Hot yoga 101: Everything to know, bring, prepare yourself for -- before your first class

Never been to hot yoga? All the things to consider

A woman practicing yoga. (Burst/Pexels photo)

Regardless of whether you’re trying to tone up, shed a few pounds before bathing suit season, get stronger or healthier overall or increase your flexibility, most doctors and health experts would likely agree: Yoga is truly an incredible workout.

And there are so many different kinds of yoga.

Some involve a little more cardio and stamina, while other classes and varieties are gentler and better suited toward newcomers or perhaps older people or those who are just reigniting or starting up an exercise regimen.

Heated yoga is an option many people swear by (this writer included), and the instructors say it’s especially beneficial because you can get deeper into your postures once your body is warm. You’re able to push yourself in all sorts of new ways.

So, what exactly is heated yoga? Have you ever considered going?

We thought we’d share some tips and tricks of the trade.

For starters ...

The term “hot yoga” can mean a few different things these days. Vinyasa classes are ideally practiced in a room heated to about 78 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the studio. That’s often considered “lightly heated.” Vinyasa involves poses like sun salutations and downward-facing dogs. The classes will usually have you “flow” your poses together in a sequence, there’s often music, and a big emphasis on linking movement and breath.

But it’s in bikram yoga in which things get really hot: 105 degrees Farenheit with 40% humidity, to be precise. Bikram, or the practice formerly known as bikram yoga -- now that founder Bikram Choudhury has fallen from grace -- is a class involving the same 26 postures each session, which lasts 90 minutes.

And if you’re intrigued by the Choudhury situation, we recommend watching the Netflix documentary that came out in recent years, titled “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator.” We’ll link to the trailer here.

But enough with that name -- let’s not use it anymore. Back to the class! Yes, it’s typically 90 full minutes in that hot, hot room. It can be brutal.

Standing separate leg stretching pose (Photo by theformfitness from Pexels)

This type of yoga is all about spine strength, balance and breath.

What to bring inside the studio

A yoga mat, a large towel that comes pretty close to covering your mat (or multiple towels), possibly a hand towel (if you’d like one, this is a personal preference), and most certainly lots of water.

This might surprise you, but freezing cold water is actually NOT seen as the best option. Again, this comes down to preference, but many teachers actually say your body would rather have room-temperature H20, considering that hot, hot room.

What NOT to bring inside the studio

Shoes or socks, your cellphone, outside items, and if you wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker, you’ll want to make sure it’s on some sort of quiet mode to ensure it’s not beeping or making any noise.

What to do beforehand

Hydrate -- all day long! Have something in your stomach, but preferably nothing too heavy or recent. You don’t want to be starving or overly full. Our recommendation? Eat some yogurt, fruit or pretzels about one to two hours before class.

What to wear

Anything that you find comfortable, but keep in mind, you’ll want to aim for form-fitting and minimal. Let’s say you were to be unexpectedly thrown into a swimming pool, and then you had to exist in those same clothes for the next hour and a half. What would you want to wear? Because that’s how sweaty you’ll likely get -- no exaggeration. Think sweat-wicking, sporty fabrics.

Our advice?

Definitely shorts instead of pants or leggings. No cotton. If you’re a woman and you’d like to practice in just a sports bra and gym or yoga shorts, you can. That’s a common look. If you’re a bit more modest, you can certainly wear more: think a breathable tank top with shorts or capri-style athletic pants. Men are often shirtless or in dry-fit tighter tops. Baggy sweatpants aren’t against the rules (remember, there are no rules!), but you’re going to regret that choice about 10 minutes in.

Dealing with the sweat

There will be a LOT of it.

Pro tip: Stop trying to wipe it away. It’s just going to come back, and you could be doing better things, like breathing, focusing or going deeper into your poses. It takes energy to hand-towel off every few minutes, and you’re never going to keep up. Be like Elsa and Let It Go. This can be easier said than done.

Bow pose (Photo by Oluremi Adebayo from Pexels)

You will sweat, possibly more than you’ve ever sweat in your life. The first time I went, I swear, it felt like it was coming out my eyeballs, my ears, the backs of my knees -- places I’d never sweat from in my life. And I’ve grown up an athlete. Come prepared for that!

The importance of breathing

We can’t emphasize this one enough: You have to breathe -- purposefully, throughout everything you do, and if/when you feel overwhelmed. Your breath will get you through the class.

But really -- if you think you can’t make it through a posture, just stop moving and breathe. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, lightheaded, or otherwise not well, this time, lie down and breathe. Be really mindful with your breath. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel once you get your breathing under control. It dictates everything.

Re: staying in the room ...

This part can be harder than it sounds, especially for newcomers. Sit by the door if you’re worried about how you’ll react to the heat -- and of course, if you really start to worry or feel like something’s not right, by all means, listen to your body. Do whatever you need to do. But if you’re having a hard but manageable class, try to stay in the room, even if you have to sit some postures out. It can be really hard for your body to re-acclimate to the heat, once you’ve left, the teachers often say.

Focus on the fundamentals

Often, a posture will start in its most basic form. There might be modifications you can make once you’ve mastered the basics and you’re ready for a more advanced version, but until then, don’t get ahead of yourself. You’ll get there with time. You don’t want to get hurt or overextend yourself. In standing head to knee pose, for example, you’ll see some people kick out when their base leg isn’t yet locked. Why bother? Work on getting that leg solid and then you can progress.

Only think about yourself

Yoga isn’t a competition. You’re thinking about yourself and the person on the mat next to you is thinking about him or herself. With that in mind, don’t feel silly or sweaty or like you don’t belong. Everyone was new once! We’re all sweating. No one’s focusing on how good or bad you are. Just work to be better than you were the day before. And if you’re not any better physically today, for whatever reason, just remember that you still showed up. That counts for a lot!

Triangle pose (Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels)

Aim to push yourself -- but above all else: Listen to your body

Stay all class, if you can. Don’t leave the room, if possible. Attempt anything and everything you can. Drink water whenever you need to.

Your instructor won’t be disappointed in you. They just want to make sure you’re listening to your body. If you’re not sure hot yoga is a good option based on previous injuries or your current activity level, always talk to your doctor before jumping into a new routine, and that goes with any new fitness journey, really.

And if you have specific questions about where to park, whether you can leave early, any specific etiquette you should know, just Google to find a hot yoga studio near you, and the person answering the phone should be able to help. Studios have slight differences and offerings, so it’s smart to arrive at your first class about 15-25 minutes early and get a feel for what you’ve signed up for (and fill out any necessary paperwork).

And hopefully this helped, too!

Namaste. 🙏

This story was first published in 2020. It has since been updated.