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10 Tips to Stay Safe and Comfortable in a Hot Yoga Class

By , SparkPeople Blogger

Last month I subbed a couple of hot yoga classes. Confession: I am not a fan of hot yoga, as a teacher or a student. In addition to being hard on the environment, hot yoga can be downright dangerous if you're not prepared. Some studios crank the heat above 100 degrees--and increase the humidity, too. 

At the studio where I practice, the temperature frequently tops 85 degrees in summertime--that's with minimal air conditioning. If you pack a room full of people who are moving, sweating, and breathing, you'll create heat.

By the end of a practice, the windows are foggy, we're all soaked through, and our mats are dripping with sweat. That's my kind of hot yoga!

Hot yoga is a hot trend in the practice these days. Almost every studio offers a hot class of some variety, from Bikram to Moksha, vinyasa to yin. (One of the studio owners I work for confessed to me that she doesn't like or believe in hot yoga, but it's what students have requested.) And in summertime, almost every yoga practice can feel like a hot one.

Why hot yoga? Advocates say hot yoga facilitates stretching, increases range of motion, removes toxins, and promotes weight loss. It's true that it is easier to stretch warm muscles (and you should never stretch "cold" muscles), but whether hot yoga will lead to greater weight loss depends on the type of yoga you're practicing.

According to the American Council on Exercise, Hatha yoga (in the West, this has come to refer to slower-paced classes) burns about 150 calories an hour (and does not raise your heart rate enough to be considered a form of cardio), while vinyasa (faster-paced, flowing yoga) burns about twice that much. If you're losing pounds after each hot yoga class, it's likely water weight. (More on that later.)

Whether you practice naturally hot yoga as I do or practice at a studio that cranks up the heat, you'll want to be safe. Here are some tips to help:  

  1. Be safe. Decide if it's right for you. Hot yoga is unsafe for anyone who is pregnant, a child, over the age of 60 (without a regular yoga practice), or suffering from medical conditions that would make it unsafe to exercise. If you have diabetes, any issues with high or low blood pressure, or are prone to dizzy spells, choose another type of yoga class.
     
  2. Go au natural. Though it seems counterintuitive to shower before a workout, I often rinse off before yoga practice to remove any lotions or oils that will make my skin even more slippery once my body starts to sweat. There's nothing more frustrating than finally nailing an arm balance, only to slide right out of it because of lotioned-up skin!  (Also: skip the scents. The only thing worse than being stuck on a mat next to a stinky person is practicing on a mat next to a person who's drenched in perfume or cologne. Reapply deodorant before class if you're self-conscious, but skip the perfume, the smell of which can be overwhelming in heated, humid rooms.)
     
  3. Invest in a chamois or a yoga towel. All that sweat turns your usually sticky yoga mat into a slip-and-slide. While you can use a regular towel (try a beach towel for maximum coverage), if you practice regularly, consider investing in a yoga towel, which is made of microfibers that absorb moisture and become grippy when wet. (I especially like Manduka towels, which last for years and are worth every penny.)  If you tend to sweat profusely, Manduka makes yoga "rugs," too. Take a hand towel, too, if your studio doesn't provide them. In addition to mopping sweaty brows, a quick swipe of the towel up and down your limbs can make many poses more manageable.
     
  4. Respect your edge. In yoga, we encourage our students to relax and let their bodies ease into a pose. When our muscles are warm, it's easier to stretch them, which means that suddenly body parts find it a little easier to say "How do ya do?" Knees meet nose, fingertips touch toes, and arms clasp behind the back with more ease when you're warm. Whether you're trying to bind in twisting pose or just reach a centimeter farther in a forward fold, don't push too hard. Move slowly and mindfully to a point where your muscles feel challenged, breathing all the while! Never stretch to the point of pain--and never bounce as you stretch.
     
