Hot Yoga: Styles, Benefits, & Myths

Hot Yoga

Many yoga students are turning up the heat on their practices – literally! Hot yoga is a popular phenomenon that began in the 1970s, but it has started to gain traction in recent years. Now, hot yoga is commonly seen at studios and gyms across the country.

Despite its popularity, there is debate over whether hot yoga is a safe and effective way to spend time on the mat. Here, we’ll uncover the ins and outs of hot yoga, as well as offer some key tips for making the best of your hot yoga practice if you, too, want to join in on yoga’s hottest trend.

What is Hot Yoga?

Hot yoga is practiced in a warm to hot room and typically flows through a vigorous and active sequence. In hot yoga, the added heat of the environment is used to encourage flexibility, blood circulation, and sweating.

“Hot yoga” is sometimes used to describe any type of yoga practiced in a heated room, but not all heated yoga is hot yoga. For instance, some studios may host a yin yoga class in a relaxingly heated room, but this is not typically considered hot yoga. While Bikram yoga is considered the main version of hot yoga, there are several different styles of hot yoga:

Bikram Yoga or 26-2

The regimented Bikram style is one of the most recognizable styles of hot yoga. It was developed by yogi Bikram Choudhury, but due to sexual misconduct allegations. Now, many studios have chosen to rename this style “26-2 yoga,” paying homage to the style’s 26-pose sequence and 2 breathing styles.

During a Bikram class, the room is heated to approximately 105 F and 40% humidity. The class lasts 90 minutes long and cycles through the same 26 poses each time.

Bikram1 is known for being a challenging style of yoga. The set of strength-building postures and long pose holds mixed with high heat and humidity offers an intense workout for both your heart and muscles.

Hot Power Yoga

Hot power yoga is any kind of vigorous yoga that is practiced in a heated room (between 85-100 F). Many are based on Ashtanga or Vinyasa styles and may even incorporate other fitness elements like weights or non-yoga movements.

Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga

Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga is a blend of Bikram, Iyengar, and Ashtanga yoga and does not hold the same strict sequence of poses as Bikram. Instructors have more flexibility with their classes and the class is set at a cooler 90 degrees. 

Moksha Yoga

Moksha yoga falls somewhere in between Bikram and Baptiste. While there is a set class sequence, it is less regulated, and some teachers may choose to use their creativity when leading their students. Like Bikram, Moksha classes are also 90 minutes long and focus on strength and flexibility. Moksha teachers incorporate more rest and mindfulness during sessions and highly encourage eco-friendly yoga props during practice.

What are the benefits of hot yoga?

Many students love hot yoga for the added challenge and intensity it brings to the practice. But hot yoga offers far more than a great workout. Here are a few of the health benefits hot yoga offers both mind and body:

Improved Flexibility

A heated room helps to warm our muscles and increase their flexibility. During a heated yoga class, you are likely to be able to go deeper with your yoga poses than in a non-heated class.

Easier Weight Loss

Hot yoga has been proven to burn more calories and boost metabolism better than traditional styles of yoga, which contributes to weight loss paired with a healthy diet. Studies also show that Bikram yoga may help to improve blood sugar levels2.

Reduced Stress and Improved Mood

Yoga is prized for its ability to help us relieve tension and melt away stress. When it comes to hot yoga, the stress-busting results are just as promising. Research shows that hot yoga can help people feel less stressed3 and improve stress-related illnesses. The American Psychology Association4 also backs hot yoga as an effective way to balance mood and fight against depression5

Better Bone Density

Weight-bearing exercises are an important way to build and improve bone density, especially for older adults. Studies show that those who regularly practice Bikram yoga have increased bone density6 in key areas like the neck, back, and hips.

Enhanced Circulation and Heart Health

Both the heat and vigorous poses of a hot yoga class work to increase the body’s circulation and respiration. This flushes all the muscles and tissues of the body with nourishing, health-promoting blood flow.

