Before I actually started doing exercise on a regular basis, I wondered who in their right minds would want to do hot yoga. It sounded horrendous. Exercise in a boiling hot and humid room (typically using infra-red heat and 40% humidity, from what I can tell), making you sweat prolifically. But when I finally decided to try and get fit by signing up to Class Pass, for some reason hot yoga was the first class I booked onto. It was probably The Flatmate’s idea.
You know that feeling you get, when you’re going on holiday and walk off the plane into a boiling hot country for the first time. It feels like you’re getting hit by a wall of heat and humidity. Walking into a hot yoga studio feels basically the same. I often like to close my eyes and pretend I’m practicing on a beach somewhere exotic. Whilst in the resting pose in my last class I actually closed my eyes and imagined that the sound of mine, and everyone else’s, deep breath was the sound of the sea tide going in and out – I almost managed to convince myself I was on my holidays.
Despite my initial reservations, I actually love it. I have incredibly tight muscles and I feel as though the heat eases them somewhat. So on the one hand, being constantly sheathed in a layer of sweat can make it harder to balance and not slip around in some poses but, on the other, I do feel like I can go deeper into several positions. Plus, I’m sure all that sweating must detoxify my skin in some way. I now don’t like doing yoga without the heat.
Generally I think you should be able to get yoga mats and towels for your mats (your mat will need a towel in hot yoga!) in any yoga studio but they do charge. Yoga mats and towels don’t have to cost very much (especially if you do what I did and get them on Amazon/Ebay) so I’d recommend investing in your own if you are going to go somewhat regularly.
When I first went to hot yoga, I had no clue what to wear so I played it safe with long leggings and a vest top. Many people had opted for the same but personally that felt like too much for that heat. I do have suitable workout shorts but they are souvenir ones I got in Laos and are a bit raggedy since I started using them as pyjamas so instead I tried my knee length leggings and a sports bra – but that didn’t work either. My legs got sweaty and slippy, making it hard to balance. So, having tried and tested these combinations, I find that long leggings and a sports bra work best. The leggings don’t make you feel as uncomfortable as you may think – just try and pick thin ones. Thick leggings will not be the right choice here.
I’ve tried three studios in South West London: Fitness Fusions (Clapham), Bikram Yoga Clapham Junction and Fierce Grace (Brixton – but also located elsewhere). They’ve all been good but the winner has to be Fierce Grace. The studio is nice and they have a variety of hot yoga classes to suit everyone’s preferences. I’m a little bit obsessed.
Fitness Fusions, Clapham
I picked Fitness Fusions because it is not too far from where I live in Streatham Hill. There are two studios, both in Clapham, and my class was taking place at the studio on Stonhouse Street – roughly a 10-minute walk from Clapham Common tube station (Hot yoga at Fitness Fusions now take place at the studio on Clapham High Street). The studio is not obvious from the road, although there is a sign that indicates that you need to walk round the side of number 122 to what looks like an outhouse at the back. The studio room itself is relatively small (but not tiny) and feels like someone’s living room/conservatory that’s been emptied and filled with mats.
I am pretty useless when it comes to deciphering types of yoga but since some of this class involved a flowing sequence of postures, which we repeated for a few sets, such as chaturanga, cobra and downward-facing dog, I think it is Ashtanga Vinyasa. This is a tough form of yoga to do in that heat (at least, as far as I’m concerned) but you will undoubtedly feel as though you’ve had a good workout.
This was my first ever hot yoga class, Class Pass class and the first exercise I’d done in months. It was good for both beginners and not beginners as there were often tougher versions of each move. The heat made me less eager to push myself than in the cool yoga classes I’d done and hold poses for longer so I ended up taking some breaks but it was a busy class and I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t do everything.
Bikram Yoga Clapham Junction
Bikram Yoga Clapham Junction is a located a short work from Clapham Junction station. The place is clean with quite a “yogi” feel and the studio room itself is big (which was good because it was very busy) with mirrors at the front to help with balancing and no windows. Shoes had to be left in the cubbyholes past reception and there were more cubbyholes in the studio room itself where valuables could be left.