  5. Take a rest. If you feel lightheaded, dizzy or otherwise ill at any point during the practice, take a break. Sit down on your mat, go into child's pose, or step out of the room. (Note: Some teachers lock the door or refuse to let students leave the room after class has begun. While it is not good manners to saunter in and out of a yoga studio during class, when you're sick or really need to use the bathroom, it's fine to leave--just be discreet. Sure, you might let a little heat escape the room, but passing out in the middle of tree pose would surely cause a bigger interruption!)
     
  6. Drink up. In yoga, we traditionally drink water before and especially after a class. The traditional belief is that our yoga practice builds heat, and water extinguishes it. Some hot yoga classes have designated water breaks, and I've heard stories of yoga teachers who scold students for even looking at their water bottles during class. While you might not want to chug water after every sun salutation, a few sips of water as needed are fine. Save the water guzzling for after class, if only because you'll feel uncomfortable trying to twist and stretch with a belly of water. And trying to practice yoga with a full bladder? Uncomfortable! Drink one to two cups of water 30 to 60 minutes before practice, then…
     
  7. Keep drinking. You lose as much as 32 ounces of water for every 60 minutes of exercise. Immediately after exercise, drink at least twice that much--especially if you've not been drinking much water during your yoga practice. If your practice lasted more than an hour, consider consuming a sports drink in addition to regular water to replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes. NOTE: If you feel lightheaded or uncoordinated (more than usual!) or have muscle cramps, consider these to be signs of dehydration.
  8. Eat right. As with any physical activity, you'll want to make sure you're eating right to help you perform your best. While a snack or light meal an hour or so before working out is recommended, you might want to allow two hours between any snacks and four meals between any heavy meals and your yoga practice. If you thought practicing with a belly full of water was uncomfortable, try practicing with a belly full of food. Ugh! And if you can, save foods that are spicy or those that tend to give you gas or cause bloating for after class. You'll want to eat a snack or meal that contains both protein and carbohydrates within an hour of finishing your practice.   
  9. Listen to your body. Only you know how far you can comfortably push your body. Listen to those signs that your body offers you. Don't feel the need to "keep going" in a pose if the intro level is enough of a stretch and challenge for you. Your yoga practice is yours and yours alone. Quiet the ego--that little voice that tells you to push harder when you know you could risk injury--and just breathe and enjoy being where you are now.
     
  10. Dress for it. Hot yoga is not the time to be modest. No one is there to judge you, and no one looks his or her best when dripping in sweat. Wear tight-fitting clothes, as looser garments trap heat. Some people prefer to wear pants or capris so they absorb the sweat and keep it off your mat; I would much rather have the sweat on my mat than have sweaty clothes covering any more of my body than is necessary! Tank tops are a great choice, as they allow for better range of motion and generally stay in place better than a T-shirt. I highly advise you against wearing regular cotton clothing. Once drenched in sweat, it will feel heavy and clammy against your skin. A moisture-wicking headband (I like Bondi Bands) is a must for keeping sweat from dripping in your eyes. That's a surefire way to break your concentration!

Whether you're doing yoga in a heated studio or in the great outdoors, these tips can ensure a safe and comfortable practice.


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Comments

I've never practiced hot yoga. In fact, I had to look it up! Report
GMSTEP
I have been going to hot yoga classes for about a month and I love it! I practice power yoga or vinyasa yoga with heat. My only complaint is that my scalp became extremely itchy and it was due to the hot yoga. I found that if I shower soon after class and use Selsen Blue shampoo, I'm okay. Report
As a hot yoga instructor for the last 3 years. 98.6 degrees in the room. I have heard horror stories about other studios. Where I teach, we request that you don't leave the room because the shock of the Air Conditioning from the heat can cause your muscles to cramp. That does not mean we don't allow people to leave. The doors don't have a lock on them, so students are free to leave in an emergency. What we have found is that if someone does feel ill, if they stay in the room and lie down, they feel better, they begin to acclimate to the heat and most of the time they can join in again after a few moments on the floor or child's pose. I have never fussed at anyone for honoring their body.

