Yoga (don't play with) fire?
March 14, 2014 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Former exercise nut turned semi-couch-potato may or may not want to try out hot yoga after only 2 non-hot yoga classes. Good or bad idea?

I'm a woman in my early 30s with a job that involves mostly sitting and with occasional walks around the office block as my only form of exercise. I used to do cardio and some light weight training using machines from mid-2010 to 2012; however, my fitness level has dropped since mid-2013. My BMI has been normal since mid-2010 (when I started my cardio / weight training regime due to having become overweight from work stresses and horrible eating habits) - although I have had no periods for 8 months due to overzealous exercising during one stretch from 2011 to 2012. I'm now much less of a stress eater compared to around 2010, although I do have this habit of 2 cups of coffee per day... and Tim Hortons' Roll Up the Rim doesn't help either.

I've tried taking 2 yoga classes from my local Y, and I'm considering taking up yoga again, mainly in conjunction with resuming cardio and weight training, for both controlling my weight and for restoring my fitness level.

Given my very limited yoga experience... if I do try yoga again, should I take the plunge and try a form of hot yoga? Or would I better off taking a few lessons in non-hot yoga before I even consider feeling the heat? Suggestions of different yoga styles (except Bikram, who tried to sue to protect yoga poses in the public domain) are welcome--thanks so much for the help!
posted by Tsukushi to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Give yourself permission to tap out if too hot makes you feel sick.

I get heat sickness very easily, so hot yoga made me nauseated. I tried it 3 times and never could finish a class without stepping out to cool off. YMMV.

The only people I know that like it are people who like extreme fitness challenges, so, professional athletes and the like.

In general, no, I don't think it is very healthy. I think it is for someone extremely fit (pro athlete) or healthy people in their 20's.

If you are the type to lose your period from over-exercising, than maybe this is dangerous for you? I can see why it is attractive, because it IS an extreme sport type thing, and you seem to want the danger.

How is your heart? Have you had a recent check up?

In general, no, a few YMCA yoga classes will not get you through hot yoga classes, especially if you are overweight.

The word YOGA means "practice" or "way of doing" something... The point of yoga is to meditate with your mind and body at the same time, if that makes sense. The point of YOGA is to achieve balance, both in your mind and in your body.

I can not think of one single thing less balanced than performing intense exercise in an inhumanely hot room, so hot that it poses a health risk. Again, YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 3:25 PM on March 14, 2014

Agree with jbenben. The people that I know that love hot yoga tend to be athletes or at least pretty athletic. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, but you should work up to it. I would take some more beginner classes to really learn the poses, get your muscles strengthened a bit, and get the instructor attention you're going to get in a beginner class.
posted by radioamy at 4:13 PM on March 14, 2014

People love the hot yoga so there must be something to it, however I have practiced for 15 years or so and the only place I have ever gotten hurt was in a hot yoga class - I think the heat let me overstretch. If if sounds good to you then go to a basics class, be sure to tell the teacher its your first time and see how it goes.
posted by shothotbot at 4:14 PM on March 14, 2014

I love hot yoga because I like the boot camp intensity and the relief you feel when it's over! But if that's not your thing, then don't go. Or go once and check it out. I don't think it's particularly great "exercise" per se, it's more like a mental and emotional workout...and a detoxifying experience because you sweat so much. I need to go back soon. But honestly, for exercise you just really can't beat walking...straight up. No injuries, no cost, total-body fitness if you do it enough.
posted by bquarters at 4:21 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: If you can spend 15 minutes in a sauna, you can do hot yoga. The reason hot yoga is filled with athletic types is because a yoga studio is much more expensive than a regular gym membership. That fact self-selects the athletic junkies, not the nature of the work.

I was out of shape when I started hot yoga, but very tolerant of heat. I went to a studio where the owners were all gym rats who turned to yoga and Pilates after they had injured themselves. This was great because they knew all the adjustment poses I needed. As much as I enjoy the Y for cardio equipment, the classes didn't have that level of expertise. They just push you to mimic the teacher, and that's when you're likely to get hurt.

