So, you took your first Bikram Yoga class. You were proud of the achievement, but... later that day, you felt awful!
Here's what you thought right away: maybe you should never do Bikram Yoga again. Maybe you just can't take the heat.
Not so fast.
The thing is: after one class, you can not really know whether the heat- or anything about what you did in yoga- was the cause of how you felt later. Think of it this way: no scientist would ever perform an experiment one time and say they have conclusive evidence to support a claim!
It could be that you had a virus, or you ate something that didn't sit well. It could be that you were not as well-hydrated as you thought. (Most of us don't drink enough water throughout the day.) Or maybe how you deal with stress in your life has been affecting your body in some way you were not aware of- until you put your body in the heat.
We can feel ill for so many reasons!
So, if Bikram Yoga doesn't make you sick, why am I even writing this blog post?
Unless you have a very specific medical condition like being allergic to your own sweat, Bikram Yoga is most likely not going to make you sick. (And it may just help you solve a whole slurry of medical problems.)
But the heat will make you uncomfortable. Which makes it an easy scapegoat for all kinds of sensations.
I'm writing this blog post because: I get it. Those first few classes can leave you feeling a whole mess of feelings, and not all of those feelings are always pleasant. But nothing you do which is transformative will be pleasant all the time.
The body is wired to seek comfort, and the mind is wired to seek bliss.
The hot environment of Bikram Yoga is meant to be stressful on your body. By putting your body under stress, you create change in your body. (Note: stressful does not mean dangerous. 105 degrees is not a dangerous temperature for a person to be in for 90 minutes.)
Doing yoga in a hot room is like looking in a mirror through a magnifying glass: your experience in the hot room shows you (in BIG size) what you have been doing- or not doing- to care for yourself throughout the previous hours, days, weeks or even years.
For example: if you are a smoker, you may have trouble with breathing in class. Guess what? That does not mean Bikram Yoga is bad for breathing. Bikram Yoga is just showing you the effects of you being a smoker. (For this reason, many of our regulars credit Bikram Yoga with helping them quit smoking.)
After your first class, I'll bet you'd never done anything like it before! (You might have even exclaimed exactly that to your teacher or a friend: "I've never done anything like that before!")
Like anything new, you have to give your body time to adjust.
It is perfectly normal to have a headache or feel tired after your first or even first few classes, especially if you had been dehydrated when you came in! Did you know that if you felt thirsty during class, it probably means you were already dehydrated?
Feeling depleted can be due to irregular breathing or holding your breath, which can definitely be a thing among first-time Bikram yogis. (When we concentrate on learning a new routine, a common tendency is to hold our breath while we focus hard on what we're doing.) Involuntary breath-holding puts strain on the muscles and nervous system.
The good news is, by practicing awareness of breath and conscious breathing exercises (as we do in Bikram Yoga) you can regain control of your breathing and normalize your breathing patterns. And because we do the same sequence of poses every time, you will quickly learn how to pace yourself during the class. While the yoga never gets "easy," you will get better at handling it.
Tension headaches or migraines can be triggered or made worse by dehydration. If you experienced one of these following your first class, it is likely that poor hydration is to blame. You're not used to sweating this much! Not yet, anyway.
To handle headaches or migraines, up your water intake throughout the day by several cups, even on days you are not practicing.
To handle feeling tired, rest and breathe. These are good rules for life, and great rules for your next class too.
By the way, did you rest during your class?
Maybe you didn't know it was ok to take breaks. (It is.) Now you know! I'll bet that if you take more breaks during your second class, you will feel a million times better afterward.
But it's SO hot...
Our yoga room is heated to 105 degrees, a temperature which many humans in the world live in for weeks or months at a time. There is nothing "unnatural" or "extreme" about this temperature for the human body.
The difference, people who live in hot climates are acclimated, and we in Portland are not.
But your body has not evolved so incredibly much since your ancestors who used to tough it out through all kinds of weather with no air conditioning! While it may take a bit of practice, you can definitely handle 90 minutes in heat equivalent to a summer's day.
And if you think you can't, you should definitely try. How else will you find out how truly badass you are?
When you first begin doing Bikram Yoga, it does take time to acclimate to the heat. This is why we recommend practicing often as possible when you first start. At least 3 times your first week is the best, but do more if you can. The more often you come at the beginning, the quicker you will acclimate.
Another factor in feeling awful after yoga could be the clothes you wore to class. Check out this video we made about which clothes are just plain wrong for Bikram Yoga.
If you felt so, SO hot in your sweatpants, try wearing shorts next time. Trapping your body heat in layers of baggy clothes is just a totally bad idea in 105 degrees. You wouldn't wear a bikini out snowshoeing, would you?
Students often tell me when I say this, "oh, I know I will feel cooler- but I don't like to see my [thighs/ cankles/ gut) in the mirror.") I get it. I was that girl in a sports bra, tank top, tee shirt AND a long-sleeved shirt in class.
I thought I was fat and ugly, and I thought I could hide.
Over time I learned I was wrong about all those things. It turns out I was not fat, I was not ugly- and I could not hide under the bright lights of Bikram Yoga class. Little by little, I shed my layers. I began to feel cooler and better. More importantly, I began to love and appreciate the body I saw in the mirror.
Self-loathing is not a good excuse for making your body suffer.
What I want to leave you with is this: give this life-saving yoga system an honest try. Try to do 10 classes in 1 month. (The studiowide yoga challenge starts on Monday!!)
Or if that even seems like too far in advance to plan, just make up your mind to do 3 classes this week. If after that you totally hate it and don't see any reason to continue? Don't continue. At least you really gave it a shot.
Use the tips from this post: hydrate, dress in small close-fiting clothing, and make sure you are breathing calmly through your nose throughout the class. I bet you will feel so much better, and I bet you will start loving your life more too. Let us know if you do!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!