Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hot yoga and running, plus 3 tips for starting hot yoga

Have you ever tried hot yoga?

I've been doing yoga for a long, long time, but I only started hot yoga last year. It took me a month or two to really get into it - it always made my body feel good, but I have a hard time with the heat so it took me a while to get used to it. It's amazing how your body adapts - I used to have to drink a ton of water during class and now I can make it through class with only water near the end. (I find when I drink a lot of water during class, I overheat faster - isn't that weird?)

Hot yoga has become very popular in recent years. I love it in winter because it's an awesome way to heat up your whole body, and in summer it's nice because you're more adapted to the heat.

I also find it helps a lot with running. I tend to get really tight muscles from running, especially my hip flexors and periformis (sp?), and hot yoga loosens me up better than anything. Also, it helps your body adapt to exercising in high heat, which is useful if you're running races in the summer. I ran a 10K last summer on a very hot day, and the race didn't start until 10:30 am. It was hard, but I kept a steady pace through the whole race, and was passing people the whole way because they were overheating and having to stop or slow down. I think the hot yoga helped me with that race.

New to hot yoga? Here are some tips if you're just starting out:

1. Take it easy
If you're like me, you always go for the hardest yoga classes (think power yoga or Ashtanga) and push yourself really hard. This is a bad idea if you're new to hot yoga. Pushing hard gets your heart rate up and you'll overheat - and it's really hard to cool down in that room if you've already gotten too hot. Remember that the room often gets hotter through the class because of all the people. So for at least the first few classes, ease up on poses - don't go as deep into the warrior series, don't do all the vinyasas, don't do really deep back bends. Take a break if your heart is pounding. After you've taken a few classes and tested your limits, you'll know how hard you can really go. (In a Bikram class? Feel free to ignore the teacher if he or she is telling you to push harder. You know your body better than they do.)

2. Hydrate before and after
I've never sweated so much as during hot yoga class - and I'm a sweater. Make sure you've had lots of water during the day of an evening class, and the day before a morning class. (To be honest, I've never done a morning class, but it must be harder as most of us wake up dehydrated.) And after class, drink a ton of water - you'll be amazed at how much you drink before you have to pee. Remember that you lose electrolytes (such as salt) when you sweat, so replace them after class by drinking some coconut water, Emergen-C or Gatorade. And even if you're not hungry, eat something to help your body repair - try some fruit or a salad if you're only in the mood for something light. These are good choices because they're hydrating, too.

3. Bring a towel (or two), and use your worst mat
You don't need a fancy yoga towel, although they're nice to have. (It's a great reward after you've done, say, 10 classes and are ready to commit.) Start with a regular bath towel (an old one is ideal, not your guest towels) and a hand towel for wiping off sweat. Put the bath towel (many studios will rent them to you, too, although they tend to be a bit stinky) on your mat for the whole class to soak up all the sweat you're dripping. (Yes, you will be dripping.)

A lot of teachers tell you not to wipe the sweat - I even had one say it was a way to avoid focusing - but let's get real. Who likes having sweat drip in their eyes, ears or nose? (The latter in downward dog.)

Finally, I wouldn't use your expensive Manduka or Jade yoga mat in hot yoga. Like I said, you sweat a lot, and no matter how much essential oil you spray on it, it's going to absorb that sweat. Instead, I prefer to use the mats from my gym (they sanitize them after every session, and most should) and my own towel on top. I save my nice mats for non-hot classes.

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