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.

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