Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Always Be Prepared

I love rules. Numbered lists of rules. And structure. Consistency, even at the expense of variety. In other styles of yoga, classes vary, postures vary, and modifications rule the day. Not so in Bikram. The postures don't change, your body changes. And s-l-o-w-l-y, your mind learns to let go of micromanaging and multitasking, if only for 90 minutes.

A friend and occasional Bikram toe-dipper asked me to write the definitive guide to class preparation--to spell out the lecture I gave her and other willing participants before their first class. Write a list of Bikram rules? Yes, please!

So, for those of you who missed the bus, Bikram Yoga is a 90-minute beginner-level series of 26 classical hatha yoga postures (including two breathing exercises) practiced in a room ideally heated to 105*F/40*C with 50% humidity. Of course it's not easy--where's the fun in that? But it is doable, especially with a little prep, and it leaves you feeling EUPHORIC! Thus, without further ado, here are my guidelines for a fabulous Bikram class.

Before Class

As a beginner, proper hydration is half the battle. During class, your sweat glands will be working overtime to flush out toxins and cool your body. To prevent dehydration, make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day: 1 1/2 - 2 liters, even if you're not thirsty. For those of you not accustomed to this much water, get ready for frequent bathroom breaks! You'll want to stop drinking 1 hour before class to give your body a chance to absorb and digest.

On a related note, it's best to practice on an empty stomach. Not ravenous, mind you, but if you're thinking of eating a falafel sandwich or double cheeseburger 2 hours before class, wait until after. Eating too close to class guarantees an encore during the floor series! Skip the savory treats 3 hours before class, but feel free to enjoy a piece of fruit (perhaps a filling, potassium-rich banana) 1-2 hours prior.

Another comfort factor you have control over (unlike the heat, sweat, or teacher!) is your outfit. As someone who began her practice very out of shape, I understand the urge to cover up in long pants and a baggy t-shirt. If you can rock the teeny bikini, go for it! If you're feeling a bit more modest, that's cool, too. Just know that minimal clothing means less sweat-drenched fabric dangling from your body. It's also important to be able to see your knees in the front mirror when practicing (a locked knee is the foundation of much of the standing series), so above-the-knee shorts are preferable. My favorite women's yogawear brand is Lululemon. Yes, their pieces run $40-$50, but I'm still wearing the same Reverse Groove Shorts I purchased 3 years ago. If you're well-endowed, Moving Comfort makes excellent sports bras. For men, I like Shakti Activewear--similarly priced and durable. Clothing Tip: avoid that shiny biker short material; it's itchy, non-breathable, and it rides up, causing lots of distracting fidgets and adjustments.

Additionally, you'll want to forgo fragrances and lotions in the hot room for two reasons. First: heat magnifies odor, so the whole room will begin to take on the collective scent of its occupants. Second: seemingly absorbed lotions will sneak their way up to your skin's surface, creating a slippery obstacle course to a nice, tight grip. Slick it on after class!

My last bit of pre-class advice is to get enough sleep the night before. Maybe skip the tequila shot contest in favor of a nice cup of tea and an early bedtime. Refreshing!

After Class

If you thought you were done with water for the day, you thought wrong! Drink at least another liter after class, even if you're not thirsty. The body loses a lot of water during class, so replenish, replenish, replenish. You'll also want to replace your electrolytes, which are lost with your sweat. Think bananas, coconut water, tomatoes, and melon.

After my very first Bikram class, I felt both exhilarated and terrified to return. Exhilarated because every cell, tissue, muscle, organ, and gland had been stimulated. I felt so alert and alive--a boundless heap of energy. Terrified because the class was no longer a mystery. I knew exactly what I was in for on day two, including an array excuses to blow it off. Thankfully, I didn't.

As one of my favorite teachers will tell you even before class starts: come back tomorrow. It's the only way to get used to the heat, which for many is the greatest challenge. Consistency will also allow you to zero in on your strengths and weaknesses, and improve your mind-body connection. But don't worry, it never gets easy!              


  1. Hi Ilana, very informative post! To to add to the 'what to eat before class.' My instructors also advised fruit until we had a visit from a life coach/Bikram student/nutritionist who advised against fruit as it will spike your blood sugars and leave you flat by the floor series. Her advise was portein. Sounds weird but yes a small piece of left over roast/steak/chicken or half a hard boiled egg. Sounds mad but once you've tried it it really does work, especially for the 5:45am classes, you need fuel and any normal healthy person should digest a small piece of protein within an hour. Everyone's different so you need to work out whats best for you! Thanks, Kat.

  2. First of all, I couldn't have asked for a more well-rounded guide! Thank you for writing this, Lan. Reading your post reminds me of one of the reasons we are such good friends - we are both energized by boundaries, guidelines, consistency, and discipline. Naturally, I will probably be referring to this awesome guide dozens of times throughout my Bikram journey!

  3. Hey Kat,

    Thanks for reading! I haven't heard the protein thing, but it does make sense. I would personally caution against such savory foods (meat/eggs) so close to class, though, especially for those of us with less than perfect digestive systems. Instead, I might suggest a more neutral tasting protein/nutrition bar, or perhaps a small piece of whole grain bread with almond butter. But definitely keep workin' what works for you!


  4. Almond butter is another pre-class favourite of mine. Yes the meat thing def' depends on the individual. Organic Whey protein shakes are excellent, lighter to digest. Looking forward to some more informative posts!

  5. Hi Ilana,

    Starting this blog is job well done!
    I like the theme and LOVE the author , so
    don't lose that grip !