Starting a hot yoga practice can be intimidating. Because it's a set sequence that can require additional gear (a mat towel), a new student might feel that there is a steep learning curve to practice this style of yoga. I remember how nervous I was during my first class because everyone else seemed to know exactly what to do and to anticipate the next pose. Fortunately I had a wonderful teacher who helped me feel more confident and successful during my first class and continued to encourage me in subsequent classes. As I started to ease into a regular hot yoga practice, I found that it is a great way to de-stress, detox, increase your flexibility, and gauge your progression in yoga.
So what can you do to make your first practice a little more accessible? Here are some things I've learned along the way:
- You will sweat in hot yoga. A lot. Any water you drink during class will likely come right back out as sweat. So, rather than trying to hydrate during class, drink lots of water before you come to class and after. I take class very early in the morning, so I start hydrating the night before and also drink lots of before I head out to the studio.
- Because the room is so hot, it's nice to get there early to acclimate to the heat. You might take some gentle stretches or just relax while you're waiting for class to begin. And you might even meet your new best friend during your time before class!
- One of the biggest benefits of practicing in the heat is how it warms up your muscles and allows them to be more flexible. However, this also presents the risk of overstretching your muscles or stretching your tendons. I'd recommend that you stretch only to 75 - 80% of what you feel you can do for at least the first week. This allows your body to acclimate to the heat before pressing your flexibility.
- Teachers will offer variations and advancements of some foundation poses in class such as Eagle and One Legged Todasana. Although it can be quite tempting to go for the most advanced version, take it slow. Make sure you have mastered the foundation pose before you move forward. You'll save yourself from both frustration and injury.
- Know that you can take a break, but please don't leave the room. The teacher can't keep an eye on you when you leave the studio, and because your feet will be sweaty, you might slip. If this happens during the beginning of class, you might not get help for quite some time. Additionally, this is very distracting to other students and the teacher, and if you leave during a balancing pose, you might just throw everyone off. If you need to rest, come to seated or kneeling until you feel ready to rejoin the class.
- In hot yoga, we face the mirror and are encouraged to make eye contact with ourselves. This can be very difficult at first, but I've found that this practice subtly helps with self-acceptance. So position your mat so you can see yourself in the mirror. However, try to resist judgment towards yourself or others. Your practice will change from day to day, and we are all built differently. Work on improving your practice every day, but try not to compete with anyone else.
- Equipment for hot yoga is slightly different. You'll want to bring a long towel to place over your mat so that when you lie down for savasana you aren't covered in a pool of your own sweat. This also helps prevent your feet from slipping on the wet mat. I'd also recommend having a block or two handy in case you need it. Straps can be dangerous in hot yoga, as they might slip on your sweaty body.
Hopefully these tips will make you feel better prepared to start your hot yoga practice. After your first few classes, you will start to get familiar with the sequence and nuances of the practice, which is when the real magic happens! Please talk back: I'd love to hear any additional tips you have!