For those of us who still have some way to go on our personal yoga journeys (which is basically everyone), one of the questions that go through our minds at least once or twice a month is, “am I ready for hot yoga?”
Hot yoga takes the challenge of regular yoga to the next level by introducing additional environmental stress. Still, in some ways, those stressors can actually add to and enhance the depth of your practice.
I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many different yogis and, while there are a few different opinions on the matter, I’m here to tell you that you’re never ready. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the challenge of hot yoga.
That’s a joke — sort of.
You might think you’re ready, but hot yoga’s high temperatures and humidity mean that it isn’t for everyone. On the flip side, though, it is a great way to take your practice up a notch. So if you’re looking for a new challenge, hot yoga might just be it.
There are three studies worth mentioning that look at the health impacts of Bikram classes. In the first, there was a marked increase in the flexibility, leg strength, and balance in participants who attended three classes a week for eight weeks. In the second, there were findings that hot yoga has cardio and insulin resistance benefits. Finally, in the last study, 48% of participants showed an improvement in their mood and better flexibility, less anxiety, and improved skin clarity. And it appears that weight loss is an extra side benefit.
If you take those results and add in some of the documented benefits of regular sauna use (which include lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, and fewer symptoms of depression), hot yoga starts to look like a great option.
If these benefits have convinced you, but you’re not sure if you’re ready, here’s a handy checklist that I’ve developed by gathering the thoughts and opinions of top hot yoga instructors from around the world.
Make sure to look at my beginner yoga article, as well, before diving fully into hot yoga.
Are You Ready for Hot Yoga – The Ultimate Checklist
1) Are you aware of your physical limitations?
One of the biggest risks associated with hot yoga is overstretching. In a heated environment, your muscles become more limber, making you more flexible as you move through the postures. Overextending your body increases your risk of pulling or straining a muscle and can even impact your tendons and ligaments. Before going into a hot yoga class, you should know how far your body can stretch and work within those parameters to prevent injury.
2) Do you have any health concerns?
Hot yoga classes can vary from 85 to 113 degrees which might not be ideal if you have diabetes or a heart condition. The heat and exertion of a hot yoga class put a lot of extra stress on your cardiovascular system as your heart rate will usually be higher, and you’re losing fluid and electrolytes at a faster rate.
3) Are you prepared?
Before the session:
- Hydration, drink plenty of water throughout the day prior to a hot yoga session as dehydration, along with overextension, is the biggest health risk for hot yoga.
- Don’t eat a full meal for at least 2 hours before a class, the combination of heat and a full stomach is not going to make you feel good, but a snack is helpful. Half a banana should give you the energy you need to power through a hot yoga class.
For the session:
- Take water with you, but resist the temptation to drink too much even if you’re sweating. Too much water is going to sit uncomfortably in your stomach and make the session more difficult. Rather try to take a couple of sips every twenty minutes.
- Wear sweat-ready exercise gear; long yoga pants can help prevent you from slipping during the session; and any t-shirt or tank top will do.
- Take your own yoga mat, towel and props. You’re going to be sweating a lot, so you need a good yoga mat that’s going to grip well and a yoga towel for on top of your mat to absorb sweat and prevent slipping. If you use a block, make sure you pack your own one of those too.
- Arrive early. This gives your body a bit of time to acclimatize and means that you’re not already rushed and stressed only to arrive at a hot, sweaty room which aggravates those feelings.
- Monitor how you’re feeling if you notice yourself getting dizzy, developing a headache, feeling nauseous or getting muscle cramps, take a break, get out of the heat and hydrate.
After the session:
- Rehydrate, you’re going to need to replace all the water you just lost.
- Check in with your body, notice if you’re hurting anywhere, and how you’re feeling. You might need to remember this when you sign up for your next class.
4) Have you chosen the right hot yoga class to join?
It might come as a bit of a surprise, but there are different types of hot yoga, including Bikram, Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, Moksha and Hot Power Yoga, and many more. In fact, most styles of yoga can be incorporated into a heated yoga session. For example, Bikram yoga was the original type of hot yoga developed by Bikram Choudhury and had a series of 26 postures, each of which is performed twice in one 90-minute class.
If you’re relatively new to yoga, it’s good to ensure that you have the proper form for most of the poses under the belt. The additional challenge that the heat brings means that you want to be completely sure of the poses before starting.
And when you’re ready to try a hot session, it’s best to start with Bikram or a beginner heated vinyasa class. Bikram has more standing poses and less movement. At the same time, a beginner-focused vinyasa will move at a slower pace, thereby reducing the intensity and making it easier to deal with the heat.
Where possible, you should also aim to start with a cooler class (one that’s closer to 85 degrees than 100 degrees) and shorter (say 30 minutes rather than the regular 90 minutes.)
If after your first class you’re hooked but not sure if you can do it again, keep in mind that it takes around ten classes to acclimate to the additional stress of a heated yoga session, so be prepared to take regular breaks and modify poses where necessary.
If you’ve got the basics of yoga reasonably sorted and you’re able to follow an intermediate yoga class, a hot yoga session is worth a try. Especially if you love the heat and it’s the middle of winter, and you can’t afford a trip to the tropics, or if you’re ready for a shift in your yoga practice.
Yoga is about stretching your comfort zones, and hot yoga is an ideal extension of this. Remember that if you don’t like it or feel like it’s a bit much, you can always take a break on your mat by going into child’s pose or leaving the class if you’re not comfortable.
I’ll be honest; I love it. I appreciate the help with the flexibility (I’m still trying to touch my toes with straight legs), and the heat is definitely a distraction from the usual discomfort. And, like saunas and steam rooms, I find the environment soothing. And because I practice yoga to destress and re-center, hot yoga is a great match for what I need at the moment to help me power through the uncomfortableness.
I’ve hopefully stayed on track with many more years of yoga sessions ahead of me. And, as I lengthen and deepen my practice, I sometimes feel that I should become a certified instructor myself! And that’s the true beauty of yoga; there’s no finish line.
You need to work with your body’s strengths and limitations and have patience as your practice may take time to progress.
If you’re healthy, I hope I’ve encouraged you to give hot yoga a try!