A few times a week I escape my crazy life (and I do mean crazy) and take a quick, healthy and relaxing trip to the tropics.
If you think I’m talking about Fiji, you’re mistaken. And I wish. I’m talking about my local hot yoga studio. It is my release and my refuge. I look forward to sweating from places I didn’t know could sweat and pretzeling into unthinkable shapes.
If you’re not familiar with hot yoga, I’ll give you a little background. Hot yoga, or Bikram yoga, was founded by Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury was born in Calcutta, India in 1946 and began practicing yoga at the age of four. He practiced four to six hours daily and by thirteen, he won the National India Yoga Championship. He was the undisputed champion for three years. Choudhury later developed the 26 postures or asanas that make up a hot yoga practice.
During practice, the temperature in the studio is raised to well above body temperature, about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. You are then led (or self led) through the 26 poses (you do each pose twice) , all the while paying close attention to your breath. the beginning of the practice is the standing series and about halfway through you go down onto the mat for more stretching and spine strengthening exercises, ending with breathing and a final savasana – which is lying flat on your back, palms up and breathing.
You might be wondering why so HOT? Well, it’s for several reasons. For one, it helps with flexibility. Two, through deep breathing, you are warmed from the insides. Three, the extreme heat makes you sweat profusely – which is believed by some to sweat out toxins.
Some of the other purported benefits?
- Improved recovery from injury ( I know several runners who practice).
- Weight loss. Some believe you can burn up to 1200 calories per practice.
- Reduction/elimination of back pain. I can personally vouch for this benefit. My back pain has disappeared.
- Improved complexion. But don’t forget to remove any makeup before practice. Breakout city!
- Balancing of emotions, including reduction in stress and relief from periodic depression. This has been my personal experience. I am much more balanced and calm when I can fit in a session or two weekly.
- Improved immunity. I have not had a cold since I’ve started hot yoga. Even though I’m surrounded by snot nosed crumb crunchers.
While there are many benefits to hot yoga, it’s very important to take precautions before and during practice:
- You MUST be hydrated before you even go into class. Trust me, I’ve gone to class after a waterless day and it was AWFUL.
- Same thing goes for nourishment. If you haven’t fueled properly, your practice won’t be as effective.
- If at any time you feel poorly during practice, lay down flat onto your back in savasana. This will bring down your heart rate. Also, the room is cooler on the floor. You should never just leave the room. The sudden temperature change could make things even worse!
As with most workouts, you’re going to need some specialized equipment for a hot yoga class, but nothing too extravagant. A few things I always bring/wear?
- Lightweight workout clothes. I usually wear crops and a tank with a built in bra.
- A yoga mat.
- A towel. You can use a regular beach towel or a specialty yoga towel, which is super absorbent. I usually bring a mat length towel and a hand sized towel for wiping sweat.
- A headband to keep pesky, sweaty hair from falling into your face.
- A huge bottle of water.
So, are you intrigued, but unsure of your ability to handle hot yoga class? No worries! Most Bikram classes are designed for ALL levels. You’ll see all shapes, sizes and abilities. All are encouraged to work within their own boundaries…and to push those boundaries at the same time!
And to be honest? You will be absolutely astounded and in awe of your own body when you realize what you can do! The first time you get into that crazy pose? Pure awesome. You’ll be addicted!
If you decide to try out a hot yoga class, let us know! We’d love to hear about it.
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