Turning sweaty hell into hot heaven: how you can hack Bikram yoga and love the experience

Written by Tim Cook

Yoga in 40 degree heat at 40% humidity for 90 minutes. Bliss and hell combined in one sweaty package. My first sessions started out okay but by the second half of class they turned into a torture of just staying in the room, let alone doing any yoga.

I could feel the benefits: my body loosening up and my skin tone improving, but I had to work out how to thrive in that hot classroom, not just stay there on grit. Grit can deliver in a push but it’s no basis for a long term practice.

Here’s how I hacked Bikram yoga. After I did these things my Bikram class was great. Not a breeze, I got a great workout, but it was a sea change from before. You can do it too.

Superhydrate. In the day leading up to class drink a lot of water. You’ve got to be hydrated before going into class. It’s too late to hydrate in class.  Ideally you want to be so well hydrated that you don’t need to drink during class at all.

Electrolytes. I had been superhydrating before class but just with water. My theory is that so much water intake left me slightly depleted of electrolytes before I started class and then when I sweated a bucket in class I ended up electrolyte deficient. I bought pro sport electrolytes and added them to my water bottle.  The difference this one hack made to my endurance was simply night and day.

Eat. Make sure you eat well, and do it far ahead enough of class so you’re all fueled up and it’s fully digested, leaving you energised and ready to go. You don’t want to be in class feeling weak and hungry or with your body using a large slab of its energy on digestion.  I find that a plant based protein smoothie, which is quick to digest, a couple of hours before class sets me up perfectly.

Breathe. It’s so important in that hot environment to breathe right. Keep your mouth closed the whole time and breathe in and out through the nose. Don’t mouth breathe, it raises your temperature. Focus on breathing through your nose, it will keep you cooler.

Focus.  Keep your eyes open through class, it helps keep you present and focused which makes it easier. At the start I left my glasses off as I thought they’d just end up sweaty, but by keeping them on I was better able to watch myself in the mirror, correct my poses, and most importantly, stay present. Advanced tip one, focus your eyes in the direction of the posture. Your body will follow and your posture will be (almost imperceptibly but valuably) better. Advanced tip two, during the balancing poses it helps to pick a point on the floor or wall and focus on it ferociously. That will help keep you upright.

Class position. In Bikram the instructor doesn’t do the poses with you, instead they call out a steady patter of instructions that everybody follows. So position yourself in the room where a.) you can see other yogis so you can follow what they’re doing, b.) the instructor can see you so they can help you if you get stuck, and c.) preferably not under a heat duct so you’re not in the direct path of the heat coming into the room.

Go Skimpy. It’s hot, wear as little as possible. For us men that means shorts or bathers. I started with a t shirt but that came off after about one minute in the room. Shorts are all you need. That’s normal in Bikram. And yes there are some guys and girls with toned abs but equally there are people in class who have some distance to go before they see their abs, so however you are is totally okay.

Your own pace. When it got too much for me I lay down and rested. When that got too much (this was in the first hell sessions) I wanted wanted wanted to leave the room. But equal parts pride and grit got me to stay even though I thought I couldn’t. Do what you can and rest when you can’t. It’s okay to rest if you need to.

Choose Your Instructor. Different Bikram instructors have different styles, though within very defined parameters. What I mean is that the process on how to instruct Bikram is tightly prescribed; it’s a scripted patter delivered by the instructor that describes the movements required in order to get into each posture and then transition to the next. But each instructor brings their personality to how they deliver that scripted patter. So I probably won’t go back to the class that was delivered like a race caller urging the horses around the 4:25 at Ascot. But I will go back to the instructor who delivered accurately, with a smile in her voice, and gave some great coaching tips along the way. Try different classes and find instructors you like.

Time of day. Where I go for Bikram the early morning classes are half full and the studio doesn’t feel so hot, whereas the evening classes are bulging at the seams with people and the room’s been warming up all day. There’s a notable difference in the heat intensity between them. Choose wisely.

Don’t wipe the sweat. The body sweats to cool you down. If you wipe the sweat off your body will just produce more sweat to replace it and you’ll feel hotter.

Discomfort vs pain. The heat makes it easier to push into the stretches, which can be amazing for your flexibility, and it’s good to stretch into the discomfort. But you’re at Bikram for improvement not injury, so if you’ve got any injuries be aware that you can push too hard while you’re in the heat.  Get a sense of where to push so you’re embracing the discomfort, not hurting yourself.

Bikram yoga before the hacks was hell. With the hacks I love it. Enjoy!

About the author

Tim Cook

Tim is a health and fitness freak living in London and following a largely raw plant based diet. He's originally Australian but has made London his home for so long that he's now natural at drinking tea and saying sorry regardless of fault. In his professional career he gets to work with some incredibly smart and decent people, most of whom think his diet is really quite bizarre. He's big into plant based superfood smoothies, building good form at the gym, and even sometimes getting out to run.

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