If you're naturally bendy, it's true the heat will make it easier for you to over stretch. But if you're like most couch potatoes, your muscles are super tight and could really benefit from the heat. My other recommendations: don't leave the class. Sit down for the rest of the class if you need. But once you walk out the door, it's so painful to walk back in. Drink water obsessively outside class, drink conservatively in class. You want to walk into class so hydrated, you only need small sips between poses. Large gulps will make you feel nauseous.

(I have yet to find a studio where I live now, but this question reminds me how much I enjoyed it)
posted by politikitty at 6:29 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of people get heat stroke in hot yoga. I did it once, never again. There's no huge benefit, and it will wipe you right out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:54 PM on March 14, 2014

My experience has been that in yoga.. when just getting into it, "taking the plunge" for me was a "beginner" level vinyasa flow class (I go to a yoga studio - YMMV on how most places categorize their classes). It was plenty challenging and a really tough workout. After practicing regularly (as in, four or more times a week) for over a year, a beginner level vinyasa flow class is still plenty challenging because I am modifying the poses to make them harder instead of easier, finally. I also thought when I started that I could take the beginner class for maybe, like, a couple weeks and then go for intermediate, exclusively. No way. I don't think I'll be comfortable in all intermediate classes for another year at least. I feel like pushing yourself too far too fast is maybe not the best way to get into it, because if you repeat some of these movements many times without proper form, you can get injured.
posted by citron at 7:36 PM on March 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love hot yoga. I find people's reaction to vary less by level of fitness and more by relationship to heat. As someone who loves the sauna, hot yoga met some untapped need for lots and lots of warmth.

The one tip I'll give is that if you're an overachiever, you can get swept up in the instructions, pull too hard, and hurt yourself. Careful with back bends... Careful with almost everything. Get a sense of the difference between the feeling of stretching vs. really going beyond your comfort zone. Have patience and respect the signals your body is sending.
posted by slidell at 10:15 PM on March 14, 2014

I have to say that hot yoga sounds like my idea of hell. However, as slidell suggests, I also loathe and detest heat. I find that even with normal yoga, I have trouble holding poses like downface dog because my hands sweat and slip on the mat. I can't imagine doing this in hot yoga.

Anyway, I really like Iyengar yoga, which apparently has a reputation for being very intense and difficult. I think it's actually really flexible, because it uses so many props depending on what you need - blocks, straps, extra blankets etc - and it focuses very much on working within your limits but at the same time gradually pushing those limits so that you can do more. I have problems with lower back and knees and feet so I find this really helpful, that you don't have to be some kind of uber-fit athlete to still enjoy it, and the class composition reflects that too.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:49 PM on March 14, 2014

Best answer: I was in a similar situation to you, and my second ever yoga class was a hot yoga class. I've now practiced in both hot and non hot places, and prefer hot. Other people here may disagree with this, but I'd avoid Bikram yoga specifically, as when I went there I kept getting bad advice to push through the pain etc. Maybe it was just a bad studio.

Some specific tips: I'd tell the instructor before the class that you're new to it. I'd allow yourself to chill in child's or corpse pose if you start feeling overwhelmed. I'd always do the most basic version of a pose to start until you're sure you've mastered the basic version, then maybe try the slightly more advanced one next time. Listen to your body, ESPECIALLY your knees. If you feel pressure on you knees, back off.

Anyway, all the warnings aside, have fun! I love hot yoga, but it can be totally overwhelming at first. Keep thinking to yourself that you're a beginner, and allow yourself the chance to learn and go slow. There will be people in the room with you who have practiced every day for years, so don't feel disheartened that you can't move your body into the same shapes they do. :)
posted by NoEatingdogs at 5:49 AM on March 15, 2014

Best answer: Good idea if you feel drawn to it. Drink lots of water (try to be as hydrated as possible the 24 hours before the class), don't push yourself, bring a towel and a change of underwear for afterwards. Some people love the heat, some don't, if you like it don't um, sweat it. ;)

I used to do Moksha's beginner hot yoga classes (I'm in Canada where Moksha is very popular), the classes were 50 minutes, and it's always the same series of poses so you get used to it quickly. I liked it, I was fairly fit at the time (good cardio), I'm naturally bendy but had no prior yoga experience. I never got hurt and I loved feeling so nice and warm but refreshed going out afterwards (in the fall/winter, never did it in the spring/summer).
posted by lafemma at 7:22 AM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think it's an interesting variation on yoga, but the additional benefits probably aren't there to justify all the overhead. Probably worth a single class just to try it out though.

