As COO of yoga apparel company Onzie, Lauren Balefsky Martone doesn’t just love the practice and all of the fun fashions that come with it — she’s also a top-ranked competitor in the United States Yoga Federation Championships.
Her favorite (and most challenging) posture from the competitive series is the standing head-to-knee. “They call it ‘the posture that shows all’ because it requires balance, strength, flexibility, all at the same time. If you can hold a perfect standing head-to-knee, on-stage in front of an audience, it’s true yoga incarnated.”
Here, she shares her insight into the Hatha practice of Bikram yoga — including what to expect in your first class, what to pack in your bag, and of course, what to wear.
WHY HATHA YOGA?
“I do all types of yoga, but I strongly believe in the Hatha, or hot practice, as a basis for yoga because it’s alignment-based and it’s a beginner series,” says Martone. “I hear a lot of people say, ‘I’m not flexible, I can’t do yoga.’ But actually, the practice is meant to help you gain flexibility and better alignment.”
Bikram, a type of Hatha yoga created by Bikram Choudhury, is comprised of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, which are designed to increase blood flow throughout the entire body and methodically stretch the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The 90-minute classes are heated to 105 degrees at 40 percent humidity. “It is hot. You will sweat. You will struggle with the heat, and that’s there to make you focus your mind,” says Lauren. “To be in one space is very difficult. The benefits, mentally, are huge from the struggle of just staying in a room for an hour and a half.”
Although it is considered a stagnant, not flowing series, practicing in a heated room adds a cardiovascular element and warms the muscles. “It is extremely helpful for people who are stiff or have injuries,” she says. “It makes it easier to move your body.”
“Hatha yoga, at its core, is a basic practice. All poses are safe for beginners to try. [You] may not be able to do much, but try the right way [and] you can get 100-percent benefits.”
If you need to take a break, remember: “You need to keep head above heart, so just take a knee and be still.”
Props, like blocks and straps, are not used. “Props are super helpful in other types of yoga. In this discipline, we encourage the students to do poses to the best of their ability.”
Expect balancing, floor work and plenty of back bending — strengthening the spine is one of the practice’s greatest benefits. “For people who have bad posture or are hunching all day or are over a computer, [the practice is] really beneficial to counteract all of that stuff that we do in our normal life.”
Then, there are the benefits that go beyond the physical. “Most students have an emotional benefit immediately. That is why you will hear a lot of hot yoga students say they are addicted to how they feel afterwards. Something happens in [the yoga studio] between the cleansing sweating, full spinal movement, and forcing yourself to stare in the mirror for 90 minutes.”
MUST-HAVES FOR CLASS (BESIDES THE MAT)
This is a sweaty practice, so pack a non-slip, mat-sized yoga towel and a smaller hand towel as well.
“Gatorade, EmergenC, electrolyte drops, because water is not enough. I even recommend water, lemon and a pinch of salt. Salt helps your body absorb the water,” Lauren suggests.
AN OPEN MIND
“You want to be in the space of no food in your belly, hydrated and open-minded. Go in knowing that it’s going to be difficult. Your body is doing something it’s never done before,” she says. “Know that you’re not going to be perfect, but to really take it easy and take a step back.”
WHAT TO WEAR
CHOOSE A BLENDED FABRIC
Nylon spandex or poly-spandex are great. Wear clothes that aren’t made of cotton because you will be dripping sweat during your hot yoga class. Instead, wear something that is moisture-wicking, so you are not weighed down.
SHOW A LITTLE LEG
“It’s nice to be able to see your knees as you’re doing a lot of balancing, and you want to be able to properly align,” she says. Many female students choose to wear shorts or fitted leotards for ease of movement and to keep it cool.
IF YOU’RE NOT COMFORTABLE IN SHORTS…
Lauren recommends wearing capris, rather than leggings, which can be way too hot.
CHOOSE A LOW-IMPACT BRA
Because you are not running or jumping, a high-support bra is not needed in yoga.
WHAT ABOUT THE GUYS?
I recommend wearing a short that’s a slightly higher length. The typical 9-inch inseam is great for a flow yoga, but you’ll want to go up to a 7- or even a 4- or 5-inch short so you can move and bend down,” Lauren advises.
KEEP IT FRESH
Want stink-free clothes that last? “Rinse them out right after class. I like to put a dab of lemongrass or lavender essential oil in my laundry,” Lauren suggests.