What to Expect Your First Hot Yoga Class
Yoga can be worth it, hot or not. Astute first-time tips.
“Stress kills more people than Covid.” — Anonymous
A friend of mine texted me that in 2020. It’s a good reminder to chill out for your health! Perhaps one of the best ways to chill is through hot yoga classes.
In this story:
- What is a hot yoga class like?
- tips for enjoying hot yoga or any yoga class
- Weird anecdotal effects — and scientific one
Why Bother with Hot Yoga?
My first hot yoga class was challenging, sweaty, and worth it. I had to take several breaks and modify a pose or three. Yet immediately after I left hot yoga class today, I felt so good. I felt like I was glowing.
I’m a type-A, achievement-oriented person. If that describes you, you’ll understand it can be hard to value a workout that isn’t a strain. An hour spent “stretching” seems like it would do less for you than an hour spent, say, CrossFitting.
Think about this. As a society, we focus on training our willpowers and bodies up. We rarely think about the training challenge of pushing our heart rate in the opposite direction.
It takes willpower to be still. The ability to lower your heart rate is a willpower challenge itself.
That being said for general yoga, there is one type of class that is a sweat fest strain sesh. Entre, Hot Yoga.
What to Expect Your First Hot Yoga Class
The room is sealed like a sauna but not humid.*
The floor at the studio I went to was cushy, too! That’s a bit rare in yoga studios. Hardwood dance-style floors are more common.
You will do all the same things as any yoga class in a hot yoga class — poses, flows, mindful breathing, etc.
“There are many different types of hot yoga classes. During the Bikram form of hot yoga, the room is heated to approximately 105 F (40 C) and has a humidity of 40%.”
*I left my first draft’s “not humid” quote in so you can laugh at me, with me: my Floridian was showing. The average humidity in Florida, where I live, is 74.5% (Forbes.com). I walked into the hot yoga room’s 40% and went, ‘Oh, this is nice!’
What Surprised Me
Allow me to share the tons of little surprises to my first hot yoga experience!
- The heat is pleasant. Maybe this is because it isn’t humid. *See note on this in last section
- Bring a towel. From other yoga classes before, I knew to bring my own mat and foam blocks. Yet, the hot yoga instructor advised me to bring a towel of my own in the future! The one they lent me was definitely useful.
- You will see a variety of ages and body types. I used to judge and dread group fitness classes. I’m an independent person, for goodness’ sake! I like to go at my own pace. But, since Covid/a time of great personal trial in my life, I’m a convert to group classes. The thing is, we are social creatures. We learn best and perform best in a group environment. You’ll get a better workout with less mental load if you’re in a class with real, live humans. Being around others has an ineffable, positive emotional effect on you.
- I couldn’t put my shirt back on after hot yoga class. My skin was so damp all over that my shirt stuck to me in all the awkward places! So I wrestled it right back off. Then, I drove home in the drenched bra and short-shorts. Don’t worry: both garments were so evenly damp that they just looked like a different, darker color, not sweaty. No embarrassing “pit stains” or nothin’…
- The instructor passed out cold washcloths at the end. It felt particularly amazing after the workout and the heat. A delightful surprise. (Many yoga instructors have a special something they do for you at the final “shavasana.” It may be a gentle forehead massage. It could be a waft of an essential oil under your nose, or light pressure on your shoulders. They typically ask you to raise your hand if you consent to a personal-space treat, first). So pleasant.
- We didn’t do a single downward-facing dog, cat, or cow pose! We focused instead on a diverse array of balance poses. This could be because of that studio’s philosophy, though, versus a feature of all hot yoga. The studio’s website says they are based on Bikram yoga.
“The [Bikram Yoga] style incorporates 24 asanas and 2 breathing exercises along with a room heated to 105 °F (41 °C). Each class is 90 minutes long and has a fixed sequence of movements.”
— “Hot Yoga,” Wikipedia
Nevertheless, it was surprising. Downward-facing dog, cat, and cow occurred in every other non-hot yoga class I’ve ever taken under many different instructors!
Whatever the case, don’t worry — balance poses have great challenges and effects.
Why Practice Yoga at All?
In fitness, some people focus on weight loss, others on muscle building. Are you interested in the following, specific benefits? Yoga is a great choice:
Anecdotal (and some scientific) side-effects of yoga
Many people report better sleep quality after yoga. Weirdly, some men, specifically, say that yoga unlocks intense dreams of their childhood afterward.
Neither has happened for me. I just get more energy that lasts hours! (I’ve now taken two hot yoga classes).
Fewer bad impulses pop into my brain after a yoga session, hot or not. That, too, is a common effect.
You may experience faster recovery from sickness and other more strenuous physical activities. Finally, some studies find that yoga does help lose fat and build muscle.
“Yoga interventions improve obesity-related outcomes including body mass index (BMI), body weight, body fat, and waist circumference, yet it is unclear whether these improvements are due to increased physical activity, increased lean muscle mass, and/or changes in eating behaviors.”
Tips for Any First Yoga Class, Hot or Not:
- Drink lots of water.
- Wear a snug shirt. Otherwise, it might fall over your face or in your way during poses.
- Consider knee pads or a very cushy yoga matt. You only get one pair of knees in life… hopefully! Protect them, even if you don’t feel you have bad knees. Now, will they get sweaty in a hot yoga class? You betcha.
- Have only a light meal before a yoga session, or place some hours between your meal and your session. For my first hot yoga class, I ate an egg, half an avocado, and a cup of coffee. That was perfect to fuel me through it. But note, the poses turned even that meager handful turned into a mighty need for belches!
- Find a true beginner class.
Let me go into #5.
In many “no experience required” classes, the teacher speaks the instructions fast. As a pilot, I would describe their speed as “faster than Air Traffic Controllers on energy drinks.” Many teachers incomprehensible unless you already know the jargon. They may also pace around, checking students’ form, versus demonstrating at the front.
This can really spoil the charm of yoga when you’re a true beginner. It creates the potential to feel very lost on top of not feeling very fit yet.
I know because it happened to me. After 3 different classes/instructors going that way, long ago, I was never going to go back. I am so thankful that a fantastic personal friend showed me yoga again, years after I quit.
She went at a slow, understandable pace. She took the time to explain each pose and flow. With her, it was all about relaxation. I wish that for you, too.
Don’t have a yogi friend? Consider trying out some basic flows on the internet before going to your first hot yoga class.
How Do You Feel After Hot Yoga?
I felt motivated, well, calm, and proud. The pacing and temperature of hot yoga challenged my body and took my mind totally off of life’s stresses. I now have a new tool in my Fitness Toolbox to combat stress and challenge myself to ever greater levels of fitness.
If hot yoga is calling your name, go ahead. After all, you know what to expect now and have some tips! Give it a try.
Have you done hot yoga before? Please, leave your experiences in the comments. It’ll help make this story more informative for people looking into it for the first time.