Braving Bikram: What I learned about hot yoga, day 1

That’ll be me soon. Speedo, and all.
Photo credit.

With sweat pooling at my feet, hands slipping from position, I felt a wave of panic then nausea. My heart pounded loud thumps in my chest. The room didn’t quite spin, but almost. Thirty panting, sweaty strangers stood around, but no one seemed to notice me. I’m 27 minutes into my first solo hot yoga session and seriously reconsidering the wisdom of buying the all-you-can-yoga pass.

After sitting a spell and subsequently surviving my second ever Bikram yoga class, I’m paradoxically excited to go back. I can’t wait to get limber again, to improve my breathing, to develop a better mind/body connection. But the thought of going back into that somewhat smelly, oppressive 105+, 40% humidity environment? Not so much. I’m told though, that once you get past the first couple classes, it hooks you. And already, despite the I-almost-threw-up-in-public-couldn’t-drive-for-20-minutes-afterwards experience, I’m planning my next class.

In the mean time, a few “hot” tips for any newbies like me out there:

1. Hydration is no joke. I’m pretty sure my light-headedness stemmed in large part from lack of fluids despite the fact that I felt like a camel sucking down water before class. A serious risk of hot yoga (and probably most vigorous exercise) is dehydration, so several hours before and after class, keep the water coming.

2. Pride cometh before the vomit. As a life long over-achiever, it’s difficult for me not to be good at something. As a former dancer and recently really in-shape person, it killed me to suck at yoga. I’m not as flexible as I used to be, my balance faltered, and oh yeah, I wanted to pass out in the middle of the floor. My initial inclination was to power through and not let the other people (who were very obviously not looking at me) see my weakness. I am so glad I followed my body’s warnings and sat my butt down while I still maintained control. Dizziness and weakness are completely normal for beginners, and by taking a rest (or three), I was able to get my bearings, relax and join back in the postures.

The 26 poses of Bikram. It seems so simple in drawing form.
Photo credit.

3. Mats and towels matter. I felt so cute two days before class buying my first mat at Target. As an afterthought, I also grabbed a towel as I walked through the door. GOOD CALL! The “pool of sweat” description above is no exaggeration. By the end of class, my towel* was completely soaked. Next time, I’ll bring two towels, a full-length towel to lay on the mat and a hand towel to wipe my face.

4. Emulate the show-offs.  And by show-offs, I mean the really good people in the front row. I positioned myself in the very back, center, so I could see everyone around me. I found it extremely helpful to watch the three or four absolutely excellent folks in my peripheral vision. In Bikram, the instructor describes but does not demonstrate many of the postures, so observing the form of others is a good idea. Just don’t go overboard.

5. It’s not a contest. As I left class, I overheard a newer student fawning over one of the excellent ladies from the front row. The newbie asked the woman how she developed such good form, to which she replied: “I’ve been practicing for 10 years now.” So yeah, a first week student should not compare herself to a veteran, or anyone for that matter. From what I know, yoga is about your personal journey, not anyone else’s.

That’s all for now!


* So I brought a bright white towel to class. About half way through, I wondered why it was splattered with red spots. Does yoga cause blood loss??? I wondered. Um, no, but it highlights what happens when freshly colored red hair meets the sauna for an extended length of time. Always classy I am!

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