When I think back to when I took my very first Bikram Yoga class back in 2010, I remember practicing in an uncomfortably crowded, carpeted studio in San Francisco as I sweated my way through class wearing cotton tank tops and cotton running shorts, all the way in the back row, in the far corner. I also remember quite vividly the constant battle during the floor series where either my head or feet would dangle onto the damp carpet underneath because my yoga mat and bath towel never seemed to be long enough.

So many things have changed within my own yoga practice over the last six years. I’m no longer living or practicing in San Francisco. My current home studio doesn’t have carpet and isn’t overcrowded. I have more pairs of yoga pants and yoga bootie shorts than there are days of the week. I still love practicing in the corner, but only if it’s in the first row. Nowadays, the whole back of my car is always loaded with a variety of yoga mats designed specifically for hot yoga.

When you practice any form of yoga over a number of years, you tend to learn a few things along the way – the postures, your favorite teacher’s cues, what clothes you feel comfortable practicing in, the spot you like to set up in for class and even the type of mat you prefer to use. Over the last six years of practicing Bikram Yoga off and on, I’ve learned how to make a tough activity like this enjoyable for myself. Let’s face it – sweating uncontrollably for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity is no easy feat. Here are some things I’ve learned that have helped make any Bikram Yoga class enjoyable for myself:

Cotton Is Rotten 

When I first started going to Bikram Yoga, I’d come to class wearing a cotton tank top and cotton running shorts. By the time we’d hit Party Time (the only announced water break during class), all of my clothing would be soaked. I’d feel gross, weighted down and miserable. I can’t believe it took me a whole year before I realized I needed to do something about my Bikram Yoga attire!

Now, I can’t imagine going to a Bikram class in anything other than a pair of bootie shorts and a sports bra. Even the thinnest pair of yoga pants seem to be too much clothing for my body in a Bikram class. I save the cute yoga leggings and tank tops for the hour-long hot yoga classes, SUP yoga or any other type of unheated yoga class. Ever since I traded in my cotton attire for a minimal, easy stretching, form-fitting costume made of sweat-wicking material, I’ve become a whole lot more comfortable sweating my way through class. Some of my yoga clothing company favorites include Mika Yoga Wear, Onzie, K-Deer, Teeki and Athleta.

Invest In A Proper Yoga Mat

There was a time when I thought it didn’t matter what kind of mat or towel I used in a yoga class. That is until I started taking Bikram and would spend half of class with either my head or feet lying on the warm, damp carpet beneath me. Trust me, it’s hard to let go of it all in Savasana when all you can think about how wet the floor is underneath you.

Do yourself a favor and invest in a proper yoga mat designed for the specific type of yoga you choose to practice. In Bikram Yoga, I sweat a lot. This is why I prefer a thicker mat towel (a mat and towel built into one cool yoga mat) that stays put during class, is comfortable to lay on and will absorb all of my sweat during class without leaving a puddle of sweat behind. My hot room favorites are WAYmat and Breathe Mats.

If you’re practicing a vinyasa yoga flow type of class where you’re still sweating, but there’s a lot more movement than in a traditional Bikram class, I’d opt for a thinner, sweat absorbing mat towel. I love Manduka’s Yogitoes. These non-slip yoga towels are perfect to lay over a thick rubber yoga mat, keeping you in one place and do a great job at absorbing mid to moderate sweat amounts. They’re just not as comfy to lie on as the WAYmat or Breathe Mats.

If you plan on practicing yoga multiple times a week, I recommend investing in at least two or three mats. Otherwise, you’ll have to do laundry multiple times a week. Trust me, you’ll want to wash your mat after each and every class.

Don’t Be Afraid Of The Front Row

I used to think the front row of a yoga class is where the real good yogis set up to practice. Plus, I heard a rumor that the front row tends to be the hottest spot in the room. These two reasons alone were reason enough for me to want to always set up in the very back row in the far corner. I figured if I couldn’t see myself in the front mirror, no one else could either. I found a lot of comfort in hiding in the back row during my first few years of practicing Bikram Yoga.

It wasn’t until I started practicing at less crowded studio before I decided to give the front row a try. With less people in the room, my teachers would always encourage me to get closer to the front mirror. Why was it such a big deal to be close to the front mirror? I could finally see what my body looked like in all of the postures I’d do in class. I could self-correct my own postures, allowing me to have better form and correct alignment. Looking at yourself in the front mirror can be intimidating at first and isn’t all that glamorous. Once you discover how powerful of a tool the front mirror can be, you’ll start to see positive changes in your postures, your body and your smile during class.

It’s The Practice Room, Not The Perfect Room

There’s no such thing as a perfect posture or a perfect class. If you fall out of a posture during class, let it go and quickly get back into it. When it comes to Bikram Yoga, you always have a second chance to go deeper into a posture with the second set. Maybe you have to sit out a posture or two in class because you’re body isn’t feeling as good as it did the day before. No big deal. You never walk out of class with the same body you came in with. And no two classes are ever the same. You deal with the body you have right now, in this class. You listen to it, give it what it needs and make adjustments on the way.

One of my all-time favorite Bikram instructors always says, “It’s the practice room, not the perfect room.” We don’t come to class to be perfect. We come to practice. So don’t be so hard on yourself when a class doesn’t go the way you thought it would go for you. Celebrate that you showed up for class. For a lot of us, myself included, showing up is the hardest part of yoga.

And for the most important lesson I’ve learned that has helped make Bikram Yoga enjoyable for me all of these years…Smile! Its just yoga. Yoga is supposed to be fun, no matter how hard it might feel physically and mentally. Don’t take yourself so seriously man.

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