By Melodee Milan, Destin Hot Yoga Student.
These are my personal experiences. I can only write for myself and be honest. When I first considered hot yoga, I was terrified. The thought of jumping into hot yoga was too much for me to consider. Not knowing anything about yoga and what that would even be like, the thought of doing it in a heated room was simply too much. I had so many questions that the FAQ just could not answer. Ok, so maybe it can say it is infrared heating panels that provide the heat, but what does that actually mean? How does that compare to anything I’ve ever actually experienced before? I’ve been in a sauna, I’ve been in a bathtub and a hot tub, and I’ve lain on the blistering hot beach. Are any of these a good point of reference or is it completely different? This is just one thread of many that my thoughts journeyed on. Another thread was the sweat and hydration situation. So I understand we are going to sweat but how much are we talking about here? What is the best method of hydrating? As I wrote previously, my entry into hot yoga happened by way of signing up for the beginner’s series. Through this course I had a proper introduction to yoga before becoming friends with the heat. I learned most of the basic asanas I would need to go into any class. I was able to experience something called internal heat, which is heat that is created within your body through movement through the asanas. The beginner’s course was unheated and I was amazed at how hot we all got in the room just from our own internal heat. So after graduation I was ready to take on my first hot class. My first class was at 6 am. For me, this proved to be a mistake because my body was used to practicing in the evenings. Even though I got up extra early, there wasn’t enough time for me to hydrate properly and I’m certain I made a rookie mistake in that department by not being properly hydrated. I remember setting up my mat and just being in the heated room before class. By the time we started the opening breathing exercises, I was already lightly sweating. After the first few flows, the sweat really started kicking up. I remember settling back into Downward Facing Dog and the sweat was just drip, drip, dripping onto my mat. My heart was beating so loudly and I almost wanted to run out of the room in a panic. Thankfully my wonderful teacher picked that moment to cue everyone to breathe and my focus left the sweat and came back to the breath. A few deep breaths brought me back from the edge of panic and I was able to settle down and continue the class. For me, as a beginner, there is a lot going on in my first classes. I am working so hard to do these challenging poses, some of which are things I’ve never seen or heard of before, while being extremely hot and trying to remember to not only keep breathing but to correctly connect breath to movement. Afterwards I felt a little sick but still on top of the world. It was HARD! I’m not sure if it’s all beginners or just certain types, but I try SO hard. Even in the breathing exercises I have to remind myself to just relax, that I’m only breathing, it’s not that serious.
So my next class wakes me early again for a 6 am class. This time I made sure to hydrate extremely well the day before and have loaded up on my electrolytes and have a plan for electrolyte replacement for after class. Now that I have a better idea of what to expect, I go into class feeling much more prepared. It’s a good thing too because this teacher really put it to me! This time when the sweat started dripping I did not panic. I was also more prepared by wearing a head band. Now if they only made a nose band or something because it’s the absolute worst when you’re in Downward Facing Dog and the teacher says “inhale” and you inhale a nice drop of sweat. Since I was so well hydrated this time around, I could definitely notice even more sweat this second class. The combination of heat and hard work took some determination but I managed to make it through another class. I made sure to have electrolyte replacements afterwards and made treating my body right a priority by eating as healthy as possible as well as rehydrating. I can honestly say that even after only this second class, the focus has already shifted away from the heat and more onto the yoga. One of the things I love about DHY is the variety of classes available. I can build my schedule so that one day is a hot vinyasa class and the next day is either unheated, warm, or a hot stretch class. By varying my schedule, I’m able to create my own yoga program that serves me personally.
Now I am beyond class #10 and for me, it has proven true what the FAQ says, “It takes about 3 classes to acclimate to the heat and about 10 classes to LOVE IT HOT!” Now that I have spent some time in many different hot classes, I think for me the closest thing to compare my experience to: hot tub, sauna, beach, would be the beach. I personally love the feeling of the sun blazing on my skin and as I lay in savasana breathing my heart back into control, I sometimes do imagine those heat panels are the sun gently warming my skin. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still times during class when the heat makes its presence known, but now I just look at it as an opportunity to examine a couple things by asking myself if I’ve found my edge and need to back off or if I just need to refocus on breathing and quit worrying about how hot it is. Sometimes I even need to remind myself that it’s only a little heat, I’m not actually going to die. Sometimes I remind myself of the many workers who do hard labor outside in the sun all day. I look back on it after class and can only laugh at how dramatic I am, I didn’t actually think I was going to die and it wasn’t even that bad. It was work and is sometimes a struggle but it wasn’t like I was making it in my head at the time. Sure, it’s likely a shock to the system at first, but it really does change and evolve. Most days I look forward to getting into that hot room and doing yoga. As soon as I step into the room, my once cold, tight, and often sore muscles start to loosen, lengthen, and relax. It’s like a heating pad and Epsom salt bath on steroids. It is better than any pain pill too because it benefits the mind.
I’m finding this to not only be a journey of the body but also a journey of the mind. Hot yoga forces you to join forces with your body, because if you do not, your body will not be shy to let you know about it. I am learning so much about awareness. I have learned how to tune in to my body and my mind and I am picking up on the subtle signals sent by the two. Maybe everyone else already knows this, but I am just learning how to decipher the difference between my body saying no, it can’t do something and my mind saying my body can’t do something. I am learning how to pick up on the early signals of getting dehydrated or overtired. Outside of class I am more aware of being hungry, being full, being tired, becoming stressed, and anxiety rising. This practice has helped me to recognize the early signals and given me tools to deal with it. I have also found hot yoga to be a renewal for me. I die and I am reborn every practice. The heat and the work leave me breathless and reset. Whoever I was before class is not the same person that walks out. Whatever burdens I carried, whatever stresses and resentments I was holding onto stick with me no longer. I am once again free.
As a sidenote, I found it interesting that my male friend also began his hot yoga journey around the same time I did but his experience was completely opposite from mine. Instead of easing into it gently, he jumped right on in. He had a small headache after his first class but otherwise he has taken to hot yoga like a fish to water.
Here are my tips for hot yoga introduction success:
Hydrate and replenish!
If you have anxiety or fears about the heat, introduce yourself gradually to the heat. Maybe consider trying an unheated or warm class to get acclimated first.
Don’t give up! Acclimating to the heat is a process.
Let go of your expectations. Open your mind to the experience and realize that this yoga thing is about the journey.
Follow all these tips.