I’ve been practicing heated yoga for 13 years. I’ve mixed in other styles as well, including those that don’t involve heat and I can say I enjoy both and find both effective. However, I will admit that once it starts to get hot outside, I need to make adjustments in my practice so I can practice comfortably in a heated class.
In the past few weeks, the weather here in Boston has started to shift to warmer temperatures. With that, as expected, I’ve had an increase in questions from students about how to practice safely in a heated studio and they’ve had some questions about experiences in their body that they don’t normally feel when it’s cold out.
If you’re practicing heated yoga in the warmer summer months, here are ten tips to help you adjust safely:
The water you drink before class is just as important as drinking water after class. Many of us don’t think about additional hydration in the summer months and keep our same routine of liquid intake and then hop into the hot studio. In the warmer months, with increased sweating even before you arrive, you need to replace that hydration before you start class.
Replace your water with fluids that have electrolytes. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, like sodium and potassium. These need to be replaced so you’re not dehydrated and to keep your overall systems in balance. I like coconut water but there are many other supplemented waters out there you can try. Be aware if drinking sports drinks of the added sugar content. Coconut water is great because there is no added sugar.
Check your diet. As it gets warmer out, we need to adjust our intake so we aren’t overeating or ingesting heavy foods, especially if we plan on taking a heated class within a few hours of eating. When you eat, the blood goes to your digestive organs and away from the muscles, so overeating will work against you in class. However, we also need to make reasonable food choices before yoga. If you head to class before the lunch or dinner hour, make sure you select foods that are easy and quick to digest (and watch portion sizes). A banana, other fruit, nut bar or Greek yogurt are good choices.
Rest more. Some students never rest until the very end of class when the teacher calls for everyone to rest in shavasana. During the summer months, you may find yourself feeling drained before you even step in the door, due to the increased heat and humidity outside. As you’re practicing, take time to stop in Child’s Pose and take a few breaths before joining back into the flow. The investment in rest will allow you to feel more balanced when you leave. The key is to listen to your body and less to those thoughts that tell you that resting is a waste of time.
Modify the practice. As with resting more, you may find the urge to change the poses so that you feel more steady and grounded. This can be done in a number of poses by dropping a knee in a lunge, for instance, or using blocks on the inside of a leg instead of the outside. Resting and modifying in class is a sign of a mature student; one who listens to their inner voice.
Wear the right stuff. I’m not suggesting a particular brand here. I’m talking more about what you wear. You may find that cropped leggings are more comfortable than longer flared pants or lighter colors or better than black. You may also want to leave the loose fitting cotton for unheated classes and stick with tops with wicking material.
Leaving is not cheating. If you find you’re close to over-heating, step out of class for a few minutes and splash your face with cool water. Return to class, rest in Child’s Pose and look for the next logical point to jump into the flow again. This is not cheating. The trick is to have the movement in and out of class done mindfully so you can stay in the flow even as you step out and back in. This also minimizes distraction to the other students. Do let the teacher know if you do not plan on returning to class, or if you feel unwell.
Invest in good equipment. Just as what you wear can add to your enjoyment of class, because you’re not playing with the straps of your top or tripping over your pant legs, a good mat for a heated class and a thirsty towel will ensure your comfort as well. Take the time to buy your own. Studio rentals are great in a pinch but a slip free mat is worth it.
Make sure your post-yoga intake fuels your body. With proper hydration before class and during, the nutrition you take in after class will be a welcome event versus a ravenous attack on food and drink. Stay away from alcohol and stick with a good mixture of protein, carbohydrates and foods that are easy to digest. Ideas like brown rice and vegetables or chicken, sushi with rice or grilled fish with vegetables are some great options.
Remember, heated yoga is not something to be endured but something to be enjoyed. Don’t be afraid to modify your practice schedule, mix in other styles of yoga, rest when you need to and be truthful about what would best serve you on the mat during the warmer months. You should never feel like you have to suffer through class to get the benefits of the practice.
In the summer months, with increased humidity and warmth, you may find your practice actually expands into new areas. You may go deeper into poses, may enjoy practicing outside in the sun, may find the freedom of hopping into the studio and then out in flip-flops to be incredibly liberating. However you fit in your practice this summer, make the time it. It will reward you in ways you never even imagined.