What to Expect During Your First Bikram Yoga Class

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Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Bikram Yoga is a particular 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 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. If you're considering heading to a nearby studio, keep reading to learn what you should know before you go.

Bikram Studio Class Basics

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 Fahrenheit, 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 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 limitations. This is important because working out in a hot, humid room, if not appropriately managed, could lead to heat-related illness.

What to Bring to Bikram Yoga

Preparing for your first Bikram class will help you make the most of it. Here are some things you may wish to bring.

The Right Clothing

Avoid wearing long yoga pants or long-sleeved tops. Lots of women practitioners wear minimal, sweat-wicking gear such as yoga shorts and a sports bra, while men may be shirtless and in athletic shorts. A headband that helps keep sweat from dripping into your eyes is also wise.

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. 

You'll also want to 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. You will likely not want to drive, walk, or commute home while wearing sweat-soaked clothes.

Food and Drink

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 essential 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.

You may want to pack 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 can sit down for your next meal.

Personal Yoga Gear

While many studios provide yoga mats, you may wish to bring your own. Be sure it is clean, and bring along some yoga cleaning spray or wipes to clean up your mat afterward, as it will likely be wet.

A hot yoga towel is another excellent option, which can sit on top of your yoga mat. Another small microfiber towel you can use to wipe the sweat dripping into your eyes is a good idea as well.

If you use them, props like blocks and straps are good to bring for yourself, along with your own water bottle.

Tips for Your First Class

Below are some tips that will help make your first Bikram class more enjoyable.

You Will Likely Need Breaks

Due to the nature of the heat and humidity you are likely not accustomed to, you may need to take regular water breaks. Opt-out of any poses that cause you to feel lightheaded. Instead, sit down, drink water, and join back in when it passes. Alternatively, you can rest in child's pose.

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. If you continue to feel lightheaded or dizzy, leave the room and cool down, being sure to hydrate.

Staying in the room and acclimating to the heat is an integral part of Bikram yoga because the heat itself helps to increase the flexibility of your muscles.

You Can Ask for Modifications

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.

As well, a good yoga instructor will be able to offer modifications if you are unable to perform the poses. Ask for guidance if you need it or use props such as blocks, straps, and pillows to help you make the poses more accessible.

Never push yourself too far or try to move past pain. You could end up injuring yourself, especially if the heat leads you to feel more flexible. Skip any poses you are uncomfortable with.

You May Need Time to Adjust

You may experience general discomfort due to the extreme heat, challenging physical activity, and persistently-increasing dehydration. These factors work together to increase heart rate, challenge your breathing, and push you past your normal range of motion.

It takes a lot of mental concentration to focus on proper form while trying to not think about the general discomfort you may be feeling. Many practitioners keep coming back because after the hard work, the physical reward and feeling of relaxation, likely due to endorphins, feel fantastic.

Expect Body Odors

Put 30 people into a hot, humid room for 90 minutes to induce intense sweat, and you're going to end up in a rather smelly room. Some classes start about 30 minutes after the previous class, but walking into a Bikram studio for the first time may feel overpowering.

You might get acclimated to the smell once you've been in the room for a while, but it never completely disappears. Just understand that your own body odors will likely add to the mixture, so everyone is in the same position.

Safety Tips

It's crucial that you do not push past any of your physical limits. If something feels off to you, leave the class and seek medical care if necessary. Be sure to hydrate adequately and consider an electrolyte replacement for the minerals lost through sweat.

If you are brand new to any type of yoga, it is best to try another type first so you know what to expect from certain poses. Trying to learn them in extreme conditions is not advisable.

If you have a medical condition such as hypertension, be sure to speak to your doctor before you attend a hot yoga class. If you are pregnant, you should also avoid hot yoga.

A Word From Verywell

Bikram yoga is a challenging but rewarding practice. If you are interested in trying it, being prepared beforehand is a good idea. Bring along the correct gear, wear appropriate clothing, and be sure to keep hydrated. Refuel after you are finished and consider an electrolyte solution to replace lost minerals.

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.