My First Time Trying Hot Yoga (or Any Yoga, Period)
A rolled-up towel blocked the bottom of the yoga studio's door, ensuring that none of the room's superheated air escaped. Even though I anticipated it, the heat of hot yoga was startling. This was the first time I tried hot yoga—or any kind of yoga whatsoever—and by the time I took my socks off and unfurled my mat, I already felt my back and forehead dew up with droplets of sweat. This class was gonna be interesting.
The instructor, Kraig, noticed I was new and put me at ease. Kraig grew up playing football, which had done a number on his back. Yoga was his way of regaining flexibility and mobility. He assured me that hot yoga could help with my own ailments, including a bout of runner's knee, which recently had made squatting and jumping pretty painful.
After a few cursory stretches on my own, Kraig started class. An hour and 15 minutes later, I left feeling rejuvenated, more flexible, and, yes, sweaty. Here's what I learned in that time.
The heat does more than just make you sweat.
In this particular class, the room was heated to only 90 degrees; typical Bikram-style yoga classes crank the heat up to 105 degrees or higher. So as far as yoga for beginners goes, this made things a little easier. Still, it was enough to really make you feel it.
And that heat is more than just a sweat-inducer. It limbers up your muscles so you get further into your stretches and poses. And it's also a great detox tool. I didn't think I'd be able to get very low into the figure-four squats we did, but there I was, steadily lowering myself with every exhale.
Breathing is important.
After a couple warm-up stretches, we began what would end up being the most physically demanding part of the class for me. The instructions were simple: keep your chest up and sit back, as if you were sitting on a chair that isn't there, Kraig told us. My legs shook almost as soon as I hovered there, but then Kraig told us to focus on our breathing, to imagine every inhale traveling down our spines and into our legs, and every exhale venting from our ribs. That focus made it easier to ignore the growing burn in my quads. By the time I imagined myself as a rib-breathing cyborg, the squat sets were over, and I stood upright onto slightly more rubbery legs.
You don't need to stand on your head, but other people might.
As we got deeper into the workout, I was feeling better about my ability to hang, or least not look like an idiot. I was balancing on one foot with more consistency, and the heat that made me take a step back at the beginning of class was now an afterthought. Striking a strong Warrior 2 pose, I turned toward the front of the room to make sure my form was okay. And that's when I saw it: a woman a few mats ahead of me was standing on her head.
While I was taken aback at first, I quickly refocused on just staying in my own pose as best as I could. That's an important lesson to figure out when you're learning how to do yoga for the first time: not everyone needs to do the same thing to get the benefits they're seeking.
You'll feel the benefits right away.
In my experience, it usually takes a while for me to feel the effects of a workout. I'm generally not energized in the 10 minutes following an interval-training class, for example. But as soon as I walked out of the gym following the hot yoga class, I could feel it. My knees weren't achy, and even in my walking stride, I could feel that my hips were looser and more flexible than they've been in years. It wasn't just something that faded after an hour or so, either. That entire day, I found myself walking up stairs and squatting down to pick things up with a better range of motion and with no pain in either knee.
You're already better at yoga than you think.
With the class winding down, I lay on my back with my left leg draped over my right, a stretch to open up my hips and back. As I stared at the ceiling and dabbed sweat away from my forehead, Kraig came into my view.
"This was your first yoga class? You're a natural," he told me. I knew I had done decently well in the class, but that little affirmation made me feel a lot better about my ability, and it made me that much more excited for my next class.
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