by Ali Valdez
You see her walking in, fumbling with her bag at the door. She has cell phone in hand, frantically waiting to sign in not yet realizing she left her mat in the car. Her day was hectic, tasks undone weigh heavily on her mind. She needs her yoga, but first she needs to find her keys. No lunch and only a latte earlier that morning, she finally gets into the studio and falls apart, spending most of her time belly up, staring up at the ceiling. Hardly what she had in mind, but let’s face it, nothing for her today has gone as planned.
My career as an asana yoga teacher began in the Iyengar tradition but quickly jettisoned into the land of what Bikram dubbed his “torture chamber”: hot yoga. Fast forward fifteen years, and I am back teaching both the ninety and sixty minute format of static endurance asana in the hot room. What has surprised me is how little things have changed over my six year hiatus.
People that have practiced this proven method are still coming, kicking their leg out straight in standing forehead to knee. Some are rocking it; making it look so easy and effortless while others are still just trying to reach back and grab their heels in camel.
There are students still unable to hold a pose for the required sixty seconds, and some that just have to lie down on their back to catch a second wind. There is something for everyone in the hot room, but it doesn’t mean everyone is ready for the practice. I say this not because it’s too hard, but because it’s what you do before and after class that I find makes all the difference in having a success hot yoga practice.
Here are some recommendations that I would make:
1) Eat! Now I am not advocating swinging by Five Guys for a triple cheese extra mayo before rolling into a :90 Classic, but there is something to be said about two hours before class having a light snack that is balanced. Balance is the key. Not just some apple slices but with some almond butter. Avoid sugared energy bars but some sort of whole food protein and carbohydrate combination. Give yourself at least one hour if not ninety minutes for digestion to start. Carrots and hummus yes, a Jamba juice (fruit sugar without fiber or protein) no!
Don’t go all day without eating then take a class. I did this once after a two day fast in San Francisco and well, no bueno.
Take in something healthy after class as well. You have turned on a machine, feed it.
2) Drink! Controversial though it may seem, I am not a big fan of the water breaks. I am not a fan for doing anything that breaks the movement of energy or takes one out of their practice. Water breaks are still offered but I personally seldom practice them. During teaching, I will drink water but that is to keep my voice and mouth moist nothing else. You are putting pressure on your soft abdominal cavity, deeply twisting, folding over deeply and pulling at the same time and any hydration that needs to be in the system needed to happen before you made it to the parking lot.
Drink your water consistently throughout the day. Don’t slam it prior running into class or directly afterwards but keep the body hydrated before you come into class ideally not cold water either. Start with warm water or tea in the morning and go from there. Electrolytes and minerals are really important supplements as is high quality sea salt. Just a dab to the tongue will do. Calcium, magnesium and zinc or little electrolyte packets sipped throughout the day help the body absorb and properly assimilate the minerals and the water. Whole foods like a banana and coconut water also help. Drink well after class and if you can, say no to counter-productive beverages (as you would with food): soda, coffee and alcohol. If you enjoy these items, drink extra water to compensate. Carry around a water bottle and keep refilling throughout the day.
3) Be Merry! Attitude is everything. Dreading sweating and wrestling with your ego about what you look like in the mirror is counterproductive. Plan your day around your practice so you come prepared and not rushed. Enter in with a smile; after all this is a safe haven after a hard day, a community built exclusively for your health and well-being. Yoga studios are the one place on Earth that are mindfully designed to have you 100 percent in the moment; that is to say to leave everything at the door and come take care of yourself.
Find a yoga buddy, one who inspires and encourages you. Most teachers just want you to work really hard and reap the benefits of your practice. They are there to make you feel comfortable and enjoy the class…and sweat your ass off.
Then go enjoy your Jamba juice. You’ve earned it.
4) That Thing Called Breathing. Last by not least, breathe. Some days are better than others. You can use your yoga primarily to find equanimity in your breath. If you are on your back, don’t beat yourself up. Just breath in and out and enjoy the heat. Get up when you’re read but stay true to the breath.
Hot yoga is often one or two choices standing between you having a bad class to an awesome one. Prepare wisely. See you in the hot room soon.