Imagine you’re stretched out on a scorching beach, basking in 30°C heat and surrounded by supple, sweaty bodies. Now replace the beach with four walls, your towel with a mat and the beams of sunlight with infrared heaters, and you’ve got yourself a hot yoga studio. Doesn’t sound so scary now, does it? First founded by yoga guru Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, hot yoga has earned itself a toned troupe of practitioners that include Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga. Tentatively, I brave the humidity to see what’s behind all the hot yoga hype at the Fitness on Fire studios in London.
Prepare to Sweat
As I enter the studio (just moments from Old Street station) and leave the bitter wind outside, my chilly limbs are embraced by hot air and wafts of incense. It’s like stepping into an airless conservatory on a summer’s day. In Bangkok. Already a devoted yogi – but used to the comfort of air-conditioned classes – I choose a space at the back of the room, strategically close to the door should I need to swoon out sideways to escape the heat (which typically wavers between 30°C and 40°C, with a high degree of humidity).
Ten minutes into the hour-long session, a beady moustache of sweat has slyly formed on my upper lip before dribbling mischievously down my chin to form a beard. My usual yoga classes would never cause even a small stream of perspiration, let alone a fully-formed channel of facial hair. During the course of the hour, as we move through a sequence of postures, the room becomes a sauna. Perhaps it’s the relief of savasana (the resting ‘corpse pose’ held at the end of each session) or the rush of cool air that greets me at the door, but when I leave the studio, still pink and glistening like a leaf drenched with morning dew, I’m feeling strangely satisfied and drawn to return.
Advocates claim that hot yoga enables us to sweat out toxins, while improving balance, strength, flexibility and coordination. The higher temperature helps yogis stretch out further than usual, lengthening limbs and engaging a wider range of muscles. After a few sessions, my body soon adjusts to the heat and the initial burn that I felt during the first class slowly lessens (as does the fear of losing balance and causing a domino effect of tumbling down dogs). My clothes may still become saturated while my hair is glued to my scalp like a stringy leech, but with each class, the poses become easier to follow and practice becomes a relaxing but rewarding workout. It’s safe to say I’m hooked.
Tips for First-Timers
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after practice to avoid dehydration
- Take a towel to soak up the buckets of sweat that may pool around you
- Inform the instructor of any injuries you have
- Light-headed? Get on your knees and lay your head on the ground in front of you with your arms stretched out behind (don’t worry, this is a genuine resting posture called balasana, or ‘child’s pose’)
- Don’t push yourself too hard – you probably won’t master the splits in your first session
- Try to maintain regular breath
- Try not to eat heavy meals two hours before a session
- Don’t take yourself too seriously – wobbling and slipping is all part of practice!
Want to try hot yoga for yourself? Feel the heat at Fitness on Fire’s hot yoga classes in either Old Street or Westminster, with Wowcher.co.uk. Choosing from Vinyasa, Power, Hatha, Ashtanga and Dynamic Flow classes, held Monday to Sunday from 7am-10pm, you’ve no excuse not to get sweaty!
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