I would add to this list to take a beginner class first and check the reputation of the studio. If anyone yells at you, I wouldn't go back either. Go early and speak with the instructor before class. Tell them if you have a medical issue, so they can help you. Sometimes taking a class is not the right thing for you to do.

It is distracting for the other students to have someone coming and going in the room. I have taught over 3000 classes and can honestly say, I have only had one person pass out. That's right, 3000 successful classes with one person passing out. And even that case was suspect because he did not tell us he was on heart medication, and he should not have been there to begin with!

The only part I disagree with is bringing a towel. When you wipe away your sweat your body just draws more liquid to that area and you end up sweating more. That can lead to dehydration very quickly. Also the waste products that come out of your skin should be rinsed away, not smeared back into your pores. If you need to redirect a trickle out of your eyes, that is fine, but mopping your face just makes your face sweat more and clogs your pores. I agree on the shower before hand. Makeup is going to melt off of you and all smells(expensive or otherwise) are going to intensify.

I agree 100% that hot yoga is not for everyone. Try it, you might like it. Or you might hate it. I will never do another spin class in my life and you won't catch me on a beach chasing a volleyball anytime soon. But blessings to those who enjoy it.

As far as ruining the enviornment, I don't see the difference between cooling a room in the summer for our comfort and heating a room in the winter. Here in Texas we are actually cooling the room from the outside temperatures of 108 down to the 98.6. We only heat the actual yoga room itself and it is insulated to stay that temp with minimal corrections both summer and winter.

Great advice in this blog, keep up the good work! Report
I love yoga and always wanted to try hot yoga. I must admit after reading this article I am in no rush. Thanks for sharing the tips in case I take the plunge. Report
A God send article. I am a sweater and practice yoga, but sometimes the heat of the summer is just too much. I will definitely put some of these tips to practice. Report
YOYO200983
I love yoga but there is no class nearby Report
LYNNJEJ
I am in Iraq - we do hot yoga outside! no worries for the environment. 120 degrees, its awesome, i love it! Report
I love hot yoga. Ifm a yoga addict, and practice Vinyasa style power yoga everyday and Bikram once a week (as the studio located a little too far to travel). Ifm burning about 270-300 calories at Vinyasa and 658 calories at Bikram. Normally, I eat a banana two hours before class and two glasses of hot water one hour before class, as empty stomach gives me headache afterwards. I never bring cold water to the class as I want to keep my body warm. Vancouver summer can be very nice but never hot and humid. Report
ALLIB22
I would love to try hot yoga. No classes near me yet but I'll keep these ideas in mind Report
Thanks for sharing the tips..I love yoga, however the hot yoga is not for me (I've tried it twice). I certainly do know several however that swear by it. Report
MARGARITTM
I love to try something new - will give it a go! Report
I am not a fan of being hot in general, so I doubt I'll do hot yoga. I didn't even think about the fact that it is sooo not environmentally friendly. Then again, these tips are good for those who do enjoy it. Report
This was great! Thank you for taking the time to "write it all down". I have been practicing yoga for years now (and can't imagine how I got along without it!). Thanks! Report
LONGHORNHONEY
I would like to try hot yoga a couple of times just to see. I know that after good old fashioned yoga is good for me because of the intense physical workouts I do most days so I would like to see what this has to offer. Plus one of my friends loves hot yoga. Thanks for the tips! Report
Not yet but I want to try it. There's a new place kinda near me but I want to find out what theyre like first. Also I've never done a yoga class before only DVDs, soi feel that I should "practice" first before I go for first time or at least get my yoga practice more regular so I don't feel like a total noob
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Ladiladida, I don't believe you read the WHOLE artical. After reading your comments I had to back and make sure of what I read. She never stated that Bikram was the only form of hot yoga, she in fact mentioned Moksha, Vinyasa, and Vin. She also took 2 seperate sections and covered Hydration. I think the whole article was just trying to be informative. Not everyone will have the same opionion on everything, but if we slam people who share what they have experienced, they may choose to stop sharing. I have learned a lot from reading the Blogs and appreciate all the people taking time to teach others from what they learned, be it good or bad. Report
I love hot yoga. I've never felt dizzy, my studio never locks the door (?!?!) and we keep to slower flows and are encouraged to drink water throughout. I never, EVER thought I would like hot yoga (I despise the humidity) but I thoroughly enjoy hot yoga (even in the summer). Just stay educated and pick a reputable studio! Report
Hot yoga is not for the faint-hearted. I certainly was able to stretch further into poses but I prefer vinyasa classes with a little less heat. Report
Hot yoga. Hmm... I'll pop in a yoga dvd and close my windows. Maybe that'll be the same effect. Just kidding on the closed window. But I'll give it a try one day. Report
I do a lot of Vinyasa yoga (5 classes a week) and my number one observation has been that people often rush to the higher level classes without taking time to learn the safe way to practice certain poses. The heat has never really been a factor for me - although I do notice I need to drink more. Don't be ashamed to take a break in child's pose! Report
I practice hot yoga once or twice a week and I love it. My instructor is fantastic and doesn't do any of the awful things this article describes. It's definitely not for everyone, but I truly enjoy it!
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No, but I did get the videos at a Yard Sale. Report
Locking the room and refusing to let people out of the class after it starts? Do they not realize the kind of liability they are risking? I would never even attempt hot yoga, I have low blood pressure and don't take heat very well at all. Western and gym yoga seem to me to be the antithesis of what yoga is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be about health, not a competetive sport or a place where you are punished for drinking water or needing to leave the room because you feel ill. I'm no expert, so maybe I'm mistaken and it is competitive or whatever. No matter what decision people make about whether or not to do hot yoga, I wish good health for everyone. Report
I have practiced hot pilates. That is particularly energizing in its way ...

