The last thing anyone wants on their mind during a sweaty, 90-something degree hot yoga class is a headache — flowing from Upward Dog to Downward Dog goes from relaxing to all-around uncomfortable.
But headaches in hot yoga happen, so your best line of defense is knowing how to prevent the pain and exactly what to do when one does pop up. So inhale, exhale, and keep reading for these pro yogi tips.
While headaches can be triggered by many different things, one of the most common culprits during hot yoga is dehydration.
To state the obvious, hot yoga classes are — shocker — really hot. According to Tiffany Cruikshank, a yoga instructor and the founder of Yoga Medicine and the Yoga Medicine Seva Foundation, hot yoga classes can range in temperature anywhere from 90 to 110 degrees, some with or without humidity. You will sweat, which is why hydrating properly is essential.
"The most important thing to do before class is be sure you're well hydrated," Cruikshank notes.
Along with fluid, Cruikshank says sweating also leads to the loss of precious minerals that the body needs to function properly and regulate muscle contractility, so replacing electrolytes is also crucial if you're taking hot yoga classes.
Another overlooked factor, Cruikshank says, is blood sugar.
"Traditionally these practices are done on an empty stomach, usually at least three hours away from food, however each person metabolizes food differently and that doesn't work for everyone," she explains.
"If you're having headaches and staying hydrated, I recommend experimenting with foods that won't sit in your stomach but will bolster your blood sugar. For some, a piece of fruit is perfect, but for many it's not enough fuel to get them through a full 90 minute class."
She recommends starting with a tablespoon of coconut oil 15 to 30 minutes before class, or for those who are quick digesters, a little protein powder 30 to 60 minutes before class.
Donna Rubin, a yoga instructor and a co-founder of bodē nyc, suggests really taking your time to adjust to the heat if you have a history of headaches.
Step out of the studio every so often, or as Cruikshank suggests, begin your hot yoga practice with shorter classes. If you aren't acclimating, it might be time to reassess why you're going to hot yoga.
"What is it you really want from your yoga class and can you find it in a non-heated class? There are so many options out there," she adds. "If it's the sweat and detox you're looking for, maybe try a sauna separate from some non-heated yoga classes."
But what should you do if you feel a headache coming on in the middle of class? Rubin, suggests stepping out of the studio and rehydrating right away. "Do not push through and think it will go away. Listen to your body," Rubin says.
Cruikshank adds that taking a seat, laying down, or slow deep breaths might be helpful.
"Most importantly, listen to your body," she adds. "Each persons' needs are so unique and influenced by so many things in our body, DNA, environment, and life." And when in doubt, always consider talking to your doctor about your exercise habits and the side effects that come along with them.