Few people think of yoga as an extreme sport, but the concept of hot yoga can be intimidating for some. Lots of people—both practicing yogis and yoga virgins alike—steer clear of heated yoga classes, fearing that the style of yoga is too intense or that they won’t be able to handle the discomfort of baking in a hot room.
It’s true: hot yoga can be challenging. But it can also be an awesome experience, a great stress-buster, and a solid workout that helps with strength, balance, and flexibility. Curious about hot yoga but not sure how to approach it? We’ve got you covered.
Keep It Light
As with any sport or activity, the right gear will make your experience a lot more comfortable. When it comes to hot yoga, less is more: think light clothing that will wick moisture away.
The “hot” part of hot yoga can vary, depending on the type of class. Some classes are merely in a slightly-warmer-than-usual room, while other yoga studios are heated up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless of the type of class you’re taking, don’t worry about dressing for warmth. The purpose of your gear is more to keep you decent, rather than to provide insulation. Shorts and a tank or tee will do just the trick—though don’t be surprised if you find yourself peeling off your top layer early in the class.
Technical fabrics are a good bet for keeping you comfortable while you sweat—and you will sweat.
Bring (or Rent) a Mat Towel
You’ll probably want to bring a bath towel for your post-class shower, but don’t forget to bring a towel for your mat, too. It doesn’t take long for all those drops of sweat to pool onto your mat, which makes for a slick surface. It’s tricky to hold a downward dog when your hands and feet are slipping all over the place, to say the least.
There are technical mat towels made with microfibers that will easily absorb your sweat without sliding out of place. In a pinch, a regular beach towel will do the trick, too.
Drink Up, Before and After
Did we mention that you’ll sweat a lot in a hot yoga class? Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself feeling solid throughout the class. That doesn’t just mean you should guzzle a bottle of water right before class—it means you should make a point of drinking plenty of water in the days leading up to a class, too.
You’ll likely feel parched after class, so be sure to replenish all of the lost fluid. Sweat isn’t just water—it’s potassium and sodium, too—so a drink with electrolytes is a great way to stay hydrated.
Disclose Your Inexperience
Before the class begins, take a moment to mention to your teacher that it is your first hot yoga class. There’s no shame in being new, and this allows the teacher to keep an eye on you to help you with tricky postures and to make sure you’re handling the heat just fine. Your teacher will likely tell you about some options that are available if you feel overwhelmed by the heat, like taking a break in child’s pose or in savasana (lying on your back).
Tune into Your Body
Chances are good that you’re going to experience some discomfort during your first hot yoga class—and in most subsequent hot yoga classes you take, for that matter. While some discomfort is to be expected, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling and to know when you need to reel it in.
Shaky legs in a warrior pose, sore hamstrings in a forward fold, and sweat stinging your eyes in a standing pose—this type of discomfort is generally okay. But if you feel lightheaded or nauseous, it’s time to back off and take a breather.
Tune Out Everyone Else
The beautiful thing about yoga is that it isn’t a competition. While there is often a mirror in the studio that allows you to see yourself—and everyone around you-you can take comfort in knowing that other people generally aren’t paying attention to you.
It’s easy to feel self-conscious when you’re trying anything new, but the best benefits are reaped when you’re able to get out of your head. Feel free to peek at your neighbor if you aren’t exactly sure where your hands are supposed to go in a particular pose, but don’t let yourself compare your pose, body, strength, or flexibility to theirs.
Embrace the Sweat
When you take a hot yoga class, you’re going to discover that you have the ability to sweat in places you never thought possible. But try not to let that distract you. Don’t worry about wiping your brow, dabbing your sweat off with your shirt, or toweling off between poses. Just let it happen and focus instead on the pose, on the way your body feels, and on what is going through your head. After a few classes, you just might find yourself enjoying the level of sweatiness that can only be achieved through a hot yoga class.