I’ve been practicing hot yoga for 2 years now. It started with me lying in Savasna after bow pose wondering ‘why and I doing this?’ to going 3 or more times a week. I tried a few different studios and found that a less military and more meditative style of teaching suited me better, due to physical health issues I also needed to be shown modifications for certain poses. Hot yoga changed my life and continues to do so, for me the benefits are worth the sweat and the journey continues to be incredible.
While hot yoga has made me fitter, the effect on my mental health has been profound. I am able to get in the studio and release so many negative emotions in the heat. For me hot yoga is not just the only exercise I’ve ever stuck to, it’s truly therapeutic.
Here’s how to survive your first class:
You DON’T have to do it all. Hot yoga is an 1 ½ hour marathon, especially in the beginning it’s important to be gentle with yourself and you’re pushing too hard take a break. Be kind to yourself in the heat. Hot yoga is about healing, this is something I’ve learnt to apply to my life off the mat. I used to overwork myself until my health took a turn for the worse and I needed to take a step back and be slower and kinder with myself.
Your breath is what keeps you going in hot yoga, not the water! As my favorite yoga teacher says you’re drinking breath in the room. If you keep your breathing calm and steady during poses and breathe deeply during rest it will help you to stay calm and focused. This is pure mindfulness; just noticing your breath in and out through your nose will help you relax into your practice. If your breath is shallow and fast you’ll feel panicky and overwhelmed by the heat. Mindful breathing is a helpful tool wherever you are, just noticing how you’re breathing and being aware of how you are breathing builds awareness of how the body is and develops the capacity for relaxation.
You might not be able to move far in poses but this is how you build strength in your practice. Some poses have taken me 2 years to be able to do and some I’m working on. Hot yoga is challenging every time, it’s more helpful to have the correct alignment than to move far. Smile while you practice, be happy to be there and don’t worry about how far the person in front of you in bending.
Stay in the moment
I’ve found this really, really hard and I still do. Hot yoga is one of the few places where I have no external distractions, no mobiles, no chatter or stresses. However not getting involved in my internal chatter is something else. Buddhism calls this the ‘monkey mind’ and mine is a great ape. I’ve spent classes wondering about what was for dinner or things I needed to do that day but all of this disconnected me from my yoga. What I’ve learnt is that these thoughts will come and it’s normal, however I don’t have to stay with them. So I acknowledge the thought and let it pass, staying in my practice. It helps to gaze softly at your eyes in the mirror, maintaining your focus and remembering you are here.
Go into class hydrated and make sure you eat something 3 hours before. Don’t try to hydrate in the room and don’t practice on an empty stomach. Take care of yourself before hot yoga and care of yourself after the session. Make sure you drink lots of water after the session and rest well after each class.
Nikki Howes is a London UK based counsellor and self esteem coach. She also runs “I’m Awesome” workshops for girls aged 13-16. For more on Nikki visit www.hope2heal.co.uk Twitter: @CounsellorKT1 Facebook: Hope2HealCounselling