Ignorance is not bliss in hot yoga

I used to profess my undying love for hot yoga, “it’s such a great detox, the hotter, the better!” Today I took a 90-minute class in 43°C heat, and I take it all back.

Hot yoga has been part of my practice for years. In the classes that I've attended, temperatures are upwards of 34°C. While Bikram yoga–the globally recognised version of hot yoga, patented by Bikram Choudhury–is available in Singapore, there are many other heated class variations, from Hot Flow to Hot Therapy and Hot Hatha.

Hot Classic at the studio I visited is 26 poses over 90 minutes in a 38-41°C room. From the moment I entered the heated room with its forty mats barely ten inches apart, I knew I was out of my depth. If not for the fear of having foreign sweat splashed on me while comatose, I would have gladly Savasana-ed my way to the end of class.

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The hard work does pay off though, and your body will thank you for the giant detox and strengthening exercise. For a pleasant hot yoga experience, here are some things to take note of.

1. Pick a teacher whom you feel comfortable with

Practicing with a teacher you like is especially important in a heated class, where the discomfort is palpable and frustration is rife. My teacher was lighthearted, encouraging, understanding and smiley throughout, without ever being overbearing.

2. Chilled water

My experience of not having any water with me was unnecessarily uncomfortable. Every time we came into Dhanurasana (bow) and Bhujangasana (cobra), I would come face to face with my neighbour's two 500ml bottles of iced Fiji water, with big cold blobs of condensation that mocked my ignorance. So yes, bring a bottle of chilled water to class.

3. Three towels

For cleanliness, comfort, and to be considerate, bring two large towels and one face towel. Your mat should have one large towel folded at the front (not unlike a mat-wide pillow) and one large towel laid down its length. The face towel is for wiping yourself, and the large towels to soak up sweat so you keep your grip. My poor neighbour who only had one face towel, built a swimming pool out of her mat by the end of class. She spent half the class wiping the mat in vain, had zero grip, and every movement she made was echoed by a loud swish of sweat. Trust me, at 43°C, there is a lot of swishing.

4. Breathe

It’s the only way to calm your frazzled body and mind, which will both be in revolt – sweating up a storm and slipping you pictures of the desert and a fiery hell.

5. Pace yourself

One of the things that constantly surprised me during class, was that moving was easier than being static. At the start of class, I gave my 110% for every movement. But by half-time, I. Was. Spent. When it was time to rest in child's pose, the temperature seemed to soar and the heat smothered me even more than when I was moving. The second half of the class was more enjoyable as I began to use my breath, and chose easier variations that I could sustain, rather than struggle in advanced poses.

6. Be committed

Prepare for class like you would for a marathon. Preparation begins the day before–in the amount of water that you drink, the food that you eat, and the quality of your sleep. Be aware of what you’ve signed up for and choose to finish well. You may have ten years or five months of practice under your belt, but after a certain stage, the practice doesn’t get much easier. What is significant is the constant discovery as you learn new things about yourself each time you choose to be present on your mat. Before class, make the commitment to yourself to prepare so that you are able to enjoy the practice.

At the end of the day, your practice is a constant self-discovery. Relax, take it easy, and if it feels good, push yourself. But always be mindful of your limits. And have fun!