Walking into a hot yoga studio can feel like an August day in downtown Dallas. The heat and humidity hit you in the face as you watch yogis prepare for 60 to 90 minutes of flowing and posing in a studio that's been heated to anywhere from 95 to 115 degrees.
Your first thought might not be, Sounds great, sign me right up, but keep an open mind. The benefits of taking to the mat in a heated studio far outweigh the discomfort you might feel. Need more proof or reason to try? We've written about the benefits of hot yoga before—some include more flexibility, glowing skin, and detoxification.
If you're new to yoga or just not sure you can stand the heat or if the thought of doing hot yoga intimidates you, don't overthink it; just give it a try. Of course, if you aren't used to physical activity, check with your doctor before you begin any fitness routine.
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According to Heather Peterson, Chief Yoga Officer of CorePower Yoga, hot yoga is for everyone. "You do not have to be a professional to take a hot yoga class. Many people believe that they have to be athletic or super flexible in order to practice, when in reality, neither one is necessary. I always tell people to work hard in class, but to also have fun!"
Here's what beginners should keep in mind when starting hot yoga.
1. Don't Eat Right Before Class
Plan to have a light meal or snack that contains protein and healthy carbs at least two to three hours before taking to the mat in a heated room. Try an apple with peanut butter, yogurt and fruit, or a healthy smoothie.
Hot yoga makes you sweat A LOT, and you need to replenish those fluids. "It is important that students drink their healthy body weight in ounces throughout the day, and add 20 ounces to that number per hour of exercise," Peterson advises.
These are words to live by, especially when it comes to yoga. There's no crying in baseball and no judgment in yoga. Listen to your body and take breaks when you need them. Ever wonder why many yoga studios don't have mirrors? Because yoga is non-competitive and the point is to turn your focus inward. If you get too hot, don't hesitate to take a break, take a sip of water, and go into child's pose. Stepping out of the heated room into a cooler space if you need a break is perfectly fine, too.
Peterson says, "Heat can aid in some flexibility in all poses, so we see students feel more able to achieve their full flexibility sooner with heat added, whereas in a non-heated room it would take you longer to build up internal-only heat."
Even a simple child's pose feels different in a heated studio. You might feel a deeper stretch through your back and legs, and you may be able to stretch your arms out more in a heated room.
"I personally see students benefit in forward folds and backbends with the added heat and muscle activation," Peterson adds. If you normally do a forward fold with bent knees, or with hands on your shins, in a hot yoga class, the heat will help you get further into the stretch. You might find that straightening your legs and putting your fingertips on the floor are within reach in hot yoga.
Poses to approach with caution include inversions and any where your head is below your heart. Again, listen to your body, and back off poses that make you light-headed. Peterson explains, "When you're new to practicing in the heat, any pose with your head below your heart might be intensified. So even a downward-facing dog could be more challenging. Drop down to all fours if you feel light-headed. This is a simple and powerful way to customize your yoga when you start practicing in the heat!"
The final pose of virtually every yoga class, no matter what the temperature, is "shavasana" or corpse pose. This pose closes practice with a dose of relaxation and meditation. In a heated class, shavasana is the perfect time to let the heat wash over you and enjoy the warmth for a few minutes of calm.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.