After growing up on a ballet barre, I was extremely disappointed when all those years of training didn’t immediately translate into being an advanced yogi with Cirque du Soleil moves within a 10-class package. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon Bikram yoga several years ago that I really got interested in the practice.
Bikram is a 90-minute yoga class consisting of 26 asanas or poses, two breathing exercises, and one teacher shouting directions through a 1991 Madonna headset. The practice is held in a carpeted room heated to 105°F with 40% humidity.
I sweat in places I never thought possible in this torture chamber, and yet each class made me want to go back again and again. I drank all the Kool-Aid and joined the hot yoga cult, attending classes five to six times per week for about two years straight.
Eventually, my membership ran out and I moved onto new forms of exercise over the years. But after spending these past holidays (and then some) avoiding any exercise whatsoever aside from violently shaking in the cold weather (that burns calories, right?), I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things.
A 30-day Bikram yoga challenge seemed like a cheap and familiar option for loosening up my body and easing back into an exercise routine this spring.
I knew the first day back after years on the sidelines would be rough. The only thing worse than being a pure beginner at something is being the cocky former expert who overexerts herself to prove a point and ends up knocking over her coconut water when she blacks out mid triangle pose.
OK, so I definitely needed a few (dozen) more classes before I got my groove back, but even though I was a born-again Bikram beginner, I still knew my stuff when it came to prepping my hot yoga beauty game. If you’ve ever thought of submitting your body to any form of exercise performed in harsh, non-beauty-friendly conditions, this guide is for you.
SKIP MAKEUP & SELF-TANNER
First of all, forget about wearing makeup, it's just not going to happen. Bikram studios are like steam rooms, so layering makeup, perfume, or lotions isn't an option. Besides, everyone at Bikram is too focused on not passing out to care about checking out your face. Your ass? Yes. But your face? Don't worry about it.
The only thing worse than being caught in awkward pose with runny mascara is the disturbing streaks of self tanner running down someone's sweaty legs. The student worker at the front desk is going to be really pissed when you return your towel covered in brown spots.
BRING YOUR OWN TOWELS
You could also avoid this awkward interaction by bringing your own towels. In Bikram, you must always cover your yoga mat with a towel lest you slip on the puddle of sweat beneath you. Most studios provide two towels and a washcloth--do NOT take them. It's a pain in the perky hot yoga bum to carry your own, but you're much better off for a few reasons.
The towels provided are bleached-to-death because they have been used and abused by the thousands of sweaty bodies before you. Nichola Weir from Pacific Touch informed me that using yoga or gym towels on your face can irritate acne-prone skin.
I bring along towels from home that are washed without fragrance or harsh chemicals. For my face, I bring a baby washcloth from Under the Nile. I use it to dab the sweat off my face gently after class. This helps make sure bacteria-laden sweat isn't drying out all over my face, but my skin isn't being irritated either.
EXFOLIATE BEFORE YOU GO TO CLASS
Thanks to winter, if you're like me, your legs seem to be covered in some bizarre cross between reptile skin and sand paper. Dry brushing the skin before class is essential, or else all of those little scales of skin will end up covering your new Lululemon outfit.
I actually swear up and down that sweating your ass off for 90 minutes a day will do wonders for exfoliating your skin. Four days in and my skin was silky smooth without a drop of lotion or oil applied.
PUT LONG HAIR IN BRAIDED PIGTAILS
With 26 poses coming at you, it's hard to find a functional hair style that doesn't get in the way. Most long-haired ladies and gents opt for a top knot, but this will get you stuck going into rabbit's pose, and a pony tail will interfere with your relaxing savasanas.
No updo would be best, but the idea of taking down my frizzy hair and having it stick to my sweaty shoulders makes me want to gag. No, the best hair for hot yoga is braided pigtails. This keeps my hair together and neat but out of the way from the back and top of my head, avoiding any pose interruption.
WASH YOUR FACE RIGHT AFTER CLASS
To clean my face after class, I bring along Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser. Not only is this cleanser organic, vegan, and non-toxic, it and smells like heaven and you can even use it without water! Take a small amount and rub it all over your face generously until it's absorbed.
TAKE A WARM--NOT COLD--SHOWER
It's tempting to shower in ice-cold water to cool off after the hot class, but as soon as I get out, I can't stop sweating enough to get dressed and do my makeup if I’m going to work.
The trick I learned is to take warm showers after hot yoga. This fools my body into thinking I just stepped out of a refreshing hot shower instead of hell's vagina.
MOISTURIZE AND PRIME
To moisturize my skin, I use Yu-Be because it absorbs well into slightly damp skin and doesn’t get all runny.
I follow this up with bareMinerals Prime Time to even out my skin, making me look like I’m glowing as opposed to a glazed donut.
KEEP POST-CLASS MAKEUP SIMPLE
I just apply concealer where needed, my new favorite Smoky Lash mascara from Make Up For Ever, and a little lipstick on my mouth and cheeks because multitasking is essential when you're crunched for time after a workout.
SKIP MAJOR HAIRSTYLING PROJECTS
I'm not big on hair dryers in general so I tend to wrap my damp hair in a knot or braids to dry. This month, I am the girl with slicked back hair at work, but toting my yoga mat around with pride makes that OK.
I must confess one MAJOR beauty mistake I made my first day back at Bikram: I forgot to get a pedicure! I’ll spare you the visual horror. No one is perfect. Yoga, like beauty, is all in the practice.