20 Tips for your First Hot Yoga or Bikram Yoga Class.

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Things you can do before, during, and after class to ensure a positive first experience in the hot room.

(Photo: By HealthZone (The Star) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons)

Among my circle of friends, family, and acquaintances, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as a Bikram yoga fanatic and all-around yoga nerd.

And I’ll admit, it’s true: I go to class every day. I blog about it. I talk about it. I live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it, love it!

Okay…that might be a little overly dramatic, but you get the point.

Perhaps because of this, I get asked a lot of questions from curious individuals who have heard of Bikram before, and are thinking about trying it out, but are just a little nervous. I mean let’s face it, the prospect of going into a room heated to 105 degrees for 90 minutes and doing 26 postures and two breathing exercises is a little daunting, right? Understandable!

The most frequent question I get is either: “I’m thinking about signing up for a Bikram class! Should I be scared?” or “I just signed up for a Bikram class! Am I going to die???”

The short answer to both is NO, absolutely not!

The long answer is also NO, absolutely not, but there are a few things you should think about before your first class, and a few things you can do before, after, and during class to ensure a positive first experience in the hot room!

So without further ado, for all of you who have asked and all of you who haven’t, here is my list of 20 tips, tricks, and hints for your first Bikram yoga class! Enjoy!

Before Class…*

1. Hydrate. But not too much. Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to your first class. Now don’t go crazy and guzzle liter after liter or anything, but do add a little more water than normal to your daily routine. You don’t want to arrive at class and realize that Ooops, all you’ve had to drink all day is a gallon of iced coffee and a diet coke.

(photo: The Baltimore Sun)

Bad news bears. Also, you will want to stop drinking at least two hours before class. You know, just to make sure you don’t have to, errr… relieve yourself at any time during your practice.

2. Eat. But not too much. A hot yoga class can be very demanding on the body. Thus, you’ll want to make sure you’ve eaten enough during the day to fuel you through your class, and that what you’ve eaten has been fairly light and healthy. The day of your first hot yoga class is probably not the best time to hit up the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, or chow down on the Denny’s grand slam breakfast with extra bacon . Keep it light, keep it simple, and like with the hydrating thing, stop eating at least two hours before class. You don’t want anything churning around in your belly while you’re trying to “compress your abdominal wall, contract your abdominal muscles”!

3. Bring at least a liter of water with you to class. It’s hot in the room. You will sweat. You will get thirsty. Simple enough.

4. Don’t wear long pants. You will be very, very sorry. Tiny butt-hugging shorts, sports bra, and a tank top for the ladies, shorts or swim trunks for the gents. That’s all you need. Really.

5. Get there early. At least half an hour early. Gives you time to fill out the necessary paperwork, get changed, and get a good spot in the room. Also, many teachers give specific instructions at the beginning of class for first-timers, so you want to make sure you’re in the room to hear it and not still in the locker room fiddling with your tiny butt-hugging shorts.

6. Tell the teacher you’re new. It’s surprising how many people don’t want to do this. But really, the teacher is there to help you! Yoga teachers love to teach people about yoga. That’s why they’re teachers! And trust me, they want you to have the best experience possible on your first class, and they’ll do whatever they can to make that happen. So don’t be shy, march right up to the teacher, and pluckily say, “Hi, I’m (insert your name), and I’m new!” You’ll be best friends within minutes.

7. Ask where the “cool spot” is. Now that you’re BFF with the teacher, ask her (or him) where the best spot is for you to set up your mat. Most studios have a “cool spot”–often (but not always) near a door or a window–and this is usually where they recommend new people set up for their first class. Because, obviously, it’s a cool spot.

8. Set up your mat and towel(s). When you sign in to class, you will most likely be handed a yoga mat and two towels. Ommigod, what do you do with these things?!?  Well, the mat goes on the floor. That’s an easy one. But the towels? That’s more of a matter of preference. If you’re not a heavy sweater, you’ll just take one of the two towels and place it right on top of your mat, right in the middle, so that it absorbs your sweat and keeps your mat from becoming the yogic equivalent of a Slip ‘n’ Slide.

HOWEVER. If you’re like me, and you sweat like an animal (nothing wrong with this, by the way) you will probably want to use both towels, laid out in a slightly overlapping way, covering your entire mat. For the record, this is how I set up my towels, and it works great!

9. Have NO expectations. That goes for expectations of yourself, the teacher, the class, the studio, etc. Expect NOTHING, and be open to EVERYTHING.

During Class…

10. Keep an open mind. If you’ve practiced other yoga before, just know that this will be different. Try not to be all HEY, THIS ISN’T HOW WE DO IT IN VINYASA/ASHTANGA/KUNDALINI/WHATEVER! Of course it’s not the same! This is Bikram! Listen to the teacher and be open to what she says, even when your brain tries to tell you something else.

