7 Things I Wish I Had Known About Hot Yoga

I'm not a yogi by any means (my flexibility, or lack thereof, is laughable), but I've flowed through enough Vinyasa classes to know my way around Warriors and Chaturanga. Still, when I walked into a Bikram studio for the first time last fall, I felt out of my element.
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Two young women are exercising bikram yoga
Two young women are exercising bikram yoga

The super-sweaty lessons every yogi needs to learn
By Laurel Leicht, SELF

I'm not a yogi by any means (my flexibility, or lack thereof, is laughable), but I've flowed through enough Vinyasa classes to know my way around Warriors and Chaturanga. Still, when I walked into a Bikram studio for the first time last fall, I felt out of my element. The apparel, gear and class rules were different. Even the studio's smell was different. Once I tried it, though, I loved it -- more than any other yoga class I'd ever taken, actually. I walked out with tired muscles, a massive thirst for Gatorade and some insider secrets I wish I had known beforehand.

So here's some intel I've discovered while getting bendy in various hot yoga classes, as well as tips from Tamara Behar, instructor and owner of Tangerine Hot Power Yoga in Brooklyn.

1. Not All Hot Yoga Is Created Equal
There's a big difference between Bikram and hot power yoga. The former will take you through a specific series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, which you'll do in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Hot yoga, on the other hand, can be any sequence of poses and is held in a room around 90 to 95 degrees. Both can be hardcore, so you have to be careful not to push past your body's limits. "Keep in mind that this is practice, rather than perfect," says Behar.

2. You Shouldn't Eat Close to Class Time
As a general rule, you're not supposed to eat for about two to three hours before Bikram. I'm like Hannah Horvath when it comes to food and get lightheaded if I don't snack every few hours, so I was dubious when I heard that stipulation. I didn't think I could make it through 90 minutes of challenging poses on an empty stomach without passing out. I was happy to hear that it's okay to have a small snack (think: a piece of fruit) closer to class time. Behar recommends drinking water throughout the day before a hot yoga class and eating half a banana or drinking raw coconut water half an hour before you hit the mat: "It'll fuel you for your practice and help replenish the electrolytes that you'll lose during class."

3. The Studio Might Smell Bad
The hot yoga studios I tend to go to have been gorgeous, totally Zen and dotted with soy candles that radiate calming scents like grass and sandalwood. On the other hand, the Bikram outposts I've tried (with carpet lining the studios and constant influx of sweaty bodies) smell like a pair of old gym socks. Once you get used to it, the smell likely won't bother you too much--although, asking the front desk to keep burning the incense ain't a bad idea.

4. It Could Make You Sweat More Than a Marathon
I sweat a lot. I sweat in regular yoga classes -- I gaze around at other people, looking peaceful as they flow through sun salutations, while I feel perspiration drip down my back to my butt. But I was still shocked when I looked down during my first Bikram session and saw that my shins were speckled with sweat. I didn't know shins could even sweat! But I wasn't the only one perspiring like crazy.

5. It's Better to Bring Your Own Towel
Most studios lend class-goers a mat and at least one towel, though some have a small fee for each. While it may seem unnecessary to pack your own (and have to haul it back home afterward, when it weighs about 10 pounds from sweat), the towels studios provide sometimes aren't big enough to cover the mat, or they might not be that soft or super-absorbent. I once waded through a puddle of my own sweat because the towel the studio gave me wasn't up to snuff. I now always carry my own; my fave is one from Manduka because it's long, crazy-soft, and sucks up tons of perspiration.

6. You'll Want a Lot of Water -- And You'll Want It Cold
An instructor once told my class to drink our water only in small sips, just enough to quench our dry mouths. But over the course of the entire class, you'll still end up tossing back a lot of water. Bottles with ice might seem like a good solution, but that ice will likely melt pretty quickly and you'll wind up with warm water. The best solution I've found: The insulated, stainless-steel water bottles from Hydro Flask. One of these bad boys will ensure your water's ice cold for the entire class. (They're also great for keeping drinks chilled during a long day of lounging on the beach.)

7. It's OK to Take a Break
Before I started hot yoga, I asked a Bikram-loving friend if the heat ever just seems like too much. She said yes, but that she just rests for a minute when it does. And that's exactly what you're supposed to do -- as opposed to ducking out for a few seconds of AC. "Leaving a hot room is shocking to the body," Behar warns. So, do what I do: Chill out in child's pose or just lie for a minute in Savasana, if you feel lightheaded or tired.

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