Tips on How To Survive (and Love) Hot Yoga

I have to admit: I love Bikram yoga so much so that I have cancelled dinner dates just so I could attend a session, or woken up at the ungodly hour of five a.m. to make it to the six a.m. yoga class in Harvard Square. Do you practice bikram or any other form of hot yoga? Once you try it yourself (don’t do it just once, give it several tries), you’ll understand how I feel. You will love it.  You just have to get past hating it first.

Bikram yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury, who attests that heat makes the body supple and flexible and believes that the human body is a powerhouse. If you familiarize yourself with the process below, you’ll be well-equipped to survive and thrive and grow to love the practice. Be prepared for the following ups and downs:

(Almost) Unbearable Heat. Bikram yoga is a series of 26 yoga postures and two breathing exercises, done in an extremely hot room – heated up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact. It is not your typical, serene, chant-filled yoga.  You don’t say “om,” and you certainly don’t relax during the entire 90 minutes in a sauna-like environment. It is a sweat-inducing (and I don’t mean the pretty, glistening sheen that you see on most yoga students; I mean buckets of dripping sweat), heart-pumping, so-hard-I-want-to-collapse workout. It is HOT in there, really, really hot. To deal with the heat, it is advisable to drink plenty of fluids before and after class, and rehydrate with an electrolyte-rich drink like Vitamin Water (my favorite) or Gatorade. Another favorite refreshment is natural coconut water, which you can buy in handy tetra-packs by brands like Zico and Vita Coco.

Practicing in a heated room has multiple benefits, such as increased flexibility and help in flushing toxins out of the body. But I really started practicing Bikram for weight loss. Women’s Health magazine claims that it is the best type of yoga for losing weight. “Tolerating the heat is really an athletic challenge,” says Donna Rubin, co-owner of Bikram Yoga New York. It’s true – not only have I lost weight, but I have built my endurance and stamina as well.

Envy and Comparison. As soon as you walk in the yoga room, you will notice the instructors and some of the other practitioners with supple, toned bodies, bending and stretching seemingly without effort. Ignore them. You have to remember that achieving a perfect posture takes weeks, months, even years, and that those seemingly perfect yogis all work really hard for it. If they can do it, so can you. And stop thinking about your new yoga top, or how good/bad you think you look in it. Other people are ignoring you too, anyway. Yoga is a non-competitive sport (you’re only competing with yourself) so do not compare yourself to others; focus instead on your own progress.

You might also start comparing Bikram to other yoga practices, especially if you’ve been loyal to one. Barb Wojslawowicz Gagne, who regularly practices Vinyasa yoga, did not enjoy her Bikram yoga experience because of the repetitive postures (same 26 every single class). “I want variety in my yoga,” she says. However, for people like me, that routine is one of the reasons why I love Bikram. Choosing and sticking to a yoga style is a very personal decision; at the end of the day, you are practicing yoga for your own self, not for other people.

Exhaustion. In her entertaining essay “My Bra’s Too Tight. Is That Cellulite on My Biceps? I Might be Having a Heart Attack. And Why Does Everybody in Here Have a Tattoo?” Paige Williams wrote about her 60-day Bikram yoga challenge in O magazine. Some of her claims seem exaggerated – for example: “I’m huffing harder than a serial killer. And we’re only on posture number one.” – but any Bikram yoga practitioner can relate to her. It’s true, each posture is hard work. You will be extremely tired, but you just have to keep trying and exerting your best effort. However, it is also very important to listen to your own body. If you are feeling too dizzy and light-headed, it’s okay to kneel or lie down until you feel more balanced. During my first couple of Bikram yoga classes, I felt like I was about to throw up in class. I didn’t. I simply sat on my mat until I felt better. Eventually, I learned when to push myself and when to take a break.

Hatred. At one point during class, you will begin to hate Bikram yoga. You will hate Bikram Choudhury for ever coming up with this concept. You will hate yourself for this self-inflicted torture. You will hate the instructor for not letting you go out of the room (“just sit on your mat, trust me you will feel better”), for correcting each mistake you make, or for encouraging you to keep trying to stretch-stretch-stretch, using catch-phrases like “you have Bengal tiger strength” or “English Bulldog determination”.

Then, you will have a sudden reversal of feelings. You will think that the yoga instructor – who, just minutes ago, you were convinced is the devil incarnate for making you suffer like this – is actually an angel, when he or she cracks open a window or door to let in some fresh, cold, wonderful air. And you will love him or her during those few seconds of savasana, or dead body pose, where you lie completely still on the floor as you let your  blood circulation get back to normal. There will be no more hate.

