bikram yoga: why don’t I sweat?

moma stephanie klein 50 web
Photo I took at MOMA, NY

I thought it would feel like a sauna, breathing in a dry sweet heat. It didn’t. Hot yoga, or bikram yoga, was more like walking into a toasty warm cabin on a snow day. Except it was a good 104 degrees outside in Texas, never mind inside the toasty cabin. There might be a sun warrior pose, but thankfully there’s no actual sun in the yoga studio, so it’s not like working out in your driveway. As people waved out their towels and rolled out their mats, the instructor flipped on the ceiling fans. Good, hot yoga for pussies.

The woman beside me smelled of kibble. But there wasn’t time or room for me to relocate. It was my very first class, and I was told to drink a lake before we actually began, to avoid dehydration. As I glugged, I surveyed the room. There were three lean men, the balding type who wear bicycle shorts and a leather rope necklace. The women were dressed the way I imagine young tomatoes dress when they’re video-sexting guys: skimpy tank bras and low-slung wee shorts that seem to be going steady with their cracks. And yes, I would TOTALLY wear that shit if I had your bodies, you hussies.

When we began, I kept repeating to myself the words I’d heard from several people before class: with your first time, your only goal is to stay in the room. They didn’t care if I just lied there, doing nothing. I’d have reached a goal. What the hell is that? Seriously?

90 minutes later, it was over. I stayed in the room. I did every single pose, or at least tried. My muscles were shaking. I watched other people pounding back water. I looked down at my body and was astounded that I wasn’t dripping fat. Clearly fat folks have crap cooling systems–our bodies have to be inefficient–because the lean, strong, dancer bodies of the class were soaked in sweat. I HEARD their sweat. Not just one person, all the people around me were raining. There was a pitter patter of sweat, a chorus of drips hitting mats, and all the while, I’m not sweating! My face is beet red, and it looks like it has its own pulse, but I’m not dripping sweat. I realize fat people must ingest their sweat, and it must be caloric, because I don’t sweat really at all, not until afterward when my muscles are shaking.

Surprisingly, during the cool down, or "aware, awake, open-eyed meditation" time, liquid began to stream out. I was crying. "It’s okay," the instructor said to the room, "to let out some emotion now. It’s natural." I’d read about women crying during massages, emotion pushed out of them on a table. I understood the idea of it but never felt that kind of release myself. But there I was, crying. What a wonderful release. The instructor told us to thank ourselves, reminded us that it was a hard decision to come, that we could have taken the easy way out, didn’t have to be there, didn’t have to commit, but we were there and needed to be applauded for it. Then she asked them all to clap for me. "I want you all to applaud Stephanie. It was her first class, and she did every single pose." I was surprised, and it made me feel proud of myself.

When I returned to my car, downing coconut water, I called a friend to tell her it was hard–I mean really, who can keep both elbows pressed into your ears with your hands above you, no space between your palms (try it now for a good minute, then multiply that minute by 60)–hard, but good. "I think I’m going to be back tomorrow," I said.

But I never did go back. I know the story works best if I say here that I never went back, maybe because I was afraid of dealing with the emotions, but the truth is, I think it had a lot to do with just how much prep I had to do before class. I couldn’t show up unprepared. I needed to start hydrating the night before, no eating beforehand. It was like work before even showing up to work. Much easier to hop on the elliptical machine and watch "The View." Not exactly the same view I got at the yoga studio, and certainly not the same results, but still, it’s something.

A YEAR AGO: On Forgetting, English in the Loo

2 YEARS AGO: Manifestation
5 YEARS AGO: Insulting, Italian For Beginners



  1. Snaps to you for just showing up. I have been told so many times Bikram yoga would just revolutionize my body…but the thought of being hot…eccchhhhh. I am the type of person who can’t even conceive of the idea of a tropical vacation. When it was 38 degrees celsius a few weeks ago, I was panting like a hound dog and laying on the tile floor. Paying cash to feel like that….can’t do it!

  2. “young tomatoes!” Channeling a 1940’s film noir? I hate yoga and all other gym classes. I ellipiticize or tread while catching up on my mag reading, then into the pool.

