I was very skeptical of hot yoga a few years ago. See, I'm the type who sleeps in a cold room and waits all year for winter to arrive. So my husband David practically had to drag me to my first hot yoga class...and I thought I was gonna puke during it. Why on earth would I want to be that hot?
So, for years, I stuck to non-heated yoga. That wasn't hard to do, as there wasn't a hot yoga studio in my area. But every time we'd travel, David would want to go to a hot yoga studio. I'd go because he's so darn joyful and enthusiastic about things. Eventually, I began to look forward to those out-of-town trips to hot yoga studios. In time, hot yoga became one of the things I needed most.
What changed for me? In those intervening years, I studied with teachers who taught me to see myself more clearly: to see why I resisted things, to see where I held myself back, and to see how I sold myself short. When we begin a yoga practice, to prevent injury we're wisely told that if a pose or practice is uncomfortable, we shouldn't be doing it. But as we practice longer and know our bodies and egos better, the lesson broadens. It's not that we should avoid things that are uncomfortable, just things that are not right for our bodies. In fact, growth is supposed to be uncomfortable.
I remember a particular class with a teacher who told us not to give up when the class is no longer easy, but to stay in our bodies and sit with what's uncomfortable. To not push the uncomfortable away. Remember, the uncomfortable is different from physical pain that leads to injury. The uncomfortable is what we'd rather not do because it is hard for us. But we don't really know our power until we go there. Yes, it’s comforting to do what’s easy and what feels good. But it feels even better to do what is difficult.
And, if nothing else, hot yoga is difficult. There's no place to hide from yourself in hot yoga. You can’t say, “I’ll choose only what feels good,” because the middle of hot yoga doesn't feel good no matter what you do. This is why midway through a hot yoga class, people stop caring what they look like or what others think of them. It's too hot to care about that. Half the class has lost their shirts and aren't caring if parts jiggle, because it's too hot to be self conscious. And it's certainly too hot to worry about anyone else's body or what their yoga practice looks like. They are all finally free from all of that.
That is why I love it. Hot yoga forces us to throw aside our insecurities and fears so we really do yoga. All that matters is just your body, your movement, your breath, and the edges of who you are. Hot yoga takes our borders and widens them. If in this complicated world it takes 100 degree temps to make that transformation happen and free people from the hangups of the world, then crank up that heat.
Hot Yoga Tools
There are tools that can make hot yoga more bearable, though. Arm yourself with them, because the last thing you want to worry about in the middle of a sweaty class is your gear.
1. A proper hot yoga mat
Without the proper type of mat setup, hot yoga can be frustrating at best or, at worst, dangerous if your mat becomes a sweaty slip-n-slide. There are two main styles that work for hot yoga: 1. a mat with a polyurethane "leather" top that absorbs sweat so there's no sliding; or 2. a hot yoga towel over any type of mat. Let's look at the pros and cons of these styles.
Polyurethane Leather Mat:
Pros: Instant grip, and stays grippy no matter how much you sweat. This makes for a no fuss, no worry process. These mats also work great for non-heated yoga. This is why the vast majority of people choose to use this style for hot yoga.
Cons: Not as easy to clean, as all liquid absorbs into the mat. (This is why the Manduka GRP mat includes a charcoal core.) Lifespan is about two years, and then it will be roughed up enough by the hands and feet that you'll likely want a replacement
Popular brands with this style: Liforme ($150), Lululemon ($88), Alo ($100), Manduka GRP ($130), Gaiam Dry-Grip ($70).
Polyurethane hot yoga mats on Erin Clair Yoga range from $40-$120.
Hot Yoga Mat Towel
Pros: The towel can be thrown in the wash after practice, which means each time you hit the mat, you know it's clean and stink-free. Already have a yoga mat you like? You don't have to buy another one with this set up, as the towel goes over any mat.
Cons: You have to spray down the towel with water before practice, as these towels are designed to grip when wet. Also, you have to be sure to buy a towel that has a rubber backing that sticks to your mat, or the towel will slide and bunch during practice.
Popular brands with this style: Hugger Mugger The Yoga Towel ($44); Manduka Yogitoes Yoga Mat Towel ($60).
Hot yoga towels on Erin Clair Yoga range from $19 to $44.
Of note are also the suede-topped yoga mats (sometimes called 2-in-1 mats or towel-mat combos). These fuse a hot yoga towel to a yoga mat. The problem with this style is that it has the cons of both a yoga towel (needing to spray it down before class) and a polyurethane mat (hard to thoroughly clean). This is why I've chosen not to sell this style of mat.
To see a variety of hot yoga mats and hot yoga towels, visit the collection here.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of hydration. If someone is sweating buckets in a hot yoga class and does not drink enough water during the day...welp, that person is going to get dizzy. I've seen it time and again: "Erin, when I stood up during class, I got so dizzy the room started spinning." "How much water did you drink before class?" "Well, none..." Drinking plenty of water is one of the best habits you can develop in general, but drinking water before and after hot yoga is critical.
So make it enjoyable for yourself. I've become a big fan of bottles that keep my water cold no matter the surrounding temp, which is why I carry this bottle. It's worth it.
3. Expect sweat
There's sweating, and then there's hot yoga sweating. Sometimes, midway through class, it feels like even my teeth are sweating. Get yourself a good hand towel for those moments. I don't see enough people using these types of towels in hot yoga, and they make a world of difference for that midway point of class. I recommend these options:
A cool-technology towel, such as this one on Amazon, that you wet and wring out before class.
4. Dress for the occasion
If we were going to wander through the desert together, I'd say pack you some white cotton clothes. But that's not what we're doing. In the thick of hot yoga, cotton sticks to everything and becomes heavy, and white becomes see through. Poly/spandex or nylon/lycra blends are the most breathable and sweat-wicking for hot yoga, and also tend to stay where they need to during practice (like this, this, or this ).
So gather some gear that makes you more comfortable in the midst of the uncomfortable, so that you can face challenges like the beast you are. I'll see you on the mat.