My First (and Probably Last) Hot Yoga Class

Relaxation or Pure Stress?
icon 5 min
Una donna suda facendo Hot yoga Tom Werner

My yoga session lasted an hour and a half and I cursed every single minute. But let’s take things one step at a time. Admittedly, I was late to the party when I decided to join a hot yoga* class. I really enjoy yoga, especially to balance out my strength training, but that’s not to say I’ve felt the need to roll out my mat in 40-degree weather. The sudden onset of autumn and the accompanying gray skies over Berlin seemed the perfect reason to give it a chance, though.

I’m chilled to the bone and really looking forward to escaping the cold on a rainy Saturday in September. As I excitedly pack my bag, I still have no idea what to expect. The only thing I know about hot yoga is that it’s 26 asanas, standing, sitting and lying down, all carried out in a hot room. To be on the safe side, I pack both a pair of shorts and a pair of long sports leggings. A towel, a water bottle, my yoga mat – so far so good.

I arrive at the studio where most of the participants are already chatting in groups, eagerly awaiting the start of the class. I’m still unsure whether I should wear shorts or leggings. I ask the yoga teacher what she recommends. With a relaxed smile, she dodges my question. “It will be like being on the beach,” she says. Since I’ve never been to the beach in my leggings, I decide to wear shorts.

Roughly 15 minutes before the class begins, I enter the room armed with my towel and mat. The heat hits me immediately. The large, long room is already really full. The mats lie in two rows close to each other and on the opposite wall is a long, large mirror. As you’d expect, the mats at the back are already occupied, so I have no choice but to go to the front in the middle. I make myself comfortable in the lotus position and try to block out the crowded room, to focus and get used to the heat. It’s quiet, but I can’t switch off completely yet. My attention keeps wandering. What is everyone wearing? Why have most of them almost entirely hidden their mats under huge towels, while mine barely covers half? The yoga instructor begins the session, spritzes some lavender in the room and puts an end to my musings. “Great to see so many of you here today, that will make it even warmer,” she says with a laugh. Some of the class giggle. I can’t get on board with the joke – even hotter? I’m already starting to sweat.

We start with a breathing exercise and everything still feels pretty relaxed. After a few forward and back bends to warm up our spine, we move on to the three different variations of the chair pose and combinations of squats and toe stands. It’s already clear to me that I need to let go of any notion of the relaxation I’d been hoping for. (At this point I’d like to advise that you remove your make-up before a hot yoga class if you don’t want to leave the room looking a panda!) In Garudasana, the eagle pose, where you wrap one leg around the other, desperation slowly seeps in. Sweat runs down my legs and it’s almost impossible to remain stable in this pose. Even though the teacher occasionally walks around the room to help us, we’re mainly instructed over and over to watch ourselves in the large mirror. This helps us to visually control our posture, while other asanas like the standing bow challenge our balance. We move into pose after pose and I feel like I’m ticking off a checklist. As we squat down from the tree pose (Vrksasana) into a toe stand, I notice that my circulation is kicking in and I feel a bit woozy. All the up and down movement is making it hard for me to focus on my body and breathing. The heat becomes more intense and I suddenly understand why most of the participants have brought such large towels. I really don’t know when I last sweated this much. How am I supposed to keep going for 90 minutes?

And it’s not just the temperature that gets to me. Our instructor speaks so quickly and energetically that I can hardly understand a word. When she tells us to grasp our feet, our shins or any other part of our bodies, I simply can’t do it. The sweat makes it impossible because my hands are constantly slipping. I’m getting impatient. How is everyone else doing this? Apparently they’re not, because I keep seeing participants leaving the studio, or assuming child’s pose. At some point, I decide to stop following the rapid sets of instructions too, and return to the lotus pose for a short while. I try to calm my breathing, which isn’t that easy in the sticky heat. The person next to me remains calm and performs all the asanas with flying colors. During the bow pose (Dhanurasana), I come to the conclusion that her spine must be made of rubber. Show-off, I think, although I know full well that I’m just envious of her calmness and stamina. I wonder how many times she has done this and if it will eventually get easier.

When we are finally allowed to assume Shavasana, my water bottle has long been empty, I am sweatier than I have ever been in my life and I am not at all relaxed. All I want is to get out in the fresh air. I long for the cold that awaits me outside. The yoga instructor spritzes some more lavender, which only partially helps, and the usual calmness I get from the Shavasana is nowhere to be felt. The instructor fires off some more instructions at her usual tempo about supposed relaxation. I resolutely decline her offer to linger any longer in the heat and be mindful once the lesson ends. I roll up my mat, which now really needs cleaning, and leave the studio.

See also: What to expect from aerial yoga.

By the entrance, I enjoy the cool air flowing in from outside and take a moment to acclimatize. The showers are already hopelessly overcrowded and I realize with horror that I forgot my flip flops. So that this doesn’t happen to you, I’ve put together a checklist for your first hot yoga class:

  • Two large towels — one for your mat, one for the shower.
  • Flip flops and anything you usually need for the shower.
  • Short sports clothes. As short and skimpy as possible, because believe me, it doesn’t just get warm, it gets hot.
  • A really large water bottle. Drink whenever you want and not just during the ‘official’ drinking breaks.

I recommend that you only think about doing 90 minutes of hot yoga if you already have experience of yoga. Patience is also important. Even though I didn’t relax in the traditional sense, switching off my head and only focusing on breathing and movement, the Hot Yoga class has helped me move forward. I overcame my ego by taking breaks when I felt the need to. I stretched myself by not dropping out sooner (even though I thought about it more than once). I’ve also learned to accept my emotions. Admittedly, these were more anger and frustration than anything else. But it’s all a matter of perspective, right?

*Not every hot yoga class is structured in the same way. The class I attended was traditional in style, originally called Bikram Yoga. These days, the yogic world has abandoned this form since the founder, Bikram, was accused of sexual assaults on his students.

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