  3. Oh gosh. I’m contemplating going to a yoga class tonight, I have no idea if it’s bikram yoga or not, and I am terrified. The end.

  4. I tried it once about a month ago. I thought I was doing great, going deeper into the poses and all that until about halfway through the class when I suddenly thought I was GOING TO DIE. Oh my god, the sweat. It took me a full day to recover. Wish your sweat theory was true for this fattie, lol.

  5. hi stephanie! i absolutely LOVE bikram yoga! i did it for a while last year, but it just got soooo expensive… if i had all the money in the world, i would continue doing bikram yoga 3 or 4 times a week! it is by far one of my favorite workouts!

  6. I really really don’t understand. I’ve been reading a long time, so I know how much you dislike most forms of exercise. And yet you seemed tobreally enjoy this, despite the difficulty. And it could really make a difference for you. I don’t know why I care, I’m not a yoga person or anything, but I hope you reconsider.

    1. I also don’t understand why you don’t go back either. So what if it is hard? So what if you have to hydrate? You should be doing that anyway.You make it sound like a much bigger deal than it is. Or, try another form of yoga like ashtanga or vinyasa. I do, and I don’t need to prep at all for it (in terms of what you describe about eating/drinking) other than my normal drinking water all day.

      You should be really proud of yourself for sticking it out during the class and confronting your feelings. I suspeect that what is keeping you from going is that yoga forces you to confront yourself (yoga comes from the Sanskrit word for yoke–union with your soul)–and it looks like you got a taste of that in the class.

      As for sweating–this may come with more exercise or yoga. I sweat like a beast, and found that I sweat more the more in shape I became.

  7. I see you are in Austin, wondering if you went to the Bikram Yoga Davenport Studio or Yoga Groove in North Austin, either are great places to practice. I am proud of you for going! It is hard and staying in the room, even for a seasoned yogi can be a daily struggle.

    You mention the immense amount of prep you have to do and it is true, you do need to take care of your body before you go in to have the best possible class but it isn’t as hard as you might think. Eating a granola bar a few hours before class and drinking water throughout the day is all you really need. Your body will tell you if you need more or less, that is the great thing about the body.

    I wish I didn’t sweat. I sweat like a cow. And not just in yoga, while I am sitting at my desk at work, in the car, at a restaurant, in a meeting….it is terrible. Whatever your body does, sweat or not, it is right for you.

    If you are interested in learning more about Bikram Yoga and why it is such a hot health trend, come to Dallas and see Bikram himself speak. If you get up this way, email me….we can go to yoga together!


    (Love the blog. Couldn’t subscribe though, link didn’t work. Will lurk for now.)

  8. For what it’s worth, when I work out really hard I don’t sweat either, at least not until I’m stretching and cooling off on the mat afterward. And then it’s like the sluices have been opened and I sweat on everything, and even my glasses steam up. Weird. If anyone knows why, please post!

  9. I’ve been doing yoga on and off for the past decade and one of the things that worries me about people doing yoga for the first time is this insistence on “doing all the poses.” You have to build up to them, it’s simply NOT possible to do all the poses correctly right off the bat. Yoga is about building strength & flexibility – it’s a LONG process and an activity that requires investment, not trying it out once every few weeks. The first few years I would try to force myself to match all the hardcore yoga people in my class and it wasn’t until years later, when I stopped trying to push it, that I started to finally build the flexibility and do something as simple as keep my feet flat on the ground during downward facing dog without struggling.

    As someone who’s reaped the benefits of yoga – especially now, during pregnancy, I have to stress that yoga is not a fly-by-night exercise. And, not to be cliche or all hippy-crunchy, but it’s also not just about just doing a few poses and expecting to get in shape. It’s just as much about the mental stretching as it is the physical. Sometimes that’s the hardest part.

