If you’re going to spend 90 minutes exercising in a room that’s heated to 40°, then making sure you keep hydrated is key. On average our bodies are made up of about 66% water, and it’s vital to keep them at that level if our blood is to distribute nutrients around our systems and remove the waste products we generate efficiently.
You’ll soon know if you’re dehydrated – headaches, lightheadedness and a lack of energy are just some of the signs – but it’s obviously best not to let things get to that stage before you think about topping up your fluid levels.
Although a proportion of the liquids we need comes from our food intake and drinks such as tea or coffee, and the amount each person needs varies according their size, the temperature and how active they are, as a guide the Department of Health recommends we drink about 1.2 litres of fluid every day, or roughly eight glasses. In hot weather, however, or if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or exercising regularly, you’ll need to increase your fluid intake.
As heat is such an important part of Bikram yoga, it’s especially important to make sure you rehydrate before, during and after class, and to replace the electrolytes you lose through sweating. These are the electrically-charged alkaline minerals that your nerves and muscles need to function and, if your level of them is too low, you’ll feel dizzy or nauseous. In mild cases you may not even notice but it’ll take you longer to recover after class – something that’s easy to put down to just having pushed yourself too hard.
Too few electrolytes can also trigger an acid / alkaline imbalance that affects your body’s ability to remove waste. If you’ve been feeing sluggish, a build-up of toxins could be the cause. So, although all drinks count towards your fluid intake, water, milk and fruit juices are the healthiest option, along with sports drinks to replace lost electrolytes. A favourite of mine is Vita Coco, as it’s packed with electrolytes and is fat- and cholesterol-free, too and we stock it in our studios.
Emmy Cleaves, who teaches the teachers and is a huge personal inspiration, has always said that if nothing else Bikram yoga forces you to drink lots of water. Now in her 80s, Emmy’s living proof of the long-term benefits. It’s basically a fantastic detox and one that, like everything else in your practice, has a knock-on effect in your daily life. You’ll soon find you’re naturally veering towards healthier options and away from sweet, sugary drinks. It’s also great for your skin as it helps to flush out toxins while the humidity helps keep wrinkles at bay.
Although I recommend having a bottle of water with you in class, the last thing you need during the poses is the uncomfortable feeling of water sloshing about in your stomach. So sip rather than gulp. Try not to let thirst and stopping to drink take you out of your pose, or be a distraction to you or other people. If you’ve got an afternoon or evening class, then make sure you drink plenty throughout the day. I always make sure I have a bottle of water with me wherever I go, and I start the day with a glass of hot water and lemon. It kick-starts my digestion and instantly makes me feel sharper and more alert.
It’s slightly harder in the case of morning classes, but you can make sure you drink plenty the night before.As you become more experienced and more accustomed to the heat, you can also start to bring a little bit of discipline to bear. First, try limiting yourself to a sip between poses then, if you can, to one between series. I often find I’m half-way through a class now before I even think about it.