Bikram yoga is 90 minutes of hot yoga in a 105-degree room set at 40 percent humidity. In every Bikram yoga class, the structure is identical, with the instructor guiding you through the same series of 26 postures and breathing exercises designed to stretch you both mentally and physically beyond your limits. More simply put: There Will Be Sweat. And we know sweating is good for us. It's said to detoxify our bodies, acting like our very own internal air conditioning system. And thanks to the intense heat, you may feel more comfortable going more deeply into stretches or poses that you couldn't otherwise do or hold. Thanks to the heat, your heart rate is also elevated, making your body work harder than it otherwise would “Real men do Bikram,” says Richard Failla, a full-time police officer (yes, a real man) who also owns Fairfield Hot Yoga in Connecticut. If the prospect of taking a class leaves you simultaneously terrified and intrigued, we don't blame you. Read on for everything you need to know before you enter the hot room.
1. Have a light meal about three to four hours before class.
You'll want to make it a combination of carbohydrates, nutrient-dense greens, and lean protein. "Try to avoid dairy or any heavy, fatty foods (save the burger and milkshake for after class, you earned it)," says Donna Rubin, co-owner of Bikram Yoga NYC. Don't load up on coffee (or booze, obviously) before class unless you really want to punish yourself for the next 90 minutes (and beyond).
2. Set your mat up in the cool zone.
Most hot yoga studios have various "heat pockets" with hotter and cooler areas spread throughout the room. "Ask the teacher where the 'cool' spot in the room is," says Rubin. You're probably gonna wanna set up shop there, at least for your first few classes.
3. Breathe through your nose.
"This is not the gym. Grunting, grimacing, and holding your breath [will make class harder]," says Jonathan Cummings, an instructor at Bikram Yoga Brooklyn. "Breathing through your nose will help keep you calm." It can also help with your balance while trying to maintain particularly challenging poses.
4. Just stay in the room.
"You want your body to get used to the heat. Going in and out of the room multiple times is a shock on the body," says Whitney Wisniewski, an instructor at Bikram Hot Yoga Columbus in Ohio. Even advanced practitioners take breaks — don't let your ego get in the way, it’s totally acceptable.
5. But don't fidget if you take a time out.
It's fine to sit or lie down if the heat gets to be too much, but avoid doing your own thing. "Remain still so you aren't a distraction while others are balancing or holding a pose," says Rubin, it can really throw your classmates off. During a break, try counting your inhales and exhales in your mind to help steady your breath, and join back in when you're feeling grounded again.
6. Don't skip the last pose.
Savasana, or Corpse Pose, where you lie on your back with your heels together and your arms at your side with palms facing up, is the last posture in the Bikram series, and instructors say it's the most important. "The Bikram method asks that you give 100 percent effort and then practice 100 percent relaxation. It’s these peaks and valleys, combined with some postures that limit circulation, that allow fresh oxygenated blood to flush through your body," says Rubin. Stay beyond the standard two minutes for an additional five or so minutes if you can swing it.
7. If you're sore the next day, take another class.
"It's the best cure for soreness," says Cummings. "Going as much as possible also helps to build muscle-memory in your mind." Class will also be easier since you know what to expect, and you can go through your second class at a lower intensity to help with any muscle soreness.