9 Safety Tips for Hot Yoga Newbies
Before you stretch and sweat in 90 degree temps, make sure you can take the heat — and heed this advice
Why practice yoga? It has been proven to lower blood pressure, help with back pain and relieve stress, anxiety and depression. Why practice hot yoga? It has the additional benefit of a slight cardiovascular workout, as the heat makes your body work harder. But hot yoga can be intimidating (exercising in 90 degree heat isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!). Depending on the style — from the gentle hatha and the flowing vinyasa to the more structured Bikram and intense ashtanga — it can be a challenging workout or a restorative meditation.
If you’re worried about how that extreme heat will affect you, know this: A 2014 study from Colorado State University bolstered claims for the health benefits of hot yoga and found that participants’ vital signs were well within the safe range. Their heart rates measured an average of 160 beats per minute, while core temperatures averaged about 100.3 degrees. In a separate study from The American Council on Exercise comparing regular yoga with heated yoga, researchers did not see a considerable difference in the heart rates or core temperatures of participants, though participants’ ratings of perceived exertion spiked following the heated class.
Sure, that scientific information is helpful. But if you’re going to try hot yoga, what you really need is advice for getting through your first class. Here are some tips for making sure the heat doesn’t get to you.
Take stock of your health. The intense heat of hot yoga isn’t for everyone — if you have a heart condition, get dizzy easily or have low or high blood pressure, then perhaps this workout is not for you. Pregnant women are also advised against taking part in hot yoga. As with any new fitness routine, check with your doctor to decide what’s best.
Get there early. Part of the challenge with practicing hot yoga — especially more strenuous forms like vinyasa — is working out in the heat. Getting there early means you can acclimate to the hot room. It also makes it easier to pick a spot where you will feel comfortable, especially if it’s a crowded class. Extra time to drink water and do some light stretching is always a good idea, too.
Keep your stomach light. Avoid heavy, spicy or creamy foods four hours before class and steer clear of anything that’s going to make you feel sluggish or bloated. A small snack 30 minutes prior is fuel— a huge meal, on the other hand, and you’re likely to be very uncomfortable.
Drink plenty of water. Heated yoga classes are extremely hot — anywhere from 90 to 105 degrees — and are designed to make you sweat. To avoid heat-related complications, make sure you’re properly hydrated before you even start. Get at least 16 ounces two hours before class, take water breaks during class and replenish afterwards. Drink 20 to 40 ounces following every hour of class.
Related: 7 Signs You Need a Drink (of Water!)
Don’t forget to breathe. You’re in a deep lunge with one hand on the floor and one extended to the ceiling. The sweat is pouring down your face. Your mind is racing: How long do I have to hold this? Am I doing this right? What should I eat for dinner tonight? This is when people start to hold their breath. You have to remember to breathe. Your brain and muscles need that oxygen, and the pace of your breath is an indicator for how hard you’re working. “If your breath becomes ragged and uncontrollable and you feel like you have to gasp, there’s your message to change things,” says Maureen St. Croix, a yoga instructor at Open Doors in Hanover, Massachusetts.
Wear as little clothing as possible. The more skin you can (comfortably) expose, the better, since this will help sweat evaporate off the skin and cool you down. St. Croix recommends wearing moisture-wicking fabrics (like nylon or Lycra) and to avoid cotton, which can feel heavy. No need for socks, either. Bare feet will give you better traction.
Bring a towel. You’ll be glad you have something to wipe off all the sweat.
Secure your hair. If you have long hair, pull it back and secure it tightly before entering class. You start to sweat fast in hot yoga and trying to get yourself in order while the instructor has already moved onto the next pose can knock you off your game. Try adding a wide, cloth headband to your ‘do to absorb some of the sweat and keep it from dripping into your eyes.
Know your limits. The intense heat helps muscles loosen up — which can be great, but deceiving. Don’t push yourself to a point that feels extreme or beyond your normal range of motion. If you do, you risk getting hurt.
Listen to your body. “Don’t compete with the heat,” says St. Croix. Take things slow and take breaks if the heat is getting to you.