How to Survive Your First Hot Yoga Class: My Initiation, And Yours!

August 27th, 2009 by Tonya Zavasta

Many of you have read my story in Get Fresh Magazine about my first Bikram yoga class. Most of you, we can hope, won’t experience anything quite so dramatic. Here are some things you can do to ensure your very first class is a success.

There’s one thing you must bring to your first class, your first few classes. However full your gym bag be, it will fit, if you try. It’s a sense of humour. Consider…you’re just there to check it out, see what it’s about, decide whether this much-touted form of exercise is for you.

Don’t be a hero. You are not there to win a competition. Or indeed to compete at all. Nor are you here—correction: You ought not to be here—to impress the hot yoga babe in the back row with your fashionable outfit. You are not going to be leaping tall buildings in a single bound when you leave your first class. But with simple preparation, you will walk out with a renewed sense of well being, a feeling of victory, and the enthusiasm to come back again tomorrow!

Working out for 90 minutes in a hot, humid room can be beastly intimidating if you’ve never done it. You’ll feel, that first time, as if you’re doing Marine Corps PT in a greenhouse. It’s going to happen. Be ready. Physical and mental discomforts of varying degrees are sure to surface, none of them unusual for first timers. So the most important thing is to relax.

Instructors are mostly very helpful and understanding of newcomers. They’ll help put your mind at ease and will assure you that any slight nausea or dizziness is quite normal. They’ll encourage you to simply lie down until it passes.

Bikram’s website has a FAQ section you may find helpful. Here are some pointers to help ensure your first experience with Bikram yoga is everything that it should be:

Be well hydrated before going to class. I prefer drinking some vegetable juice, eating a watermelon, or drinking coconut water from a fresh coconut. The electrolytes in fresh young coconut water, fresh squeezed vegetable juice and watermellon will help you better endure the heat.

If you drink alcohol at all, be sure to abstain the night—better yet, a week—before your class: Alcohol will surely dehydrate you and overtax your liver, which won’t help your exercise routine at all.

Do not eat for two hours before your class. You must do Bikram on an empty stomach. Fluids only, please! Bring a cooler of cut up watermelon in your car for after class. Trust me on this—after all that work and heat, you’ll relish this treat!

My editor told me I could say this in print…Please pee before you get there! Do whatever you can to avoid leaving the room during class. Bikram instructors strongly encourage you to remain in class the whole 90 minutes—their methods depend on continuous exercise. Staying the course will make you feel a real sense of accomplishment. Bring your yoga mat, towel, and water bottle with you, then visit the bathroom as the very last thing you do before you enter the studio.

Lie down as often as you need to. (Bikram’s not that tough—how many other exercise programs have you lying down to rest?) Feel free to just sit and watch some of the poses to get familiar with how things are done. This is especially important if you are overweight or very physically inactive. Ease into every aspect of it. Burnout isn’t pretty, and there’s nothing so defeatist, in feeling, as starting an exercise program and quitting a week later because it’s “too hard.”

Water? Sure. But sip—don’t gulp. This helps prevent nausea. Good news for the raw food people…you probably will not experience any unpleasant symptoms. Bikram yoga pushes out toxins big time—that’s it’s game and, for me, one of its major appeals. You vegans and, even more, you raw foods aficionados are already relatively clean, thanks to the diets you follow.

Do breathe, please. (It’s okay. I’ve been doing it for years.) Unfamiliarity, and the occasional discomfort, early on, in some poses, conspire to make some newcomers hold their breath or lose their breathing rhythms. Breathing properly matters. Yes, people do pass out simply because they don’t realize they’re holding their breath while performing an unfamiliar asana. Focus. Breathe evenly at all times.

As the beatniks used to say…Gimme some skin, man! Don’t wear sweats or long-sleeved workout clothes. If you wear to the Bikram studio what you’d wear for flag football on an autumn day, you will lose your mind.

Don’t let anything or anyone intimidate you! “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” as the saying goes. And for now, the big things are: You’re there…you’re trying…you’re willing to learn. Forget what you look like. Forget any looks you may get from other students. If you get one of those rare instructors who’s more concerned with perfection than progress and shows “attitude”…forget him or her, too. Your goal those first few times: Get through the class. See what’s going on. No, you don’t have to do it perfectly. And, no, you don’t have to please your teacher. My instruction is simple…Enjoy yourself! This is a gift you are giving your body, and your body will reward you if you persist.

Make it a priority not to overexert during your first class or two. This is self-defeating. You are your own best judge as to how much is too much. When in doubt, early on, slow down or pause.

Do talk with your instructor. Tell him or her you’re a first-timer. Got a medical condition or physical limitation? Tell your teachers ahead of time. They’ll appreciate the heads-up. Do whatever you need to do to adjust for your own comfort and safety. A good instructor will encourage you in this, but ultimately it’s your call. You know your body better than anyone. If you need to hang onto something or be next to the wall, do it—no matter what anyone says.

These tips in mind, you’re ready to tackle the world of hot yoga and experience the life-changing benefits everyone’s raving about. Body and mind do acclimate after a few weeks. Soon, you’ll find yourself actually looking forward to your hour and a half, shutting out the world and devoting every ounce of effort to the mind-and-body transformation that happens only through raw foods and Bikram yoga.

For a list of the benefits you can expect from hot yoga and raw food combined into one lifestyle, read my new book Raw Food and Hot Yoga. I’m with you every step of the way!

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