    Regarding all the preparation – I’m surprised if they told you there’s all this prep work. Fasting is unnecessary. Just eat maybe an hour or so before you go, for maximum comfort. As for sweating – everyone’s bodies react differently. It’s perfectly normal to have not been sweating your ass off the first time. Even though all those “thin, yoga types” have been doing this for a long time and look all in shape, the fact that they’ve been doing it for a long time actually probably has something to do with the fact that they’re sweating. They’ve perfected the poses, which requires quite a bit of effort and also taps into the detox effects of yoga as well.

  10. I live in Austin and have been doing bikram for about 6 months, and I still suck at it and look like a chicken nugget compared to everyone else in the class. But i do LOVE the way it makes me feel. The more you go, the better you will feel. Promise. I go to the davenport one if you ever want to go with someone who isn’t a hardcore “yogi” :)

  11. Never tried Bikram because I scared off sweating out all my body fluids but now your story gives me hope that I wont.
    I’ve been doing “Beginner’s” yoga for over three years and still feel like someone who accidently went into the wrong class room. But hey, my back is very thankful for it.

  12. I am with you on that! I have no idea why it happens but I don’t sweat until I’ve stopped the exercising.

  13. I cry during shavasana too. Every time except one. I remember my first time of class and I dedicated to keep going. I went 3 to 4 times a week for several months and then… suddenly… never again. I don’t know if it’s the emotion. I tell myself now it’s just that it’s “too much” that I don’t have the energy or the time. But in retrospect, it’s that the emotion somehow ended up with the best of me and the excuses came next. But I love the eliptical. :) It doesn’t make me cry.

  14. surprised you didn’t mention the smell of sweaty balls. honestly: that was the biggest turn off about it. and the towels smelled like mold. but yeah: it’s an awesome feeling to get through the class. though i did try to go a few times and found it to be too repetitive. but i guess that’s part of the point? you become like a yoga robot and your mind goes into live-action meditation mode?

    beautcamp pilates is an awesome body shaper and i have also heard amazing things about ‘the bar method’ (i.e. drew barrymore).

  15. My husband has heart disease, high cholesterol, and I sent him to Bikram in San Antonio in June, he’s gone 3-4 times a week since, he hates it but is addicted. I couldn’t do it either, I hate the heat.

  16. It’s called yoga “practice” for a reason. The yogis and yoginis (I daresay I am one), we practice. That’s it… practice.

    The entire reason for the asanas is to get into savasana, or the period of rest of which you spoke. It occurred to me one day in camel that the whole point of each posture was to get back to resting. Work, punctuated by rest. Or rest, punctuated by periods of work.

    I’ve been practicing Bikram, vinyasa, ashtanga, some Iyengar for years now. Very disparate disciplines. The heat comes from the outside in Bikram. We generate our own heat in ashtanga and vinyasa.

    The main point is to still the monkey mind and you won’t notice the heat. Or perhaps you’ll appreciate it and what it can do for you.

    Mostly? Just do something for you. You’re worth it. The most profound thoughts I’ve ever had have come in those moments of stillness.

    Be well.

  17. Hi Stephanie!

    I know that I have not been in touch for some time. I hope all is well.

    Regarding your most recent post:
    I am addicted to Bikram. It is a lot of prep, but it gets easier. I believe that not only has it transformed my body, but more importantly my mind. I feel strong, more at ease with dis-ease, and I truly believe that my immune system is not nearly as suppressed as it was.

    Go again. Eat before, just dont gorge. And hydrate, but no need to drink a pool. I mean, WHO has time for that?

  18. I started Bikram ten years ago when it was just taking off in California. The classes were intimate, the atmosphere more spiritual and less commercial. Then all of a sudden it became the rage and the number of people in the room was unbearable. The heat, along with the various body odors was more than I wanted to endure. I still do the positions in the privacy of my home, but it isn’t the same. I love how it makes me feel and in a perfect world, I would be able to take a private class with no more than two, freshly showered participants. I feel that even doing a little, is better than none at all, so I do what I can and always feel great afterwards. Locking the knee is still a problem and I close my eyes every chance I get.

  19. I have cried after massages. And I love Bikram yoga, though it’s been a while since I’ve been. And I am the least athletic, least limber person anyone will ever meet. But something about Bikram.

    Try going back. If you go, I will.

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