Generally, I'm not into extreme exercise. I don't like sports, the gym bores me, and running is my enemy. But I love Bikram Yoga. I know doing a 26-pose series for an hour and a half in a room heated well over 100 degrees sounds like pure torture to some, but for me it's a challenging way of getting my mind and body centered and exhilarated.
The practice of hot yoga has enormous physical benefits. It has been shown to improve digestion, flexibility, arthritis, muscle injury, and emotional issues such as depression and anxiety. I feel mentally and physically energized after a class--even euphoric! But, it is a tricky practice, one that takes conscious preparation. Here are some tips if you're thinking about giving Bikram a shot.
The key to a successful class is to come hydrated. Drink water steadily throughout the day before you go and avoid going to class 24 hours after drinking alcohol, or you’ll risk feeling nauseous.
Be Comfortable and Come Prepared
You're going to sweat A LOT, so wear clothes that are moisture-wicking and comfortable like the sports bra and shorts combo pictured. Pick what’s comfy. I've seen a 70-year-old man practice in a loin cloth. I figure, if he can do that, I can show my tummy.
You should also bring the arsenal of tools pictured above: a mat, a slip-resistant yoga towel (or even a beach towel if you don't have one) to lay on your mat, a hand towel, and a bottle of water. Be sure to also bring a change of loose clothes for after class. You'll want to get out of your sweaty stuff as quickly as possible.
Know Your Limits
Some sources claim that bikram yoga can be risky. While I don't necessarily agree with this blanket statement, it is important that you understand your heat tolerance and flexibility before trying it. I don’t recommend it to those who are very sensitive to heat. But if, like me, you like feeling warm, you'll probably enjoy the experience.
It’s important to know your flexibility level before you enter a class. In the heat, your muscles become more flexible than they are at room temperature, allowing you to stretch more deeply. I have a hard time touching my toes at room temp, but can easily reach them in Bikram. However, I still ease into hamstring postures because it's a sensitive area for me, and being careless could lead to injury. I often modify poses or only do the first step to guarantee that I'm not pushing too hard. And if I start to feel dizzy or tired, I just sit down. Sure, I don't look like a yoga goddess capable of all kinds of bending, but who cares? I'm doing it the way that feels good for me!
After practice, be sure to hydrate and replenish electrolytes. When Celene and I go to class, one of us brings two cans of our favorite brand of Coconut Water. It's such a refreshing treat after class. When you get home, have a light, raw-food snack or meal to give your body a burst of nutrition. Shy away from processed foods. You just got rid of toxins! Don't put them back in!
Most of all, it's important to be good to yourself before, during, and after class. If Bikram has taught me one thing, it's that my body is much more capable than I think it is. While the physical experience of a class is challenging, the mental experience is for me the most difficult aspect. Your mind will tell you that you can't do it, or that you're doing it wrong, or that you're panicking! If you work on calming your mind and giving it love, your body does the rest on its own.