How to Sweat It Out in Your First Hot Yoga Class

Hot yoga is one of those things that elicits responses on two extremes — it's either someone's go-to workout they can't live without or they tried it once and will never go again. If you're in the first group, you know hot yoga's an effective, low-impact workout that strengthens both body and mind.

Trying out hot yoga for the first time? Here's what you need to know. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

What sets this workout apart from most other yoga classes is the heat. It transforms an otherwise low-key activity into a next-level workout, making it an appealing option for anyone who likes their workout to be challenging and intense. If you've never tried hot yoga before, there are a few things you should know first, since it's not right for everyone.

What Is Hot Yoga?

The name hot yoga is no joke: We're talking temperatures as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit! And because the studio is so warm and humid, classes are typically slower in pace than other yoga styles like Vinyasa. That said, it's not uncommon to find heated Vinyasa classes.

There's also a hot yoga style known as Bikram, which was created by Bikram Choudhury. If you sign up for a Bikram yoga class, expect to perform a set sequence of 26 specific poses in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with about 40 percent humidity.

According to the official Bikram website, the 26 poses were designed to "warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons, in the order in which they should be stretched." A few of the poses you'll find in every Bikram class include Triangle pose, Tree pose and Cobra pose.

Thanks to the high temperature, hot yoga classes help your muscles relax and lengthen more easily, encourage your body to sweat and force you to pay greater attention to your breathing. Expect to work hard and clear your mind of everything but what's going on with your body.

Who Should (and Shouldn't) Do Hot Yoga?

In general, hot yoga can be a great option for all skill and fitness levels — no previous yoga experience needed. "The teachers will support you if you want to increase the intensity and also help with modifications to decrease the intensity," says Lacey Shelton, CorePower Yoga area manager.

That said, it isn't always everyone's cup of tea. "I have friends who are like, 'I'm never coming to your hot yoga class,'" says Adam Tills, certified yoga instructor and studio director of Heat Yoga Studio in Maple Grove, Minnesota. "The heat is just too much for them."

On an intensity scale of one to 10, expect a hot yoga class to be a seven or eight. "It depends on the person," Tills says. "Especially someone who's new to hot yoga, they might find it a 12 because some people are so overwhelmed with the heat level." If you're prone to fainting, overheating or generally feel sub-par at high temps, consult your doctor first.

Additionally, pregnant women (unless you've been practicing for a while and have been cleared by your doctor) and people with diabetes or cardiovascular issues, including high blood pressure, should avoid hot yoga, according to the American Council on Exercise.

It's best suited for people who are attracted to the fitness side of yoga, like to sweat and want to add a new or different challenge to their workouts. Hot yoga is also a good cross-training option for runners or weightlifters.

Runners in particular can build full-body strength and balance. "If you're a runner, you're usually just using the lower body, but hot yoga accesses other muscles," Tills says. "It gives you a nice counterbalance to what you do during running."

What to Expect in a Hot Yoga Class

In general, expect the practice to feel hot and humid and flow at a slower pace. However, other aspects of hot yoga — like class format and size — will vary depending on the studio you choose. At Heat Yoga Studio, for example, the room tops out at 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and depending on the time of day, sessions may be packed with as many as 30 students, which can make the room feel even hotter.

Typically, a hot yoga class will have you stretching more than flowing (as in Vinyasa). The poses are done at a deliberate pace, and your movements are synchronized with your breath. "The goal is to get you to extend your breath out anywhere from three to six seconds on the inhale and exhale," Tills says. "So when you're flowing into these poses you're coming into the pose in that three to six seconds, and you're coming out in that three to six seconds."

Often, you'll move through a series of seated and standing yoga poses (think: Tree pose, Half Moon and Chair pose) for 60 minutes, though some hot yoga classes — such as Bikram — can last as long as 90 minutes.

At the end of every class, you're often invited to spend as much time in Savasana (also known as Corpse pose) as you need. Savasana is a pose of total relaxation that has you lying on your back with arms and legs extended down along your mat. It helps your breathing return to its normal rhythm and gives you a chance to reflect on your practice.

Depending on the studio, you may not get much spirituality at hot yoga, though elements may be sprinkled throughout. If that side of yoga is important to you, call the studio beforehand to learn more about their vibe.

What to Bring and Wear to Hot Yoga

The essentials include water, a yoga mat and a small towel to wipe away sweat. Some yoga studios, such as CorePower, rent mats and towels at the studio if you don't have your own.

Wear yoga clothes that feel comfortable and allow you to move. Because you can expect to sweat (a lot), it's a good idea to invest in breathable, sweat-wicking clothes. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, spandex and elastane are all great options, but natural materials like bamboo also contain antimicrobial and moisture-wicking properties.

How covered up you are is a matter of personal preference and studio etiquette. Many heated studios don't mind if men are shirtless and women work out in a sports bra and short shorts, but others may prefer that their clients cover up. When in doubt, call the studio to ask.

Tips for Your First Hot Yoga Class

Both Shelton and Tills stress the importance of hydrating before you step into the studio. "I encourage people to hydrate at least an hour or two before class with two to three glasses of water," Tills says. You'll also want to be sure to bring a water bottle with you and keep it by your mat so you can take small sips when thirst kicks in.

Afterward, replenish with water and possibly also an electrolyte drink. (Electrolytes are minerals that help balance the fluids in your body.) "When you sweat like [in hot yoga] you're going to lose some electrolytes, and it's important to keep replenishing those," Tills says.

The heat in the studio can get overwhelming, especially if you're new to exercise in general or hot yoga in particular. Listen to your body and take breaks if the heat gets to be too much. However, Tills recommends staying in the studio during breaks if you can. If you make a beeline for the lobby, you'll expose your body to a shock of cool air, and you'll have to work harder to re-acclimate once you duck back inside.

Instead, you'll want to stand, kneel or sit on your mat with your arms by your sides and focus on your breathing. Resist the temptation to go into a common yoga posture known as Child's pose, where you lie with your torso between your knees and your head on the mat. "You want to keep your head above your heart," Tills says. "If you put your head below your heart, that changes the blood flow to your brain."

Warning

If you feel like you're going to faint during a hot yoga class, leave and seek medical attention.

Locations and Pricing

Plenty of yoga studios and larger health club chains (like L.A. Fitness) offer hot yoga these days, so you should be able to easily find an option near you.

CorePower Yoga is one well-known national yoga brand that offers a variety of in-person yoga classes, including hot yoga. They currently have more than 200 studios nationwide. If you're new to CorePower Yoga, your first week is free. After that, you can opt to pay for a single class (around $30, depending on your location), or buy a package of five, 10, or 20 visits.

There are also plenty of smaller chains and one-off studios that offer classes. For example, at Tills' Heat Yoga Studio, they offers a variety of heated Vinyasa-style classes seven days a week. New students can get three classes a month for $22, unlimited classes for two weeks for $35 or an unlimited month of classes for $49.

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