Yoga is a spiritual and physical exercise that originated in India over 5,000 years ago, but what is hot yoga? Most people may be familiar with the standard practice of yoga. According to research conducted by Yoga Alliance in 2016, a survey estimated that 36 million Americans practiced some form of yoga. This was against 20.4 million in 2012.
However, adding the element of warmth to exercise may seem strange to some. Learn about the origins of hot yoga, as well as the benefits and negatives of practicing hot yoga.
Hot yoga is practiced the same way as standard yoga, and you always use a yoga mat to incorporate a range of poses into the workout. The high temperature conditions induce more sweating compared to standard yoga. For this reason, it is always advisable to stay hydrated before, during, and after a hot yoga class.
The heat also helps warm the muscles, which allows yogis to stretch more and be more flexible. An average hot yoga class can range from 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
What is hot yoga?
Hot yoga is a form of yoga practiced in hot and humid conditions. There are generally two types of hot yoga: Bikram and Vinyasa yoga.
The exercise was popularized by Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga in the 1970s. Bikram developed hot yoga from the traditional practice of hatha yoga. The hot temperature in hot yoga was designed to simulate the intense temperatures of India.
According to Yoga journal, Bikram’s goal was to “save America through his yoga”. A typical Bikram Yoga class consisted of 26 movements, two breathing exercises, and was performed in a 105 degree Fahrenheit room with 40% humidity. The teaching style of Bikram Yoga was quite practical, with the instructors regularly adjusting the postures of their students. Bikram yoga could only be taught by teachers trained by Bikram in Bikram studios.
Bikram Yoga has grown in popularity. According to The mind is the master, at its peak in 2006, there were more than 1,650 studios in more than 40 countries around the world. Since then, the popularity of Bikram yoga has declined, with around 600 studios remaining around the world. The reputation of founder Bikram Chourdy has been marred by legal problems and allegations of assault.
From the popularity of Bikram Yoga, other hot yoga studios such as Forrest yoga and Moksha yoga were founded.
The other key type of hot yoga is called Vinyasa. The difference between Bikram and Vinyasa is the transition from one pose to another. In the practice of Bikram yoga, yogis tend to enter the pose, hold, release and then move on to the next pose. Rather than going from one pose to another which is done by practicing Vinyasa.
Vinyasa hot yoga also offered more variety. The course structure was less rigid and depended more on the individual instructor. Vinyasa classes can be found in a multitude of studios. Heated Vinyasa classes are normally taught at a temperature of 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit and the slightly lower temperatures make Vinyasa yoga more suitable for beginners compared to Bikram.
What are the benefits of hot yoga?
The main benefits of hot yoga are:
Flexibility: According to Health Line, the room temperature means that it takes less time for your muscles to relax. Yogis are able to go further in their stretches.
Cardiovascular health: Exercising at a high temperature increases the heart rate and makes the body work harder. A hot yoga class would be more strenuous and help burn more calories than a standard yoga class.
Breathing: Breathing exercises performed during hot yoga sessions can help increase your lung capacity over time.
Quality of sleep: In 2012, a sleep monitoring study was conducted by Dr Ravi Kudesia and Dr Matt Bianchi to ISRN Neurology. The study found that Bikram yoga sessions helped respondents improve the quality of their sleep. Participants fell asleep faster and if they woke up, they stayed awake for shorter periods of time.
Stress reduction: A 2018 study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport which was conducted with a sample of stressed and physically inactive adults, found that a 16-week hot yoga program significantly reduced participants’ stress levels.
General well-being: In 2017, a group of hot yoga enthusiasts told the Washington post that “exercising in a heated room strengthens the heart, cleanses the veins, cleanses impurities from the body and strengthens the immune system”.
Are There Any Negatives About Hot Yoga?
Hot yoga, like most exercises, should be practiced with caution. The intensity of training associated with the high temperature can cause heat-related illness. According to Health Line, people with pre-existing conditions may be at risk of fainting. These conditions include:
- Heart disease
- Dehydration problems
- History of heat-related illness, such as heat stroke
Pregnant women are advised to consult their doctor before practicing hot yoga, but this is generally not encouraged.
In 2015, the American Council on Exercise published a study that highlighted concerns about Bikram yoga. During a typical Bikram yoga class, participants’ body temperatures reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit. This narrowly misses the 104 degree threshold that health professionals classify as dangerous. From the study, Cedric Bryant, PhD, Scientific Director of ACE, said: “For someone unfit or not used to Bikram, there is concern that they may experience some level of intolerance to the heat.” Following this study, ACE recommended that beginners stick with a conventional form of yoga or try a studio that offers it at a lower temperature.
Safety tips for hot yoga
- Stay hydrated: Be sure to drink water before, during, and after a hot yoga class. A sports drink can help replenish electrolytes lost during training.
- Wear breathable and light clothing.
- Pay close attention to how your body is feeling throughout the class.
- Stop immediately if you start to feel light-headed or light-headed. Leave the room and charge in a cooler place.
- If you have any pre-existing health issues, yoga at normal temperature is strongly recommended.