How to Survive a Bikram Yoga Class
This article also appeared on Yoganonymous.com.
For years I avoided Bikram Yoga like the plague.
Ninety minutes,105°F in a room packed with people, and an intense yoga sequence? All I saw was the hype, and all I heard were the countless stories that started with “I almost collapsed in class...”
But then, one day, I decided to drop my preconceived notions about Bikram Yoga, and attend my first branded yoga class.
The stories are true: Bikram Yoga is unlike any other.
In this class, you are dripping in sweat, trying to control your breathing, and you feel like your mental and physical limits are being tested past your maximum. Even if you consider yourself to be a devoted yogi, brace yourself. Bikram is a challenge.
In the middle of my second class, I started mentally creating guide on how to survive Bikram Yoga, to keep myself from keeling over from physical exhaustion. And so, I present to you, 9 must-knows for getting the most from your Bikram Yoga session.
How to Survive a Bikram Yoga Class
1. Breathe through your nose.
Your body will be burning up, but keep breathing steadily through your nose. Nasal breathing helps your body regulate body temperature, allowing you to cool down in that extra hot yoga studio. Breathe in to a count of 8, and breathe out to a count of 8. Slow and steady.
If you feel like you aren’t getting enough air, open up your mouth for a few rounds of breath, but keep in mind that breathing through the mouth activates your fight or flight stress receptors, which increase your heart rate and heat up your body. So, for a gentle, cooling effect, stick to long and low nasal breathing.
2. Don’t go hungry—or overly full.
Have something to eat, but don't overdo it before Bikram. Going in with a content stomach can make a big difference in how you feel during your yoga class. I recommend eating a banana and a handful of nuts 20 minutes before class. This will keep your stomach happy and give you a boost of potassium (something your body will need after a 90-minute sweat session).
I also recommend staying away from dairy 2 hours before class and 2 hours after. Dairy can slow you down, making you feel lethargic and gassy. Mix that dairy-digestion feeling with a sweaty yoga workout, and it’s not a win-win! The key is to eat light, fresh foods throughout the day—like hummus, fruit, and quinoa.
3. Let your instructor know if you’re a beginner.
If you're new to Bikram, don't keep it a secret. Let your instructor know you’re a beginner so he or she can give you tips and tricks to get through your first few classes. Knowing you're new to Bikram encourages your instructor to keep a closer eye on you, and makes him or her more likely to give you some personalized attention when needed.
You may not be able to keep up with the class if it's your first time—and that's ok. Bikram Yoga is intense, and being open about your newness to the Bikram practice will make the whole experience much more enjoyable.
4. Go earlier in the day.
Working out in the morning jolts your metabolism and gives you an endorphin rush—leaving you feeling happy and energized throughout your day.
I know, an endorphin rush sounds great, but sleeping in for 5 minutes sounds even better, right? No! Listen to this little piece of motivation to get you to class earlier: In a Bikram studio, the room temperature is set to 105°F—that is hot, hot, hot—but by the end of the day, the floor and walls have absorbed a lot of that heat, and it feels like the floor is steaming below you. Go earlier in the day, and the floor won’t be as hot—and your hardest moments during class may be a little more bearable.
5. Rehydrate with raw coconut water.
Avoid the excess chemicals and sugars in sports drinks, and instead reach for a bottle of raw coconut water. Coconut water is a balanced, natural way to restore your body’s potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium levels. Not to mention, coconut water is packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
When purchasing coconut water, make sure that you are buying raw coconut water, or purchasing a young coconut to drink from directly. I recommend Harmless Harvest Raw Coconut Water, and personally do not recommend brands such as ZICO or Vita Coco—these companies harshly process the coconut water, diminishing the drink’s health benefits.
6. Leave competition at the door.
When you enter your yoga studio, leave competition at the door. Everyone in the class is on their own level, and has been practicing yoga (or Bikram Yoga) for varying amounts of time.
So, instead of looking around the room to see how well everyone else is doing in the pose, or how easily they are moving through the class—while you are dripping in sweat, panting—focus on yourself. The worst thing to do is to push your body too far because you were trying to keep up with others on their level. Bikram is already a very intensive yoga class, so test your limits, but don’t feel compelled to prove how advanced you are to everyone in the room. Stay in your own lane, and you’ll prevent injuries, and passing out.
An added benefit of dropping your competitive edge: You’ll be able to perfect your poses faster when you focus on how your body feels in each pose than if you spent your time comparing yourself to others around the room.
Fun Fact: One of the most interesting things about Bikram is that the poses help shift the blood in your body from one side to the other. Next time you’re in class, if you’re having trouble focusing on yourself, see if you can feel the shift!
7. Work on perfecting your poses.
Practice makes perfect. Bikram Yoga follows the same yoga sequence every single time. After the first time you go to class, you'll know what to expect next, and which poses open and close the practice. The benefit of doing the same poses each time is that you get to the opportunity to see your practice evolve into something deeply advanced.
Commit to going a few times each week for a month, and you'll see the difference!
8. Focus on your posture.
Yoga postures are designed to reshape the way that your muscles sit over your bones by strengthening certain muscle groups. The long-term result? That hunch you have from sitting over your computer will disappear when you commit to making yoga a regular part of your routine. So, as you sit through this class, notice the way your shoulder girdle and chest are both opening up—how does that feel?
9. Repeat: The only way out is through.
In Bikram Yoga each pose is only done twice. You aren’t staying in one uncomfortable spot forever, and you’re changing things up frequently. So if you ever feel like you just can’t take anymore, just know that the only way out is through.
Bikram Yoga is hard—much harder than any other hot yoga class I’ve done. So, if and when you go to a Bikram Yoga class, I urge you to not give up, and use “the only way out is through” as your personal mantra to keep you going until the end. Your body will thank you for not giving up.
Note: If you feel like you are going to pass out during class, do not keep pushing yourself, and notify your instructor immediately.