Bliss. Ahhhhhhh, now THIS is the point of practicing Bikram yoga. After each class, you will feel energized, revitalized, balanced, and powerful. According to the Bikram Yoga Boston website, “by the end of a class session, each individual will have worked every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, internal organ, and gland while systematically moving fresh, oxygenated blood to 100% of the body. The result is restoration of health to all systems.”

Kitty Wong, who has been practicing Bikram for three years and has completed several 30-day challenges, understands the allure and benefits of regular sessions. “It is very exciting to be able to see yourself get better every day, and once you start going to Bikram religiously, your body starts to crave it,” she says. “The more you do it, the more you want to come back.”

After just a few regular sessions, I promise you, your skin will be clearer, you’ll feel more energetic, you’ll be able to sleep better; there will be noticeable changes in your body. Bikram yoga will aid with weight loss, healing and repair of injuries, and best of all, peace of mind. Pretty soon you’ll be craving that blissful feeling more and more.

Good luck – and namaste.

Photo from Boston.com

   

35 Responses to “Tips on How To Survive (and Love) Hot Yoga”

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    MelissaNibbles posted June 29, 2010 at 8:41 am

    I’ve never tried hot yoga. I want to, but yoga really isn’t my bag. I like trying new things before I judge them though, so I should really give it a go. Thanks for the detailed post!

    • B replied June 29th, 2010 at 9:34 am

      Hey girl, you should def give hot yoga a shot. Maybe you can do it on your Mix It Up Mondays ;)

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    Corinne posted June 30, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Oh, wow. I needed to read this today. I have had a growing desire to try bikram, even more now after reading your detailed truths, but am uber nervous for the heat!! I’m such a baby! lol. I gotta just do it, like nike. ha.

    thanks!!! ps love your blog :)

    • Bianca Garcia replied June 30th, 2010 at 11:31 am

      Thank you Corinne! Sometimes I think my friends get tired of me babbling on and on about bikram haha but I really do believe in all its benefits! I hope you try it – the heat is definitely a killer but worth it :)

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    Dorry posted July 3, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    One of the best Bikram articles I’ve ever read! As someone who has been practicing for less than a month, you are SO accurate about the feelings towards Bikram. It can be a love-hate but overall I AM HOOKED. :)

    • Bianca Garcia replied July 3rd, 2010 at 5:49 pm

      Thank you Dorry! It’s always nice to hear from a fellow bikram-lover (new convert or not!) ;)

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    Katherine Scott posted July 4, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hey Bianca! Love this post. I am currently taking a break from hot yoga (I’m so weak from my recent bout with pneumonia I can barely sit up straight without getting winded), but I recently converted a friend who has a really interesting perspective on it.

    While I’m a bit of a cynical scientists who thinks puking after yoga just means I’m pushing my body to do something new and difficult in a temperature I was not built to function in (since I am Canadian), she has a much more spiritual approach. When she threw up after her first yoga session, she felt like she was getting rid of bad energy. Like the yoga was cleansing her of something that needed to come out.

    That’s probably the smartest way to think about it. It’s probably a lot easier to motivate yourself to cleanse your soul than torture your body!

    • Bianca Garcia replied July 5th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

      Hey Kate, that’s a really amazing view – I love the idea of cleansing sould and body through yoga!

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    marcia giella posted October 18, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    I will have practiced bikram yoga nearly every day for 2 years as of November 12th. I remember that day clearly since it changed my life and outlook. My rheumatologist told me the only thing that would help my constant arthritic pain was bikram yoga. And so–almost 2 years later–I am a bikram addict. I only love it more and more–and see and feel progress every day when i do something just a little different; hear something different; see something different. It is not for everyone. You will know after 3 times–I knew the very first time. I am planning to go to teacher training in 2 years for my 60th birthday and i wish I could afford to do it now. Leave no stone unturned. Try it. You may love it.

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    Terri posted January 13, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I LOATHE the heat. I am a Michigander living in Texas… but the Bikram studio keeps calling my name. I had a Discectomy back surgery 1 year ago..and I have severe arthritis in both knees… but am truly hopeful this will be a helper in my walk to acheive greater fitness, and balance. I want to be a better Mom and Wife to my loving family. I will check in at another time…. and update my progress. THANK YOU for the outstanding truthful article.

    • Bianca Garcia replied January 13th, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      Hi Terri, thanks for dropping by my blog! Good luck with your yoga practice – I’m 100% sure that it will help you achieve your fitness goals. Just remember not to push yourself too hard (but you still have to push yourself, it’s all about finding the perfect balance) and be patient. It really does wonders. I actually have not been back to my studio in 2 weeks and I already feel super rusty and weak. I can’t wait to practice tomorrow! ;) Take care!

