I turn to bikram yoga to loosen up after a long run and get in a heart-pumping workout without pounding my knees into the ground. I am no yoga expert – or even regular class-goer – but I do my best to advocate for it when people look at me like I have 8 heads. “Oh, after work? I am going to an hour and a half yoga class in room that heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. Wanna come?” No. They don’t. Ever. But they should. And I’ve enlisted my brilliant, certified yoga instructor, fitness-and-healthy-minded friend Sandra Malm to walk you through why you should give this a try and what to expect. Sandra, take it away!
Hot yoga is like running that’s good for you. I’ll be the first to encourage someone to try different yoga styles – hot and not – but for those looking to beat the blerch I say go HOT. Happiness is waiting on the other side of this sweaty, endorphin-pumping workout. The heat will also loosen your hamstrings in a way that they really, deeply deserve.
Pick a momentous week, like after a big race, before a vacation, or the next seven days, and go three times. I promise you, after three classes, you’ll feel stronger.
5 things to bring:
An open mind: Many classes open with a communal OM. It’s less of an opera singer’s “OhooOOOooom” and more of a yawning, three sylllable “Ah-oh-mmm.” Just do it. It’s fun and announces to your nervous system that something new is coming. Also, go ahead and close your eyes when prompted, and suck in your stomach when the teacher tells you too. This isn’t aerobics, there is a purpose behind every cue.
The basics: Mat, Towel, Water: The studio will be happy to sell or rent you any of these things. For your first class, I recommend bringing a beach towel and a water bottle, renting a mat if needed. For clothing, girls should choose form-fitting clothes to keep your top from sliding over your face when you go upside down. For guys, gym shorts or swimming trunks with a liner will do the trick. Choose a sweat-wicking shirt or go shirtless.
A sense of play: Toss your hands into the air. Be ninja-like as you step forward and back on your mat. Press into and fall out of an arm balance. Wobble and wiggle in tree pose. And please, please, PLEASE, give up the need to get it “right.”
Your lungs: Vinyasa yoga, the umbrella style most hot yoga classes fall into, means the union of movement with breath. (Reach up, breathe in; Bend low, breathe out.) Slow, rhythmic breathing through your nose will fuel your yoga practice and calm your nervous system. It’s also a great place to focus your attention.
Drishti: Sanskrit word of the day! Drishti means eye-gaze. Allowing your eyes to wander creates distractions and puts your nervous system on alert. Controlling your gaze aides in concentration and calms you down. When you direct your focus, first with your eyes and then with your full attention, you are “setting your drishti.” Choose one in each pose, then stick with it.
Five things to leave behind:
Shoes and socks: Bare feet grip the mat better, so this really comes down to safety. Many studios insist on taking shoes off before entering the inner studio to “respect the sacred space.” This has the added benefit of keeping the floor (which you’ll soon be rolling around on) grit-free.
Phone: Leave it with your shoes. When I worked at a yoga studio, a doctor on-call would routinely leave his cell phone at the registration desk in case of emergency. Point is, no exception on this one.
Pacing: Yoga teachers are masters at pacing. Your only job is to listen and give your all. Don’t hold back at the beginning to save up for the end. Don’t back away from sensation for fear of going again. Play at your edge, give your all to each pose, and take rests as you need them.
Judgement and jealousy: The yoga studio is a great place to practice letting go of useless habits of the ego. There will always be someone stronger than you or more flexible than you, but, happily, in the confines of your yoga mat it doesn’t matter. On the path of yoga, we stand where we are. Jealousy of those ahead of us or judgement of those behind can only stifle our growth. Instead, find inspiration in that ridiculously flexible girl’s loose hamstrings. Find compassion in the couch-potato’s 10th return to child’s pose. Then, stop looking around and focus on your self.
Planning, to-do-lists, worries, concerns, fantasies, and daydreams: In power yoga, the formulaic movements from pose-to-pose facilitate a moving meditation that, for many, is easier to maintain than a silent, sitting meditation. It’s still hard, though. To banish non-meditative thoughts, I use a technique called “the boat”:
If you find yourself, say, making your grocery list when you should be meditating on your inhales and exhales, name the dalliance a “planning” boat and send it on it’s way. Be kind to yourself, use humor, and just wave goodbye to the ships as they float by. “Goodbye, worry-wart-boat!” “Goodbye, erotic-daydream-boat!” “Hello, drishti.”
Sandra is a writer and a certified yoga teacher. She loves yoga because it teaches her how to go about sucking the marrow out of life.
Still have questions? Email Sandra at sandyshellDC@gmail.com
It’s Natalie again! Sandra is phenomenal – please reach out to her with ANY yoga questions. She has great advice. So, in the hot yoga spirit, I am raffling off one Hydro Flask – the best water bottle I have ever tried. Cold liquids stay super SUPER cold for 24 hours. Like ice cubes all day kind of cold. Put ice in it in the morning, leave it in a hot car all day (in the summer – my car is freezing right now) come out from work, the thing is still freezing! Hot liquids will stay hot for 12 hours – but you won’t need to use that in a hot yoga class. Enter to win one 21-ounce Hydro Flask water bottle – color of your choice – to bring to your first hot yoga class!