Hydration and Replenishment for (Hot) Yogis

Written by Marina Chetner

We hear the tip frequently, ‘ensure you’re well hydrated’, especially if we're pursuing outdoor sports or practicing yoga in 105F heated rooms during the summer.

Such a statement may sound simple enough but when one of my Bikram yoga teachers, Corinne Idzal, recently mentioned that she’s noticing a lot of dehydrated students in classes, I immediately thought to myself, “What does that mean? Am I hydrated?”

This snowballed into a list of other questions: What is the best way to hydrate? How do you know if you’re hydrated and replenished enough? What are the key signs to look out for, to avoid dehydration?

To get some answers, I asked Corinne to shed more light on this topic. A Bikram teacher for over 6 years, she teaches across various studios in Manhattan. She’s also certified in Thai Yoga Massage, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), and Eriksonian Hypnosis, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in Physical Therapy.

How can you tell if a student is not properly hydrated in class?

When a student is having a hard time in general, this can be a sign of dehydration and/or loss of electrolytes. Signs are: tiredness, dizziness, they’re not sweating enough, and /or their muscles are cramping.

If you are properly hydrated, and have an empty stomach (not especially full of toxins that day), the class should not be a huge struggle. Many people need to take a few classes for their bodies to acclimate to the heat, but if every class continues to be hard, talk to one of your teachers. Together you can trouble shoot and find out what's going on. Usually it's a simple solution.

What would you recommend to a hot yoga student in terms of replenishment if they are only hydrating with water during a summer practice?

If you’re practicing hot yoga, like the Bikram series, you cannot properly hydrate with just water, especially in the summer.

Electrolytes are charged molecules (positive or negative) that become active in water. They conduct electricity in the body and are instrumental for transmitting signals. They regulate, among other things: muscle contraction, heart rate, balance of body fluid, and pH levels. They affect all organs and systems in the body.

The body needs the right balance of water AND electrolytes for communication signals to be sent throughout the body. For example, if you are depleted in sodium or potassium, the signal from the nervous system cannot reach the muscle cell. This results in muscle cramping.

It's not just sodium and potassium we need. Other essential electrolytes include: magnesium, chloride, phosphate, sulphate, and calcium ions and bi-carbonates.

There are many sports drinks out there, and which one to consume is a personal decision. Personally, I am not a big fan of them for the following reasons:

  • Sports drinks often have too much sodium and sugar. In an extreme emergency, they will help. As a regular source of hydration, they are not the best.
  • The more processed a drink is, the less efficient the electrolytes become.
  • Exposure to air and UV rays (including sunlight) diminish electrolyte activity. Heavily processed drinks in clear bottles are not the best source of electrolytes.

I recommend coconut water – it cannot be beat. In fact, coconut juice is so similar to human blood that in WW2 they used it in blood transfusions for wounded soldiers! It is nature's miracle. Try to pick one that is not from concentrate, and if possible not pasteurized (there are brands now that use pressurizing technique to kill bacteria. This keeps active molecules more intact.)

There are other good sources of electroytes: Emergen-C, Ultima Replenisher, and mineral drops - to name a few. There are lots of options available at health food sport supplement stores. When using these, do not let them sit too long in your water or let them get too hot in the room.

I recently read the following on active.com: “Drink by schedule, not by thirst. If you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated.” Is there truth to this statement? What about the old adage: drink when you’re thirsty?

It is hard to say exactly how much a person should drink; everyone is different in terms of activity level, and how much a person sweats. Generally speaking, the average person loses approx. 2 liters of water a day through breath, moderate sweating, and urination. A good rule: body weight X 0.7 = # ounces one should drink a day, on average.

If you are practicing Bikram, especially on a consistent basis, this HAS to be more. The more water you drink, and the more you sweat, the more important it is to replenish your electrolytes!

I would suggest starting off by drinking on a schedule. Most of us are dehydrated and have become acclimated to feeling this way. We’re not attuned to feelings of thirst. In fact, many people mistake the feeling of thirst for hunger, so we eat instead of drinking water.

Until you have put your body back on track and established a pattern for being hydrated, I recommend discipline with water consumption.

What should we include in our food diet to help along hydration?

Foods high in water: fruit and veggies, especially. Avoid caffeine (try decaf!), alcohol, and starches as they are dehydrating.

How should a student pace themselves with liquids in a 90 minute hot yoga class?

It is best to come into the room already hydrated. Do not try to hydrate in the room! It takes about 45 minutes to process water. Ideally, water in the room should be for refreshment. If you’re practicing Bikram Yoga, you should not need more water than little sips in between every 3 or 4 postures. Having a full belly of water is uncomfortable.

And again, I highly recommend electrolytes BEFORE class. It will make a huge difference in energy, stamina, and make for a better experience in the hot room.

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