Monday, March 3rd, 2014

What To Do When You Pass Out In Hot Yoga

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer and graduate student Jane Hu tells us more about an especially destructive session of hot yoga she recently experienced.

Jane! So what happened here?

A little over two years ago, I bought a yoga mat. Sort of as a New Year’s resolution thing: “This year I’m really going to discover yoga!” My friend had taken me along to some of her hot yoga classes, and unlike ordinary yoga, it at least felt like something was happening to my body. (This is almost 100 percent because I don’t know how to do yoga, overheated room or not.) Well, I’ve used the yoga mat exactly two times. Once was just at the end of 2011; the other was Valentine’s Day.

Five minutes into the hour-long session, and I was close to blacking out. I did what they tell you to do: Get into child’s pose until you’re ready to join the group again. I got into child’s pose and, almost seamlessly, transitioned into lying on my back. While my instructor’s soothing voice took everyone else through the motions, I was lying on my back FREAKING OUT. Am I blacking out? No, no, I don’t think I’m going to black out. Wow, I don’t remember hot yoga being this hard? But maybe this is why I only do yoga once every other year? If I leave now, would it be super disruptive? Everyone seems so calm. Though I did manage to fumble my way through the hour (with lots of child’s pose!), the physiological consequences were pretty extreme.

I got what was the equivalent of heat stroke—feeling faint and jittery for days afterward, and couldn’t really digest things for the next week. At first I thought it was just the regular Friday night treat-binge (TGIF! on top of Valentine’s Day!), but I was almost entirely confined to my bed until Monday, and even then, walking around was sort of a problem. Light-headedness would strike on the walk from the bathroom to my bedroom. I made a trip to the pharmacy and marveled at all the chewable tablets flanking Tums. But it was all sort of a haze. Really, I just felt weak all the time, even though I was doing nothing but excessive napping and eating. I was completely useless, too—even in bed, I felt nauseous and read maybe a total of 10 pages of my 24623452362453 pages of reading that entire weekend. It took just over an entire week for everything to stabilize physiologically. (Though apparently heat stroke has some potential for brain damage? Hello, readings!)

Wow. That sounds pretty scary and awful. So how *did* this debacle make you reevaluate your life? And, after all that, do you think you’ll ever go back?

It was traumatizing! Who says yoga isn’t stressful? At one point the instructor actually said to us/me, “Don’t worry if you slip; it’s just yoga.” I mean, nothing is just that thing, especially if one has to point it out. And yoga definitely isn’t just yoga.

I sort of WANT to go back, but only because I’m sort of still in disbelief about how very bad the whole experience was. To be fair, it was hard before, but it had never been quite that bad. I also turned 25 the next day. Is 25 when your body starts breaking down? Please advise.

Lesson learned (if any)?

I’m not sure what the takeaway is here. Probably that I personally shouldn’t do yoga. Um, definitely don’t try hot yoga if you haven’t done any yoga for years! Remember to stay hydrated beforehand? Push yourself, as they tell you in hot yoga, but like don’t push yourself too hard. Accept your limits! My limit is hot yoga! So I guess there are some real general life lessons to be gleaned from the whole process.

Just one more thing.

It was Valentine’s Day, and the instructor kept asking us to dedicate our practice to someone we really loved. I still can’t get over that. Is hot yoga about dedication? I mean, I still haven’t thrown away my mat.

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.

11 Comments / Post A Comment

#56 (#56)

Augh, had this been posted five minutes earlier, I would not have gotten this groupon! I just now remembered how much i can't stand it. I have no patience in extreme heat and end up flapping my arms for a breeze; not the wisest thing to do as it heats you up even more.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Is "hot yoga," like, yoga performed in a sweat lodge, or something?

(What a yokel, right? It's not so long ago that someone had to explain to me that "spinning" means exercise bikes; I thought it was weaving with looms.)

jessicapancakes (#237,115)

@Mr. B That is exactly what hot yoga is. It strikes me as utterly insane and uniquely American.

I don't know what studio you go to or who your teacher was, but I don't get a favorable impression about either one of them from your experience. If I ever felt woozy at all in a hot class (or even a not hot class), I immediately lied down on my mat in savasana (corpse pose) for as long as it took for it to pass. If it took the rest of class, so be it — and no instructor would've ever disputed my ability to know what my own body needed or been anything but encouraging when it came to "listen[ing] to [my] body." I came to hot yoga as a general yoga newbie many years ago, and took to it like a duck to water. In fact, classes that aren't hot yoga hurt me, because I've founded that the cooler temperature doesn't keep muscles as warmed up. But, having said that, the heat is an intense factor, and there were certainly times over the years I've practiced hot yoga when I felt dizzy, especially when you're going from, say, half-tortoise to camel pose (e.g. going from your head being face down above your knees to it being face-up above your feet). My advice, if you are still interested in hot yoga, is to find a studio/instructor who's completely supportive of you and non-competitive/judgmental. (After going to one studio that I loved in Atlanta for years, I decided to visit an official Bikram studio up the street just to change things up. I went to one class and, during the class, the instructor actually told a college woman — who was taking her very first hot yoga class ever — that she shouldn't walk ten feet from her mat to the water fountain to get a drink because of the disruption. The college student had brought Gatorade to drink and, before the class had started, the instructor told her she couldn't bring it in, which was fine. But then she didn't have any water, and instead of providing her a bottle from the front desk, just told her she couldn't drink from the fountain. I was horrified and never returned there.)

RobotsNeedLove (#236,743)

@Kristin Kallaher@facebook My advice is to get your blood pressure checked before you go!

Hot yoga is great, unless you have weird low blood pressure (or I guess other health issues) and then it's awful and all the "lie down as much as you want and stick with it" advice in the world will not help you.

I completely agree. I think hot yoga can pose a lot of health risks if you're not very careful with how you practice it, and even then, it's not going to be for everyone. I actually preferred going to a non-Bikram studio, because they offered 45-60-minute classes instead of the usual 90-minute ones, and they kept the studio just under 100 degrees instead of at 105. Truthfully, there are no more health benefits to doing hot yoga than there are to doing regular yoga. ( I just prefer hot myself.

Body starts breaking down at around 26 1/2, based on my ever-receding recollection. So Jane's got another good 18 months or so, I guess.

I've always found the notion that someone has to be 'good at yoga' to practice it amusing. If you're doing yoga to get in better shape, yes you're doing it wrong. My advice would be to weightlift or do cardio to get in shape, so that you can spend your time in yoga focusing on enjoying your yoga lesson.

irieagogo (#209,640)

There is lots of nice yoga that is not hot. Don't blame the yoga, blame the heat.

dirkbenedict (#262,488)

Heat stroke is the worst! I once lost an entire weekend to it, and it's turrible. At the time I was eating a really healthy, borderline-raw diet (yay) and like…consuming zero salt. The only thing that helped me recover from heat stroke was drinking salted water. So that's my advice, should you be nutty enough to willingly do hot yoga, make sure you get your sodium. It's important stuff.

Carol Joy@facebook (#241,952)

Although I frown on Gatorade as something to drink all the time, bringing it to your first hot yoga class makes sense. Gatorade is the best thing you can do for yourself if you get minor to medium heatstroke. But it is important to sip it, quite slowly, not gulp it. To me it does sound like the hot yoga instructor needs a few lessons in Health Care 101. I wouldn't go back to her classes, that's for sure.

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