Does Hot Yoga Detoxify the Body?

Proponents of hot yoga claim that the practice helps to detox the body and shed pounds. There has been a longstanding debate over these claims in both the medical and yoga communities.

While hot yoga does tend to increase sweating, research cannot prove that it impacts our detoxification processes any further than that. But all is not lost – hot yoga (and exercise in general) has proven helpful in keeping all the body’s natural processes (detoxification included) running smoothly. The bottom line? While hot yoga may not actively enhance detoxification, it does help the body stay on top of this very important job.

Is Hot Yoga Safe?

Hot yoga may have some amazing benefits, but is it safe?

Because hotter temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses, it is important to be especially cautious during a hot yoga class. Make sure you drink enough water before and after class and don’t hesitate to rest or leave the room when your body needs a break.

Like any exercise program, hot yoga is not ideal for every yogi. If you experience any of the following symptoms or health conditions, skip the hot yoga and seek out a different style to support your practice:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dehydration
  • Fainting disorders and dizziness
  • Heat intolerance
  • History of heat stroke

Always check with your doctor before taking on a hot yoga class if you are pregnant or have any health concerns.

Hot Yoga Prep: How to Make the Most Out of Hot Yoga 

A successful hot yoga experience starts with smart preparation and a healthy mindset.  Here are a few tips to help make your hot yoga class safe and enjoyable:

  • Stay hydrated – The best thing you can do to prepare for a hot yoga class is to remember your water bottle. You’ll likely sweat more in a hot yoga class than you do in any other yoga or fitness class. Keep yourself safe by staying hydrated before, during, and after class.
  • Dress the part – Hot yoga classes are hot and humid, so light, breathable, sweat-wicking clothes are the best options.
  • Bring a small towel – A small towel or washcloth helps wipe sweat off your face and hands.
  • Use a cork yoga mat– Cork yoga mats are highly absorbent and non-slip. The beauty of cork is that moisture increases their grip and stability, making them a perfect fit for slippery hands and feet.
  • Listen closely – Our bodies are excellent communicators, but we just must listen. If you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, thirsty, achy, or experience any other discomfort during a hot yoga class, it’s time to take a breather.

Finding Peace with Hot Yoga

From athletes to the elderly, hot yoga offers many potential benefits for our health and wellbeing.  Physical benefits aside, the heat and humidity of a hot yoga class can do more than just move our blood and stretch our muscles – they have the power to transport. For those who find their relief in a very hot room, atop a trusty mat, a hot yoga class holds the promise of 90 minutes of peace. Has hot yoga benefited you? Or perhaps not? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.

References

1.The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations, Zoe L. Hewett, Birinder S. Cheema, Kate L. Pumpa, and Caroline A. Smith, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015.

2. Improvements in glucose tolerance with Bikram Yoga in older obese adults: a pilot study, Stacy D Hunter, Mandeep Dhindsa, Emily Cunningham, Takashi Tarumi, Mohammed Alkatan, Hirofumi Tanaka, National Library of Medicine, October 2013.

3. Effect of a 16-week Bikram yoga program on perceived stress, self-efficacy and health-related quality of life in stressed and sedentary adults: A randomised controlled trial, Zoe L Hewett, Kate L Pumpa, Caroline A Smith, Paul P Fahey, Birinder S Cheema, National Library of Medicine, April 2018.

4. Yoga Effective at Reducing Symptoms of Depression, American Psychological Association, August 2017.

5. Using Yoga to Relieve the Symptoms of Depression, Healthline.

6. Optimization of Physical Activity as a Countermeasure of Bone Loss: A 5-Year Study of Bikram Yoga Practice in Females, Sophia N. Sangiorgio, Arnob K. Mukherjee, Nicole W. Lau, Apurba Mukherjee, Prithwis Mukhopadhyay, Edward Ebramzadeh, Health Scientific Research, 2014.


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