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A beginner’s guide to surviving Bikram Yoga

I had a teacher in Bikram Yoga once who talked two first-time students into staying in the class when they clearly wanted to quit. She encouraged them by saying, “if you lay down and just stay in the room for your first class, when you are feeling uneasy in future classes, you’ll remember that you were able to stick it out the first time.” I’m sure those two wanted to ignore her, but they didn’t. I’ll bet they came back!

Remember those words when you try Bikram Yoga. While working out in 105 degree temperatures for 90 minutes might sound frightening, the benefits of this method are extensive.

The Bikram Yoga practice, created by Bikram Choudhury, consists of 26 postures in a specific order, for a specific amount of time to strengthen the spine, align the body and clear the mind. Not only that, it improves skin, deepens breath and offers a slew of other goodies to help your bod. The sweaty, sometimes smelly experience can be a little less daunting, though. If you follow just a few simple guidelines, you’ll make it through the sweltering experience with a smile on your face.

Getting ready to get sweaty

Prepare your mind and body for what will likely be a 90-minute sweatfest. Check out your studio’s website and get familiar with the poses. You won’t be downward dogging or hanging out in child’s pose, and some poses that you may have practiced before, like tree pose, are practiced differently in Bikram than in a traditional vinyasa class.

As a beginner, chances are you won’t feel comfortable in spandex and a sports bra, but you may change your mind later. Stick to shorts and a light tank top – not only do you want to have as little on as possible for temperature reasons, heavy clothing will get sweaty and weigh you down. Don’t wear sweatpants or a T-shirt, you will regret it!

Food and drink can enhance your experience

Eating properly can entirely change your experience. Skipping that lunchtime burrito will save you from an hour and half of dreadful agony, even if  it is five hours before entering the hot room. Try eating lighter snacks throughout the day, and steer clear of any large meals within three hours of practice.

Did I mention that you get really sweaty? You do. Drink plenty of liquids before and after, and bring a bottle with you. Regular water, coconut water and Gatorade are fantastic to keep you well hydrated. I like to bring a frozen water bottle, because it will immediately start melting once you enter the room and will stay cold throughout the class.

Attention, class!

Listening to your instructor is key in a Bikram Yoga class. Not only do instructors likely want to stay away from fellow sweat-drenched yogis, they are trained to use specific language to explain a pose. In yoga, it’s not about getting your leg extended behind your head – the correct alignment is what enables you to reap the glorious benefits. So when the instructor offers a modification like “bend the knee if you have to,” start off there and simply strive to do your best. If you’re able to do the moves without modifications later, that’s great! But if you’re just starting out, just remember to do what feels best so you don’t hurt yourself. Your instructor will guide you towards the most beneficial way to do the pose.

Be courteous to yourself, your instructor and your fellow hot yogis. I’ve noticed only some yoga studios make an effort to keep the studio quiet, and the practice is usually more rewarding in those environments. You are not the only person inside that hot room, and some like to zone out before a class to get their minds prepared for the intense concentration that Bikram requires. Create a zen environment for yourself and those around you before and during your class – it might surprise you how much it can alter your practice.

The yogi in the mirror

Another thing only some studios like to mention is the use of the mirror and its importance to a Bikram practice. At most non-heated studios, mirrors aren’t used because it can make some uncomfortable or self-conscious. Since a Bikram teacher doesn’t correct your body in a pose, a mirror is your BFF. So take a look around you and stagger mats between those of your fellow yogis so you can see yourself in the mirror. Staggering mats is especially important during poses like full locust and balancing stick, because they require you to stretch your arms and legs out, and you don’t want to bump into a neighbor.

Stick with it!

If you feel like you need to leave, try your hardest not to. Channel my teacher who I mentioned earlier. Your mind may be prepared, but is it prepared well enough to convince your tired body to stay in the hot room when you might be experiencing feelings of nausea or a lightheadedness? Try to ignore that feeling of giving up- everyone gets it! Instead of leaving, take a seat, child’s pose, or stand and breathe your way through it. It’s hard and some days may feel worse than others, but walking out of the room may make you feel worse. The temperature between the waiting room and the studio will be a 20 to 30 degree difference, which can give that nauseous feeling an extra nudge.

Once you’ve finished your first Bikram class, give yourself a pat on the back – if you aren’t too sore to do so, that is. It’s rough, but your body will thank you eventually for the muscle strengthening, body cleansing and mind-calming activity. Eating an entire pizza may seem a-okay after burning on average 500 to 1,000 calories a session, but try to stick with something a bit more nutritious. And don’t forget – drink lots and lots of liquids to replace all the ones you sweated out!

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Lauren Stewart
By: Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart is a freelancer writer from Michigan. She enjoys writing about beauty, health and fitness! She is passionate about learning new ways to take control of her health and wellness and is a makeup and skincare junkie! You can contact her by emailing lrstewar@gmail.com.