I have medical considerations that I can't practice Hot Yoga; however, I have practiced hatha, kundalini, vinyasa and even Baptiste style [ambient temperature format] in room temperatures ranging from 68° to 88°, and also done Yoga in the Park in New York City this summer (which is the hottest hot yoga not done between four walls, that I know of—about 90° in the shade, with reflected ultraviolet radiation and climate-specific high humidity that nature throws in for that extra kick) ... Report
A friend talked me into trying a 'hot' class. I was physically unfit and shouldn't have tried it. I got dizzy and sick - the instructor had locked the door and refused to let me out of the room. I thought I was going to pass out. I never went back. Report
NANA717
Interesting. I had not heard of hot yoga. I love Spark People! I'm getting so educated. :) Report
I love hot yoga and I have been practicing for over 8 months. I'm far from an expertise and yet can't touch my toes but I love the feeling afterwards. Hot yoga is NOT for everyone. The smell can be overpowering. Report
CIRANDELLA
Hot yoga? No, I don't even practice tepid yoga. Ye olde, arthritic bod responds best to more geezerly exercise modalities known by such quaint terms as "physical therapy" :) Report
I drink smart water during yoga class & let my body cool off before I take a shower at my gym & head home. Report
I recommend you try it at least 10 consecutive times before you make up your mind as to whether you like it or not. The body becomes used to the heat and eventually begins to crave it. Also, bring coconut water or electrolytes are a good idea - you sweat out electrolytes. Take a nice warm shower after - yup warm, you'll enjoy a wonderful cleansing experience taking hot yoga. Enjoy. Report
I love hot yoga but I skip it when the weather is hot and humid outside because my body gets really hot during class and stays hot for a while after. If I feel weak, I stop and rest. There is no point to overdoo it. Report
I find in hot yoga, you acclimate after about 20 minutes, and all of a sudden, it just feels warm instead of unbearably hot. Report