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''I Tried Hot Yoga''

What to Expect in a Hot Yoga Class
  -- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
I’m not sure when it was that I first heard about hot yoga, but I just assumed that it was one of those passing exercise fads. Only…I kept hearing about it. My friends were raving about it. Then my sister became a convert and told me that I had to try it. And then, on my morning run, I practically tripped over a sidewalk sign in front of my neighborhood yoga studio that read “hot yoga is here”. So I stopped ignoring the universe, recruited a friend for moral support, and signed up for a class.

Hot yoga is a series of yoga postures performed in a heated room (between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity). Most classes last 60-90 minutes. This style of yoga was developed in the 1970s by yoga master Bikram Choudhury, who developed a specific sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, all guided by a specific dialogue. Classes accredited by Choudhury are called Bikram yoga, and are all formatted the same. Classes named “hot yoga” or “hot room yoga” will be similar to Bikram yoga, but vary somewhat in format and style.

Everyone that had told me about hot yoga said the same thing. That it was an amazing experience. Promoters of the practice claim that hot yoga will purify the body of toxins, improve flexibility and range of motion, enhance the immune system, and promote weight loss. Some even claim that the practice has cured them of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and hepatitis. There is no research to support many of these claims, but even though hot yoga may not be a cure-all to what ails you, the extreme heat certainly facilitates the loosening of tight muscles, allowing deeper stretching that may benefit circulatory problems and back pain.

I wasn't hoping to leave hot yoga a changed woman. All I wanted was to sweat, work vigorously, and feel energized and rejuvenated when it was over. And while I wasn’t expecting magic, I did want to stay safe and healthy. Considering that I’m in good shape and did not fall into any categories that would make me an unsuitable candidate for practicing hot yoga (i.e. pregnant, a child, over the age of 60, or suffering from medical conditions that would make it unsafe to exercise), I was off to a good start. Because of the extreme temperatures, I made sure to follow the recommended safety guidelines:
  1. Maintain a daily intake of at least eight (and preferably 10) 8-oz. cups of water for normal activity, not including exercise.
  2. Drink 16 oz. of water at least 2 hours before your practice.
  3. Weigh yourself prior to class, if possible.
  4. During class, drink early, frequently and before you feel thirsty, not to exceed 20-40 oz. per hour.
  5. If you start to feel light-headed, nauseated, or otherwise sick, stop and rest (or leave the room to cool off).
  6. Weigh yourself again after exercise, and consume enough water (or non-caffeinated beverages) to return to your pre-exercise weight.
My friend and I signed up for a class on a Sunday afternoon. After a long and over-stimulating trip to IKEA, it was what we were both craving. We waltzed into the studio, yoga mats tucked under our arms, just a few minutes before the class was to begin. The yoga instructor greeted us and immediately began preparing us for our experience. She armed us with water bottles (which we had forgotten) and towels (which we hadn’t thought to bring) and led us into the studio. It was definitely hot, though not uncomfortable (at least not for me). My friend, on the other hand, sweats when the temperature reaches 80 degrees, so I wasn’t surprised when he was already glistening as he unrolled his yoga mat.

In seated cross-legged pose, we began the class with a collective “Om,” and soon began moving through postures. Soon, most of my muscles were feeling the burn, and I began wondering when I would finally get to rest—the sign of a challenging workout. Halfway through the class, I realized why the other students had laid a towel atop their yoga mats—I was now attempting to hold a downward-facing dog pose on a sweaty yoga mat that was more like slip ‘n slide! As I adjusted my mat, I formulated a list of hot yoga essentials. I was definitely coming back, and I was coming prepared. For the rest of the day I felt energized and rejuvenated, just as I had hoped. And the day after that, even though I was a little sore, I was already planning to schedule my next hot yoga class.