What to Expect During Your First Bikram Yoga Class

Bikram yoga

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Bikram Yoga is a very specific hot yoga methodology. It's important to understand that Bikram Yoga is always hot yoga, but hot yoga is not always Bikram. In other words, Bikram Yoga is a "name brand" version of yoga performed in a hot studio.

For anyone new to the concept of hot yoga, it may be beneficial to take your first class at a Bikram studio simply because Bikram standards are incredibly detailed, and all Bikram studios adhere to the same standards.

This reduces some of the uncertainty of trying a new class because, aside from the instructor, pretty much all of the workout's details are pre-determined. A new student can prepare for the class and know exactly what to expect. For instance, Bikram studios and classes must:

  • Be heated to 105 degrees F, with 40% humidity
  • Have carpet flooring
  • Have mirrors on the front wall
  • Be taught by Bikram-certified instructors
  • Last 90 minutes
  • Consist of a specific beginning yoga sequence including two breathing exercises and 26 poses (variations from this series are not allowed)
  • Have bright lighting
  • Have no music playing during the class

As a new student, you can feel confident that any class you attend is being appropriately monitored, and that you won't be pressured to push past your personal limitations. This is important because working out in a hot, humid room, if not appropriately managed, could lead to heat-related illness.

I took my first Bikram class as part of a subscription to ClassPass, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was tough, it was smelly, and I sweated like a dog, but afterward, I felt amazing. If you're considering heading to a nearby studio, this is what you should know before you go:

1. It Might Smell

Put 30 people into a hot, humid room for 90 minutes, with the goal of inducing intense sweat, and you're going to end up with a stinky room. The class I took started about 30 minutes after the previous class, and walking in for the first time I felt like I was walking into an intense version of a high school boys' locker room. You might get acclimated to the smell once you've been in the room for a while, but it never completely goes away. Just understand that your own sweaty body will start stinking up the place, too, so you can't really hate on other peoples' stench.

2. It Will Be Hot—Dress Appropriately

I mistakenly wore long yoga pants and a cotton tank top to my first class. Trust me when I say I was overdressed. Lots of women wear yoga gear akin to booty shorts and a sports bra, while the guys are usually shirtless and in athletic shorts.

Feel free to wear whatever you feel most comfortable in, but close-fitting, sweat-wicking gear, particularly shorts and a tank top or sports bra for women, and shorts with or without a sweat-wicking t-shirt for men are your best bets. 

If you don't like the heat or sweating, you probably won't like Bikram. It's not for everyone.

3. Bring Water and Food

Hydrating before class is incredibly important, as you want to make sure you're not dehydrated before spending 90 minutes in 105-degree heat. It's also important to bring water with you into the studio. The instructor suggests one water break early in the class, but you can take voluntary breaks throughout. With the amount you'll be sweating, you should make an effort to drink several ounces at least every 10-15 minutes.

After class, you need to replenish your fluids, so refill your water bottle or have another one on hand so you can drink up. I also found myself ravenously hungry after class. I'd suggest packing a light snack you can eat on the way home—possibly an apple and string cheese, or a single-serve portion of hummus and pretzels. A mix of proteins and carbs can help sustain you until you're able to sit down for your next meal.

4. Bring a Change of Clothes

Bikram studios are required to provide showers, so if you prefer showering right after class, it's always an option. If, however, you prefer to shower at home, you'll still want to change clothes before you leave the studio. I'm not exaggerating when I say I sweated more during my Bikram class than I did playing 6-hours of basketball in an un-air-conditioned gym in Texas in the middle of the summer. You do not want to drive home while wearing clothes so wet it feels like you just crawled out of a pool.

5. You Can (and Should) Take Breaks as Needed

When I walked into the studio and told the instructor it was my first time to try Bikram, she told me, "Your only goal for today is to stay in the room. I don't care if you just lie on your mat the whole class and don't attempt a single pose, I just want you to stay in the room." In other words, I could do whatever I needed to do to get through the class. I found myself taking regular water breaks, and while I tried every pose, I opted out of camel pose because I found myself getting lightheaded. Instead, I sat down, drank water, and joined back in when the dizziness passed.

Even seasoned Bikram yogis often take breaks, so take as many as needed and make sure you drink enough water. The goal, especially if you're a beginner, is to stay in the room and get used to the heat.

6. You'll Be Encouraged to Stay in the Room

See the point above. Staying in the room and acclimating to the heat is an important part of Bikram yoga because the heat itself helps loosen you up to increase the flexibility of your muscles.

7. Poses Are Beginner-Friendly

Before my first class, I told my husband, "I hope they don't ask us to do any crazy headstands or balance poses." They didn't. The 26-pose series is taken from Hatha Yoga, and the instruction is very beginner-friendly. While more advanced versions of each pose are introduced, all are possible for true beginners to take on, even those who aren't very flexible.

8. You May Not Like It Immediately

I wasn't a huge fan of Bikram while the class was taking place. I didn't mind the poses, and it wasn't that I hated the heat. It was an experience of general discomfort—extreme heat, activity, and persistently-increasing dehydration working together to increase my heart rate, challenge my breathing, and push me past my normal range of motion. It took a lot of mental concentration to focus on proper form while trying to not think about the general discomfort I was feeling. I was ready for the class to be over at about the halfway point.

That said, Ieaving the studio, I felt both tired and alive—invigorated. Exhausted, but also excited for the rest of my day. The feeling lasted for a full 24 hours. Any workout that imparts that kind of mental benefit and the positive glow is a workout worth doing again.

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