but minimal clothing like yoga shorts and a sports bra is recommended as this allows you to see your body move in its most simplistic state. For example, there is a lot of poses that require you to lock-out your knee and wearing pants would make it hard for you and the instructor to see that. You also don't want anything to be loose or dangle as this only gets in the way of your practice. Tight clothing allows you to see the beautiful movement your body is doing and correct any poses you may be doing wrong. Also, bring a change of clothes as the ones your wore during class will be like a wet mop....and the looser the better. Have you ever tried putting jeans on after a shower? Try that times 1000.
My favorite yoga clothing brands are Lululemon, Zella, Teeki, & MICHI
Let me give you a heads up.....the studio will smell like a combination of The Rock's gym bag and Sasquatch's BO. The good news? The smell will slowly fade away as you start to focus your attention on how much your body is sweating. And even better news? You won't even notice it at all after your first couple of times. It will become sort of....nostalgic in a really really weird way. For your first time, make sure you set up your mat & towel towards the back of the room, preferably by the door....not so you can plan your quick escape, but most often the teacher will open the door every once in a while to get some air flow going. When you set yourself up, make sure you can see yourself in the mirror. Setting up in the back of the room also allows you to reference others if you get lost with the teacher's words. That brings me to my next point, listen to the instructor's words and follow their directions. After you go a couple of times and start to realize the sequence, don't skip ahead of the teacher's instructions. That just makes you the annoying dumbass who can't follow directions and nobody wants to be THAT person. Nobody. If at any point during class you feel lightheaded, dizzy or nauseous, sit or lie down and take a breather. That's completely okay and actually encouraged. Yoga is about honoring your body and your emotions in that very moment. One rule of thumb to go by is concentrate on your breathe (which should be in and out through the nose)....if you can't breathe fluidly, it's time to back off.
First and foremost, the instructor is there to help you and keep you and your body safe.....she/he is not there to pick on you and make you feel inferior. In that room, everyone is equal, and quite frankly, nobody cares what the other looks like in Dancer pose. Everyone is there to concentrate on themselves and their practice. It is your own little sanctuary so you don't have to worry about that 60-year-old yogi with your dream body judging your Half-Moon pose. The room and people radiate love and acceptance. You may even catch yourself smiling every once in a while after an uplifting quote by the teacher. You'll see that hot yoga is for good vibes only. The energy doesn't lie.
THE AFTER EFFECT
Once you finish your Savasana's (you'll see what I mean after class) and say your Namaste's, it's time to reap the benefits that are sure to last for the next 48 hours following class. The feeling when you step out of that room into the cool lobby air, you have instant energy and vitality....which may be followed by a short and painless feeling of "I'm gonna puke" which is then quickly evaporated by the fresh water bottle refill and semi-cold shower. The rest of the day you may be drained, but not in a bad way. Hot yoga flushes the body of toxins, fires the metabolism and has a detoxifying effect from the inside out. You will feel like a million bucks plus some change. For the next couple of days, get ready to feel more limber, think a little clearer and glow even brighter. After your first class, you will most likely feel some muscle soreness in spots you didn't even know existed, but this is completely normal. I recommend getting back in the hot room within 48 hours to loosen up and get rid of the lactic acid buildup from your first class.
I think everyone can benefit from practicing yoga.....and the benefits only multiply when it's done in a hot room. Don't feel intimidated by hot yoga. It's meant for everyone; young, old, flexible, stiff, athletic, couch potato, runner, weight lifter, you name it. I hope this post will get you to your first class ever or maybe back to class back after some time MIA. Whatever your reason for getting in the hot room, turn that intention into action.
Health is hot, my friends.