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    Tracy posted April 6, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I enjoyed this post! I found it by searching “hate Bikram yoga” based on the fact that some people have stated that they hated it and I wanted to know why. I’ll be attending my first class tonight, as I’m ready to put an end to the suspense and find out what the hype is about! I hope I survive!

    • Bianca Garcia replied April 7th, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Hi Tracy, glad you found my blog! How did your first class go??

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    Carla posted June 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Bianca,
    A Dr. of Traditional Chinese Medecine recommended I start hot yoga to help me with fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism. I have a far-infra red sauna at home but have not been able to use it as regularly as I’d like as I ‘ve been on the road a lot for business.

    How frequently should I attend classes to feel the benefits?
    Thanks for your feedback. Great blog.

    • Bianca Garcia replied June 13th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      Hi Carla, thanks for the note. In my personal opinion, I feel the benefits of bikram the more I practice it and the more regularly I attend the classes. I know some instructors recommend going three or four times a week for at least a full month (but personally I’ve been going for about once a week for the last few years). I would actually recommend going to a bikram yoga studio and discussing your status with one of the instructors. Good luck and I hope you end up loving bikram as much as I do!

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    Brenda posted December 6, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Thank you soooo much for this information. I just heard about hot yoga and can’t wait to try it. After I try it, I will definitely post my opinion of the class. Never even heard of hot yoga before today.

    • Bianca Garcia replied December 7th, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      Hi Brenda, I’m glad you liked it. Good luck with hot yoga, let me know how it goes!

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    Cyril posted April 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    Hi Bianca…thanks for this one. Its so true! I also had to wake up at 5 am to make it to my Bikram classes back in Manila. The big upside was I avoided traffic. Nowadays, people here in Singapore think its insane that I do yoga in a heted room in an equatorial city :-) I was also laughing when I read the “Bengal tiger” line…my personal fave is “you have no knee…your leg is a lampost…unbroken” … the Bikram equivaent of trash talk ;-) namaste…

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    mariana posted August 23, 2012 at 12:21 am

    So true I can relate with all of those! Only completed my 2nd class and love it already :)

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    Pete J posted October 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I went to Bikram last nigh and thought I was going to have a heart attack, and pass out towards the end.

    It was tough. I will try it again a few more times and hopefully get through the inital torture.

    I didn’t enjoy the feeling and hope it get’s easier.

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    Therese D posted November 2, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I went to my first Bikram class last night. I got a unlimited monthly pass through living social. I had NO clue what I was in for. I had done “hot yoga” before and thought it was pretty much the same. I wish I read this yesterday morning. I already love/hate it. I actually had to leave after an hour. I felt so stupid and know the instructor said try your best not to leave, but I had already sat down a few times and just could not get my breathing back in check. But the instant I got in the cooler air I felt better so now I am feeling like it was more in my head and I just started to panic. I probably could have pushed through. I think I will end up going back but am very nervous. I don’t like giving up on things. I have ran marathons, but this is intense! Anyone have any recommendations on how much water to drink before and maybe helpful foods to eat throughout the day to help sustain energy?

    • Bianca Garcia replied November 2nd, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      Hi, Therese! Congrats on your first Bikram class :) don’t be too hard on yourself – it really is intense! In my opinion, not as intense as marathons though ;) so it def just takes some “training” and getting used to… I try to drink a glass of water at least an hour before class – if I’m taking an afternoon/evening class, then a glass every two hours so. Afterwards I make sure to drink something with electrolytes (vitamin water or coconut water). As for food, go for the usual pre-workout combo of carbs/protein/fat but try not to eat too close to when the class starts – I find it to be very uncomfortable with a full stomach (food or drink). Don’t be nervous about going back! And take as many breaks as you need to (just standing/sitting/kneeling). I bet after 3 or 4 more sessions you’ll find things easier :) Good luck!

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    Jan Bouda posted November 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Bianca,

    In September I started with Bikram Yoga, I did aprox. 10 classes in row, and then aprox. 3 classes. Let me tell you why I liked Bikram even if I suffered – for me it´s kind of like military training. I`ve never been to army, but with my wife I did this training like 3 times already. Women in my opinion shall be harder with their men and educate them if it is possible.
    I will be honest I found it challenging especially the first and the third class. I used to have problems with gall bladder – so it was difficult for me the food in general – some things like ice-cream, coke, cheese, sweets, sugar, beef and pork were prohibited for me. The first days I was feeling tired all day (probably because of detox); then I realized that I could eat anything without struggling afterwards. The studio is in my neighborhood in – two block of my house – I am lucky. I stopped going in October because of work and I started this week again (my third class) – again the first class was difficult. But I loved heat this time, because the weather is cold here these days and I felt cold in my body.
    I think that the people especially in polluted cities like mine – Mexico City should definitely practice some exercise, yoga or do some detox. Bikram Yoga for me is more than exercise, it`s a discipline and makes you more resistant against anything in your environment. It`s a must if you wanna stay healthy. My dream is to go to become Bikram Yoga teacher one day.