The instructor sat at the front of the class – there wasn’t enough room for her to have a mat but instead she just told us how to do the poses instead of demonstrating. The first exercise was a breathing exercise. The sound people made sounded like a tidal wave being sucked in before being thrown back out again. I didn’t know people could make that sound just breathing. That exercise was followed by our workout, which involved a lot of balancing and stretching.
Standard Bikram classes are 90 minutes long and consist of 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Instead of flowing from one to the other and back again, you simply do each pose individually and some poses are a repetition/variant of the one before. This has now become my favourite type of yoga – I appreciate the brief pauses between poses.
I knew the length of the class would make it even tougher and I couldn’t believe that I agreed to undertake such a feat (at The Flatmate’s request). I stupidly kept looking at my watch, which didn’t help. We weren’t allowed to drink for the first 25 minutes but after that I was grabbing water at any opportunity. Not being used to the heat or the exercises, I did feel quite dizzy and nauseous during the class (my chest practically convulsed when I had to go into a cobra pose). The instructor told us to come out of poses slowly but I was rushing which didn’t help. I didn’t think I’d ever been that hot before – and I went to Egypt in July. Afterwards The Flatmate told me she had never seen me so red – and this is a girl who saw me turn practically purple in Luxor.
Despite my difficulties with the heat, I could still notice myself improving. Each pose we did twice and I was generally always better at it second time around. The class ended with a savasana (resting pose). The lights were off and I was exhausted and completely zoned out. This was more like it. Sleeping in scorching temperatures. I could almost be sunbathing. I was slightly gutted when I glanced up and saw that The Flatmate was starting to move but then I couldn’t get into the cool air fast enough. I didn’t really fancy heading home in my gym clothes but at this point my jeans were an absolute no go. However I did take advantage of the free herbal tea. A hot drink may sound counter-intuitive but I’m British, when anything is even vaguely wrong, tea is always the answer. I was hot, exhausted and achey, therefore I needed tea. And it was good.
Fierce Grace have several studios in London, including Queen’s Park, Chalk Farm, Old Street, Finchley and Kentish Town, however I have only been to the one in Brixton, where I am now practically a regular. Again it has quite a “yogi” feel and I just love the general chilled vibe. Plus it is very conveniently located for me. The studio room downstairs is big with mirrors covering two of the walls (balancing is so much easier if you can see yourself in a mirror) and despite having no windows it is always very bright. As a head’s up, there are lockers for valuables but you will need a pound coin to use them – but you will get this back!
Fierce Grace offers several different hot yoga classes involving different types of yoga and sequences, however I have only tried two: Classic (90 minutes) and Deep Core (75 minutes). Both of these are great for beginners as well as more advanced yogis.
From what I can tell, the Classic class is a standard Bikram yoga class, like the one described above. I’m pretty sure the postures were the same 26, with the additional two breathing exercises. You may be surprised to hear that I loved this class, given that I did find my first Bikram hot yoga class at Bikram Yoga Clapham junction so tough but after the first class it does get easier. Well, easier is probably not the right word. You just get used to it. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any Classic classes on my Class Pass app for a while. They seem to be available on the studio’s website but perhaps they are not on offer to Class Pass members any more – so I’ve had to try something new.
Thankfully, I equally love the Deep Core class, which – like it says on the tin – involves deep stretches that focus on building your core muscles. This is actually similar to the Bikram class I think – in that you do a set series of postures and not the flowing, repeating sequences of vinyasa, and both have a focus on alignment and flexibility – but its shorter. Sometimes I’m happy about that fact when I’m feeling particularly hot but some other times I actually want that extra 15 minutes.
I’ve had several different instructors at Fierce Grace in Brixton and they’ve all been good but my favourite is Nina Rashid, who takes Deep Core on a Tuesday night. I don’t know how but I feel I can push myself more in her classes. Plus she uses the last few minutes of the class to talk you through a meditation. When I did normal temperature yoga at university, this was my favourite part of the class where I would basically fall asleep. I was therefore very happy to find it again here.
The only issue I’ve had with Fierce Grace is that the classes can get super busy. Sometimes I have had to practice with people’s feet in my face and you do have to be very aware of where you are placing your own limbs. The Uni Friend did get kicked in the head on one occasion. The workouts are great so this hasn’t put me off at all, I’d just recommend getting there earlier so you and your mat can nab a good spot.