By Holly St. Lifer
As I see it, there probably aren't too many people who actually love performing plank tricep extensions or doing weighted squats. Strength training can be grueling and tedious, no matter how much you love your playlist. But hot yoga's a muscle-building alternative that's not tedious: Your mind and body are totally engaged, from Child Pose to Corpse Pose. Plus, hot yoga transforms your mood, putting you in the mellowest state possible (even if you're high-strung like me). With hot yoga, you get all-over strength, flexibility, stress reduction, mindfulness and an amazing shvitz, all at the same time. Still not sold? Let me tackle your objections, one by one.
But... it's too hot. Hot yoga isn't necessarily Bikram, a type that happens in a room that's 105 degrees. For instance, at Moksha Yoga Studio in New York City, the temperature range is between 92 and 98. "Anything hotter than your body temperature can be too overwhelming," says studio director and teacher Guillaume Brun. His tip: Get into the room 15 minutes early and just lie still. This will help your body adjust to the heat.
But... I won't be able to hold the poses if I'm slipping from sweat. If that happens, just wrap your towel around the wet limb for support (i.e., around your foot for Tree Pose or the top of your arm for Crow). You can also place a non-skid yoga towel over the entire mat to prevent sweat-induced slippage.
But... I'll get dehydrated. The day prior to your hot yoga class, drink about ten 8-ounce glasses of water. Two hours before, drink 16 ounces of water, and during class, continue to guzzle as needed. Post-class, replenish with an electrolyte drink or water with lemon, or eat some cucumber, watermelon or dark green leafy vegetables.
But... my muscles will get so warm I'll overstretch. "Heat actually increases the blood flow into the muscles so they're more pliable," says Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise physiology at the University of Auburn in Montgomery. "You're less likely to get injured with warm muscles than cooler ones. Think of a warm rubber band. It stretches easily. In contrast, one that's cold is stiffer and more likely to pop when pulled."
But... I'm afraid that I'll sweat too much, and be embarrassed. This concern usually disappears five minutes into the first class. "Everyone around you is in their own pool of sweat," says Brun. "I give people a few more towels if they're self-conscious, but I tell them to just let it drip because the more you wipe, the more you sweat." (If you mop perspiration away before it evaporates on your skin, you need to sweat more just to achieve the same degree of cooling.)
But... it's too physically demanding. Putting stress on your limbs, joints and muscles is a good thing. So push yourself a little. "When you keep moving from pose to pose and in and out of many angles, it enhances your range of motion, making the activities of daily life easier on your body," says Olson. Holding poses also improves balance and makes you stronger.