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    Celza posted December 31, 2012 at 3:26 am

    I needed to read this tonight, just went to my first class a few hours ago, I actually cried after class. I felt instant relief, strength, and was so proud of my self for lasting the whole class. I love it! Starting my 30 day challenge.

    • Bianca Garcia replied December 31st, 2012 at 4:11 am

      Hi Celza, congratulations on your first class! The 30-day challenge is a wonderful way to start 2013. Happy New Year!

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    jackson smith posted August 5, 2014 at 1:16 am

    Practising Yoga Poses helps in overall well-being by building awareness, strength and flexibility in body as well as mind. Yoga is certainly one way to ensure that our kids grow up healthy and happy.The practice of balancing postures helps to increase focus. Yoga will help them clear their mind and increases ones ability to concentrate

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    Irene posted August 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    I tried Bikram yoga once and I really liked it. I love sweating and stretching plus my back always hurts from knots forming there. But the nearest yoga studio that offers hot yoga is like 45 minutes away. I am thinking if it is worth it to drive 45 minutes 2-3x/wk or everyday? ;(

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    MamaDarc posted August 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for such an honest post! I began Bikram just about a week ago. I am a VERY out of shape late 30-something mama and was nervous to try. Not being into fitness , but trying to stay healthy, I can honestly say that I thought my sweat glands were dormant. I was WRONG! I am obviously still adjusting, and found your blog by searching reasons why I would be light headed in class (turns out I should prob give up my coffee right before class, or at least start there). The thing I love about practice is that I actually SWEAT. After only seven classes, I have lost weight, inches, my skin is clearer, I feel better in general. I know that I may never end up looking like the other yogis in the studio, and I’m cool with that. This is for me. This is my hour a day to leave all the garbage in my world outside the studio door and focus on healing and strengthening me. I struggled the first time to just stay in the room…. It’s getting easier now. If I need a break, I will just lay down on my mat and sweat. I’m having serious issues with light headedness and nausea, but I’m listening to my body and not pushing it to the point of fainting or vomiting. Every day, I can do a little bit more than the day before. Every day I’m getting stronger. Every day is one day closer to becoming my best me. I am so very excited for this journey!

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    rita posted April 7, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Hello, i am so glad i’ve found this this is my story:
    WHY I DO HOT YOGA: First i think it is important some tell why he she entered into the yoga world. I did it essentially because i have a stiff neck and body working on the computer and being still for 8/9 hours a day maybe more. I also do it because I think i am anxious. I apparently look like the quitest person in the world by i feel like most of the time i hold my breath and i am tense also at night so much i often wake up with all cervical pain neck stifness headaches.
    So after many doctors i decided to go holistic and try this practice.

    i started hot yoga two months ago and did 9 lessons and i think they were all beneficial to me, i can do very well in the heat also in summer, i do not sweat too much either.

    BUT during the 10th lesson yesterday at the middle of the class i started having problems gasping for breath. Never had before, i always enjoyed the classes. I could not really breath fully and i felt like my lungs were hurting while i was trying to catch breathing. So obviously i stopped and waited few minutes. But wow i was scared!!!!! so much that i thought not to go anymore.(NOTE: i know i had to drink a lot before and after practice and i did and i did not eat for the 3 hours before) I was not the only one, another girl stopped and another one walked out two minutes from the room. This is I think what was the problem: too many people..i feel like the room was too full so less air with more people the bodies have to work more for perspiration and oxygen I THINK…is this the problem? Never had this problem before but i remember having same problem when few years back i was doing a cardio boxing lesson and it was too high paced and at certain point i had to stop cos i couldn’t catch the breath. SO WHAT TO DO IN THIS SITUATION? I would love to go again but now i’m scared! :-S :-S yesterday when i went back home also at home breathing i was feeling like discomfort breathing. Also when i make some postures like for example shoulder stand when you then have to extend the legs all the way down on the back with your ears in between the knees also there i have trouble breathing because i am squashing the upper body.

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    Bumver posted May 20, 2015 at 11:18 am

    hi! great that i found your post. i am going to have my first hot yoga lesson this friday. and i am so anxious!
    i do have nose allegy on and off. i am so worried that i can’t breathe in the heat. do you have any advise?

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