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Hot yoga is a lot like it sounds, and not the optimal choice for a beginner. This type of yoga, which includes Bikram, involves doing poses in rooms that from the get-go are humid and set to temperatures as high as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions can add an extra level of challenge, or stress, to the already somewhat intense experience of beginning to move your body in new and unfamiliar ways. Doing poses in heat with more pliable muscles but no basis for knowing how far your body can stretch in standard conditions also makes it easier to overdo a pose and risk injury.
If you are considering trying a hot yoga class, know that it will make you sweat more than you thought was possible. To prepare for the huge amount of water you will shed in the class, as droplets of sweat roll down your limbs and drip onto your mat, have a hydrate strategy that includes drinking water throughout the day of your practice, especially one hour to 30 minutes before. Also bring water with you into class that you can start guzzling as you begin to sweat and be sure to drink up immediately after class as you rest.
If you are thinking of trying hot, be prepared to be surrounded by the scantily clad. Men often attend hot yoga classes shirtless, and women should opt for a form-fitting sports bra and light tank over stretch pants that cut off above the knee or flowing pants. Any fabric that absorbs water will get very heavy and cumbersome. In general fabric of any kind, if too loose and baggy, will get in the way and distract you from your practice.
"Hot yoga encourages the exploration of poses under extreme conditions which can give the practitioner a false sense of what their body is capable of," says Yogi Cameron Alborizan, author of "The One Plan." "Yoga practiced in a natural environment provides the practitioner with a realistic understanding of the limitations of their own body." The difficulty is that if you have done any yoga poses before, you are unfamiliar with how far you can generally take a pose or stretch. In heated temperatures, and with more pliable muscles, you may go farther than your body's capacity and set the stage for injury. For this reason, it may be best to start with a general class, get your bearings and graduate to hot.
"I recommend that a beginner attend a beginner class to learn the fundamentals of the postures -- mechanics, alignment, and language," says Chrissy Carter, a certified yoga instructor in New York who just released the DVD "Beginning Yoga." "Ultimately, it will set you with a strong, smart foundation for your practice. Starting at the beginning in a natural environment will instill good postural habits from the beginning, hopefully preventing repetitive stress injuries later." There are many different doors through which to discover yoga, she adds, and all lead to the same place ultimately -- greater strength and flexibility.