A newbie’s journey into the heart of Bikram yoga


People doing hot yoga

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I’ve been a fan of yoga for a while, but I never dared to attempt Bikram yoga, a style characterized by performing 26 specific ordered postures and two breathing exercises in a room heated to about 105 degrees to promote flexibility and detoxification. However, suffering from anxiety thrust me into a sort of body bravery. I craved challenge, order, focus and peace. Bikram yoga seemed like the cure for what ailed me, or at the very least, a powerful coping mechanism. Come along with me for the ride and get some tips on how to survive your first time!


Studio Session

Bikram Yoga of Philadelphia’s declaration — “YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE GOOD AT THIS YOGA!” — alongside the super-helpful FAQ for newbies was comforting, as was the thorough rundown of the Bikram poses. But I have to confess, what clinched the deal for me was the Sylvia Plath quote on their site: “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” Book nerd, sold! This is how I found myself climbing the rickety steps to the third floor studio on a frigid Saturday morning, where a sign beckoned:

A newbie’s journey into the heart of Bikram yoga

Dare to Bare

Some people were bearing flesh in bikinis and super cute booty shorts. I’m coveting this pair by Onzie that I spotted at the studio. My body confidence has not reached bare midriff levels quite yet, and I also wanted to prevent my ample thighs from chafing and creating that marvelous phenomenon known as “chub rub.” I chose the sweat wicking but slightly more modest C9 by Champion Women’s compression short and the C9 by Champion Women’s Yoga tank in my power color, Super Turquoise.


Prep School

Most studios will offer towel rentals, but…gross. I’m a bit of a germaphobe; communal sweating was enough of a challenge for me. I went with the Gaiam Grippy yoga towel for extra stability.

I put my Contigo 32 Oz. AUTOSPOUT Addison water bottle in the freezer for a bit before heading to the studio to make sure my water didn’t go warm too fast, and it stayed cool for most of class. You could go fancy with an insulated water bottle, such as the Hydro Flask, but I’m on a budget.

I went with Bikram Yoga of Philadelphia’s suggestion to arrive to class on an empty stomach but fuel up a few hours beforehand. I ate a light, nourishing breakfast of nonfat Greek yogurt topped with homemade granola. Also, while I drank plenty of water the night before and the morning of class, I didn’t overload myself right before class. Heat + a belly full of sloshing water = BLEEAAARRGGGHH.

Don’t be afraid to tell the instructor you’re new or any important information you may have for them, particularly concerning health. (Also, duh, please talk to your physician before attempting Bikram yoga!) Before class began, Sandy, the instructor, imparted some wisdom to the newcomers:

  1. Try to wait for designated water breaks to rehydrate. (See above.)
  2. Sit on your mat whenever you need a moment to let any dizziness or nausea pass. (And they will happen.) Try not to leave the room.
  3. Have fun!


Life Lessons

Bikram yoga requires a great deal of discipline and focus, but it’s also a lot of fun. It was more than a yoga class. It was a life class. My body adjusted to the heat quickly. I couldn’t help but smile when my quivering muscles managed to hold the Standing Bow Pulling Pose until the end of Sandy’s countdown. She kept the class motivated by saying things like, “Yoga is supposed to relieve stress, so let’s relieve some stress!” “Enjoy it!” and “Work hard, then let go.”

She urged us to build a solid foundation before progressing in the movements and helped us when we needed it but also let us rely on our own instincts, encouraging us to gaze into the mirror and feel our way through the poses. When other class participants properly performed moves, Sandy had them demonstrate them for the class, and we all responded with hearty, sticky claps of praise.

Somewhere in between Awkward Pose and Full Locust, the anxiety that had held me tight over the past few months began to loosen its grip. I literally felt my stress melting away with every twist and release of breath, running over my skin and disappearing into my towel. We ended class with a series of fiery breaths, gathering energy together. I knew the full-body workout would leave me sore the next day, but I felt strong and centered.  

Post-class replenishment is a must. I had healthy goodies from vegan café P.S. & Co.: a nori avocado roll and a peanut butter salted caramel sandwich cookie. (It was also gluten-free, okay? Cut me some slack.)

One more thing. A friend of mine warned me about the smell of a heated yoga studio, shuddering and gagging as she went. Yes, it did smell weird — a primal scent not unlike prayer incense, sweet and sour and a bit heady — but I didn’t mind. It reminded me of the dingy shops in Lower Manhattan where I spent my youth. Strangely, it smelled like home.