11. Take lots of breaks. There’s no shame in sitting down! It’s your first class, go easy on yourself!

12. But not too many breaks. Then again, if you feel good, keep going! Don’t sit down just because you feel like you want to take a nap. Listen to your body really honestly, see what it tells you, and react accordingly.

13. Stay in the room. In every class, the teacher is guaranteed to remind you that staying in the room is the most important thing. Even if you have to sit the whole time, by staying in the room, maintaining your focus, and mentally staying with the class you are still practicing yoga. The heat is one of the greatest benefits of this practice, as it allows your body to open up and your muscles to release in ways they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, but it can also be the toughest thing to adjust to. By staying in the room, you give your body the time and space to make that adjustment.

14. Breathe. When things get tough, breathing will keep you alive! It can be hard to remember in the moment, but if at any point you feel yourself struggling in a pose, back off a little and recover your breath. I mean, let’s face it: if you’re not breathing, you’re unlikely to be doing anything else. KnowwhatImean?

After Class…

15. Don’t get up too fast! Take your time leaving the room, hanging up your mat, putting your towels in the bin, showering, etc. Your body may feel a smidge unusual. You’ve just worked every major muscle group–probably pretty darn hard–and detoxified yourself in a very big way!  So respect that and don’t push it. Give yourself plenty of time to chill after class. If possible, don’t have ANYTHING you “have to do!!” the rest of the day. Take it easy.

16. Thank the teacher for this fresh hell she just put you through. It’s only polite.

17. If your studio has peppermint soap in the showers, don’t get it in your eyes and DON’T GET IT IN YOUR HOO-HAH! This is just practical advice. It burns. Trust me.

18. Re-hydrate. Have something with electrolytes. Coconut water is great, any kind of electrolyte water is too, even sports drinks will work. Also drink  plenty of actual water. That’s that clear stuff that comes out of the tap.

19. Eat. Have a nice light healthy meal. Fruits, veggies, lean protein. You know, the “good” stuff.

20. Go back again tomorrow. WHAT?!? But that’s CRAZY, isn’t it?!??!? Actually, no it’s not. They say in Bikram “come back as soon as you can, as often as you can!”, and that’s especially true in your first week. Your body has to get used to this new, very different thing you’re doing, and the more frequently you go, the better opportunity it has to do just that.

So there you go, yoga people (and soon-to-be yoga people!), a few tips for your first journey into the hot room. Above all, remember to ENJOY YOURSELF! Bikram yoga can certainly be challenging at times, but don’t be intimidated! Like all forms of yoga, it’s not something to be learned and mastered in a day, or a month, or a year, or ten years! This practice is rich and deep and amazing and takes a lifetime, but that’s what makes it interesting and relevant! See this as a new adventure, a new experience, and a new way to explore the power of the mind-body connection that only yoga can facilitate!

Good luck, have fun, and NAMASTE!

*As with any exercise program, if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or specific injuries, you should probably check with your doctor and get their A-Okay before beginning your Bikram yoga practice. Just saying…

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anonymous Jul 29, 2015 11:31pm

The first helpful tool for a total yoga beginner is to build basic familiarity with yoga … I am so glad this post was helpful to you. …
yoga for beginner

anonymous Dec 11, 2014 7:44am

Thank you so much! I am doing my first Bikram class in 3 days and I must admit, I am very nervous. This helped so much! Thank you. 🙂 Namaste.

anonymous Jul 11, 2014 9:16am

It has been great to see the spread of good information about practicing yoga over the last several years, but it has become hard to weed through it all and to focus on the best sites. Thanks again, and I look forward to updates as new blogs come out.

anonymous Nov 7, 2013 10:34pm

I love this!! I'm going to a class tomorrow night and I will hope it's as delightful as this post. Thank you

anonymous Sep 29, 2013 7:19pm

…and one more thing! Place your mat at the back of the room, so the other students are in front of you and can your guide, if you didn't follow what the teacher said… 🙂

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anonymous Dec 20, 2011 12:12am

Thank you for the wonderful article!

anonymous Dec 8, 2011 5:04pm

I love all of this but as a student and teacher I’d be careful about telling people to find the “cool” side of the room. There are so many reasons for and benefits from the heat. Yoga is as you said about having no expectations. No attachments. It’s about what you need. Not what you want. The great thing though is that you start to want what you need.

