Know-Before-You-Go: Hot Yoga
August 4, 2021
article & photos by robyn fogle
Yoga has been a part of my fitness routine for nearly 20 years. While I’ve never been a hardcore yogi, the strength and flexibility it provides has served as great cross-training for my other athletic endeavors. And I love how the breath work combined with movement and flow leaves me feeling energetic.
Through the years I’ve tried various styles, and practiced under a wide variety of instructors. I’ve found my favorites - Vinyasa and Power Yoga - but I’m not opposed to other types and styles. Except, that is, for one...hot yoga.
Why on earth would anyone want to do yoga in a room that is intentionally set to 108-116°F! Ummm, no thank you! It has just never made sense to me. I sweat enough practicing yoga in an air conditioned room. And yet, for some mysterious reason, Hot Yoga is popular.
So, despite my skepticism and reservations, I decided it was time to see for myself what all the hype was about.
There are several yoga studios in Billings that offer hot yoga classes, and I opted for the Wednesday night Candlelight Zen (Hot) class offered at Black Orchid. The peacefulness of yoga by candlelight sounded like a good introduction to hot yoga, plus I knew the instructor.
I wasn’t sure if it would be crowded so I registered and paid online ahead of time to ensure my spot. This probably wasn’t necessary, especially if you go in the summer when classes are likely to be less crowded.
I brought along my yoga mat - the old one of course because I didn’t want to sweat all over my good mat - along with a sweat towel and some water. But don’t worry if you don’t have your own mat, Black Orchid allows first-time participants to borrow a mat and a towel for free (after that it’s $2 to rent both).
They offered me a towel, but I assumed it was just for wiping sweat so I declined since I’d brought my own. However, it is in fact not for wiping sweat as I discovered when I saw the other participants setting up. It’s actually a mat-length, non-slip towel that is used to cover the yoga mat. Had I realized that, I would have taken the towel. It’s much easier to wash a towel than clean a sweaty yoga mat! So if you’re a first-timer to hot yoga, my advice is to take the towel.
Like most yoga studios, shoes are not allowed in the actual yoga studio and there were cubbies for your shoes and belongings right inside the lobby. But if these are full there is another row just to the left down the hallway. There are also showers available if you come in sweaty from work or running errands, and I discovered this lovely sign on the door.
I mean...they're not wrong.
At the end of the long hallway was Studio Heaven.
“That sounds nice!” I thought.
I peeked in and it felt cool, airy and bright. Now that’s more my style! This was, of course, not where the Candlelight Zen class was being held.
Nope, you’ll want to look for Studio Inferno which is just past the front reception area.
I definitely felt the heat the moment I entered the room. There were fans and heaters on the ceiling, blowing and circulating hot air and it felt like a summer day in Florida.
The room was lit with candles - don’t worry, they’re not real - as well as some dim lights on the walls offering a soft glow. Two little disco balls created dancing red, green and blue lights on the ceiling and the ambiance felt relaxing. The spa-like music added to this peaceful atmosphere.
I found a spot near the back and settled in on my mat, taking the remaining few minutes before class to allow my body to acclimate to the heat. Closing my eyes, I focused on my breath and tried to picture myself lying on the beach with the hot sun beating down. Nobody minds being hot if you’re on the beach, right?
“This class is meant to be calm and relaxing,” the instructor said.
“Oh good,” I thought to myself as I let my mind focus on the calm music playing. “Maybe this won’t be so bad.”
“I invite you to set an intention for the class” she continued.
“Awareness” I decided. “An intention to be aware of my body and how it feels and responds working in this hot environment.”
We started the practice on our backs, working slowly, taking 3-5 breaths as we allowed our bodies to settle into each pose. Sweat was beading on my body by the time we gradually moved to seated postures.
As we continued to work through poses I began to notice the ease with which I was able to move more deeply into postures I normally find challenging. For example, I am not a fan of Ustrasana (Camel Pose) which is a backbend performed on the knees. It has always felt difficult and uncomfortable for me to bend all the way back. But the heat in the room helped my muscles release and I extended back deeper than normal, moving into the pose with relative ease. It actually felt good! Not awkward and uncomfortable. Same with Pigeon Pose - a hip opener that is a half split with one leg stretched back and the other bent in front. I folded into the pose with more ease and comfort than usual.
We worked our way up to standing postures and by this time my mind and body had ceased to really even notice the heat in the room. I was more focused on holding the poses and breathing deeply.
The class flew by and before I knew it we were being guided into the final Savasana (Corpse Pose) where the body surrenders all physical effort and the mind can reflect on the practice and its effects on the body. Sweet relaxation.
“I did it! And it wasn’t even that bad!” I realized in wonder.
“Take your time leaving the room” the instructor encouraged after a few moments.
And with that, the hour was up.
The lobby now felt blissfully cool and I felt invigorated. Alert. Energetic. Not at all how I’d anticipated feeling after an hour in Studio Inferno.
The slower, more relaxing pace of the Candlelight Zen class was a great introduction to hot yoga which wasn’t nearly as miserable as I’d imagined it to be.
If you decide to try it, Black Orchid offers an “Intro to Heat” class in a room heated to a mere 95°F. Or the slower pace of the Candlelight Zen seemed like another great option to ease into this style of yoga practice.
If you’re a yogi who’s been as hesitant as I was to try it, know that it’s not as bad as you imagine. Give it a try - you might find a new favorite style.
Though not native to Montana, Robyn Fogle is now proud to call the Treasure State home. She and her husband Rob are outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy rock climbing, hiking and finding new ways to wear out their Aussie, Whipper. She balances outdoor adventures and road trips with quiet nights at home spent cooking and reading while enjoying a glass of wine or pint of craft beer.