Make sure to talk with the instructor about being a beginner and the ability to leave in the middle of the session, and find another place if you don't get a good vibe. Some hot yoga places are quite "culty" and frown upon people opening the door to leave, as it changes the temperature of the room. Not surprisingly I've heard of some people feinting or getting into arguments about leaving. Don't forget to bring lots of water and food too for after the session.

I am also a fan of Iyengar yoga, as it integrates adjustments to the practice for those people who aren't shaped or as flexible like the traditional yoga practitioner. I've got no interest in being a Yogi but Iyengar seems to be beneficial.
posted by meowzilla at 10:31 AM on March 15, 2014

Other people here may disagree with this, but I'd avoid Bikram yoga specifically, as when I went there I kept getting bad advice to push through the pain etc. Maybe it was just a bad studio.

I agree with the advice to avoid Bikram or at least disregard their medical advice. I told staff I had an injury (from a previous class) and asked how to modify the postures to avoid exacerbating it, and they talked about Bikram helping with scar tissue but the process being somewhat painful. Riiiiight, my non-pain-stricken back developed pain during a back bending posture because the posture uncovered some scar tissue from an accident I don't remembering being in, and therefore when my back hurts during back postures, I should push harder. That sounds safe.

Again, hot yoga is great, and (this aside) Bikram is a series that I enjoy, but do be careful.
posted by slidell at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2014

For what it's worth, I'm fit, athletic and love the heat, but hate (it's a strong word) Bikram. I didn't like the inflexibility (oh the irony). No modification to poses that just weren't right for me.

A lot of studios in my area offer 10 days unlimited yoga for $20. I took advantage at a couple of places to find the yoga that was right for me. Hello Simply and Power flow! A heated room (not Bikram hot) and vinyasa poses that kick my ass and can be modified to suit. Sign me up...oh wait I did. When I can't get to my usual flow class I like hip hop yoga, ymmv.

A lot of the time it comes down to the teacher, some will gel, some will not.

Try bikram by all means, it tends to polarize!
posted by WayOutWest at 6:58 AM on March 17, 2014

The one thing I will say about non-Bikram hot yoga places is that in my experience, there tends to be more of a mix than Bikram, like any chain / non-chain situation. When you go to Starbucks, you know what you're going to get. When you go to a tiny owner-run coffee shop, you don't know if it will be amazing or terrible. Be prepared to have to do more experimentation with various teachers and studios.
posted by slidell at 4:19 PM on March 17, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your tips on hot yoga! My apologies for responding so late--I've been really busy and stressed recently, and it's only now that I finally have a (much-needed!) opportunity to revisit my adventures with yoga.

I'm happy to let everyone know that I'm starting to explore different types of yoga, which includes Moksha and restorative, beyond the scope of what the Y offers in their daily yoga class. For the heat, I've had experiences with sauna sessions beyond 15 minutes, but I will certainly let the instructor know about the skill level (and make sure to go to a class that caters to beginners.)

My objections with Bikram Yoga is, in addition to Bikram Choudhury's attempt to patent yoga poses in the public domain, also influenced by:
1. allegations involving Bikram Choudhury's sexual harassment and assault of women; and
2. having read Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr on Bikram (both the practice and the guru); where I get the impression that the unforgiving nature of the practice may eventually cause health problems in the long run and an impression that the guru has behaved in narcissistic and controlling ways (without even getting into the sexual harassment / assault).

Again, thank you so much for all the advice--I really appreciate it.
posted by Tsukushi at 2:55 AM on November 19, 2014

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