Too many people get caught up in the temperature. Yes it’s hot. Now focus on your practice, your breath. That’s when the magic happens.

anonymous Nov 17, 2011 12:42pm

Loved the article. Thanks For sharing these tips Alison.. I have been practicing Bikram hot yoga from 4 months, and yes, i love going there daily. hardly miss it due to genuine reasons on health or with office work. Well, my objective to practice hot yoga is streghtening my back (I have acute low back pain), flexibiliy and lastly reduce weight (abt 10-12 pounds that i have gained in a year). All i have realized is that from the time I have started yoga, my appetite has increased. After yoga I feel very hungry and uncontrollable and end up eating more than my actual meal size. Also earlier I thought this was obvious as yoga is working out heavily and wasn’t paying much attention thinking let me first be regular on yoga and then i will give a thought on controlling my diet. But I have been trying to control my hunger and diet from past 2 months but no success :(.. Can you please share your suggestion/advice on this situation.. i am really looking forward to drop those extra pounds while i am giving my best to yoga i know its possible but really cannot understand why its getting difficult..

anonymous Sep 23, 2011 7:56am

[…] […]

anonymous Sep 8, 2011 5:10pm

How do you make your blog (on Blogspot) for invited members only?

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anonymous Aug 9, 2011 9:41am

Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

anonymous Aug 8, 2011 9:51pm

I agree with all of your points, Alison. Nicely written!

There is an interview online of Brandy Lyn (2010 International Yoga Asana champion), and she says that every now and then, she still has classes that make her think, "This is going to be my last class!"

As we progress deeper into our practice we hopefully begin to unify all aspects of ourselves. Beginners may take weeks or even months to know HOW to breathe PROPERLY. At first, the postures and instructions are all a blur and is truly an introduction; the focus is mainly physical. Proper breathing, it seems, is the move from beginner to novice. It's another layer of yoga practice, but a vital aspect.


anonymous Aug 8, 2011 10:16am

This is so excellent! especially the thing about the peppermint soap =)
I feel the same way about this yoga and have received benefits form it that
I could never imagine.
"Real yogis generate heat internally with the breath" Ha!
On the one hand, this is correct, when I read Krisnamacharya (The Sweet Center of Yoga ) and Iyengar (Light On Yoga) they say early in the morning and late at night are the best time. As a matter of fact, the more I read about yoga, the more things wrong I find with Bikram. That is the paradox. Right and wrong are dualistic, deep in the practice, yoga is yoga. By accepting the flaws of the method and guru (if he can be called that), we transcend our judgment and learn acceptance. Pratyahara means not only withdrawing in from the senses, but from what is being said, and what we are judging about it.
This yoga works for me so far. I am trusting Jois when he says "Practice, practice, practice and all is coming".

anonymous Aug 8, 2011 9:44am

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

anonymous Aug 8, 2011 9:42am

Great tips! Thank you Alison!

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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anonymous Aug 15, 2011 12:43pm

I find this interesting – I'm working on a restaurant concept (for someone else) with coconuts and their water a big part of the product planning. I know what you're saying to be true – but have been googling for evidence to share this information. Can you provide a link of to support this? Thank you!

anonymous Dec 9, 2011 6:59am

Oh god, so many things wrong with this statement.

anonymous Dec 20, 2011 1:51am

uh, have u been to southern india? its like…114 degrees half the year. just sayin.

Marz Marshall Aug 2, 2017 11:59am

Okay, but if I die, I'm seriously going to be a pissed off haunting ghost. ;) I am glad I can sit if I need. You are a very funny writer. Thank you.

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Kira Robinson Jul 21, 2016 7:51am

interesting book to reference different yoga poses. It even has a "outline" in the back that organizes the poses by body part. So if you, for example, you had back pain and wanted to stretch your back today doing yoga, you could easily use this as a reference. fb.me/ELHQmoHh It's also good for beginners interested in learning yoga poses.

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I learned all about yoga from this course fb.me/15NFI5PZF . Look, maybe it will be interesting for you smile emoticon

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Alison O’Connor

Alison O’Connor is a writer, performer, and yoga teacher living in New York City. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, online on Elephant Journal, as well as in many other less-prestigious sounding publications, online journals, and blogs. Alison spent pretty much every moment of 2013 on a quest for self-realization that took her to the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, the jungles of Peru, the bright blue oceans of the Virgin Islands, and the sandy desert of Nevada (among others). She meditated for hours, took roughly 500 yoga classes, went on retreats, studied with shamans, read every book she could get her hands on, and got really deep with herself. She learned a lot. Most importantly: we already have within us all the answers, and everything we need. We have only to trust ourselves, follow our desires, and trust fully in the power of our own knowing. For more on Alison, you can follow her on Facebook (alison.oconnor.33), and Twitter: @AOCinNYC, and investigate her blog: alisonoconnor.tumblr.com . NAMASTE.