Before you sign up for that Bikram yoga class, check out the warning label first and check with your doctor. While there are definitely die-hard hot yoga lovers, It's not the safest form of exercise for everyone. In fact, your starter Bikram yoga classes might seem a little overwhelming, especially when the studio is packed with pros who seem to contort their bodies while dripping with sweat effortlessly. Prep yourself and you'll look less like a newbie while getting the most out of your class.
Sure, you could just jump into a class without knowing much about Bikram, but familiarizing yourself with the environment, poses and atmosphere of a Bikram class means you're prepped to participate. For instance, try going over the 26 poses used in Bikram at home. Or, ask if you can come observe a Bikram class to familiarize yourself with the heat without exerting yourself at first, or attempt only the poses that you're comfortable with at first. As your body acclimates and you feel more comfortable, you can try more poses and stay in class longer.
Take it Slow
While some yogis slip effortlessly from one pose to the next, you might find the heat difficult to deal with at first. If you're totally drenched in sweat, don't worry; it's par for the course. Still, you can make your first few classes more comfortable by only doing partial poses or taking frequent breaks and lying down on your mat. Yoga isn't about perfection, but about improvement. You have plenty of time to perfect your posture, so take your time, do what you can and resolve to do better the next time you come to class.
Some Bikram yoga followers -- including the father of the practice, Bikram Choudhury himself -- recommend drinking little water during class to get the full effect of the heat. But going without hydration is seriously dangerous and can impede your practice with nausea, dizziness, a lack of performance and muscle cramps. Instead, drink up before class -- at least 16 ounces a couple of hours before class -- and then down 20 ounces of water or sports drinks per 30 minutes of class.
Get the Gear
Some Bikram yoga students show up to class in little more than a skimpy swimsuit. No, they aren't just showing off the fruits of their labor; stripping down and wearing as little clothing as possible can help your body cool itself more efficiently in the face of all that heat and humidity. If you aren't ready to bare it all just yet, look for high-performance fabrics that wick sweat away from your body to keep you comfortable. You can also bring a number of props to class, so grab your block and straps to help improve your posture, adapt certain poses and feel confident in your practice.
When it comes to your mat, a garden variety mat might get slick with sweat during class. Some Bikram lovers prefer a sticky mat for more traction, or bring a yoga mat to class to lay over top of a regular mat to soak up moisture so you're not sliding around during your practice.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.