Some like it hot, and then some like it really, REALLY hot! But, are hot yoga benefits really worth the dripping sweat and clinging humidity?
According to many studios and gyms, this is the fastest growing type of practice, but what makes it so appealing? Bikram was the original hot yoga, but today, the term refers to any class that is performed in a heated room.
Basically, a studio can offer a hot yoga class simply by turning up the thermostat. Therefore, there is really no standard temperature, sequence, or length of practice. The room can be anywhere between 85º-105º.
Many studios control humidity while others focus only on the heat. Some instructors will vary the workouts, and others follow a set sequence that never changes.
So, when you decide to sign up for a hot yoga class, how do you know exactly what you are getting into? While any style can become "hot", there are a few that you are most likely to find offered at your local studio.
Bikram Yoga: This is the most well-known and hottest type of yoga. It was created in the 1970s by Bikram Choudhury as a way to replicate the hot, humid environment of India. Classes are 90 minutes long, and the room is heated to 105º with 40% humidity. Bikram Yoga consists of 26 poses and two breathing exercises that are performed in the exact same sequence in every class - everywhere. So, no matter where you go, you should be able to fit right in.
It is important to note that Bikram is always hot, but not all hot yoga classes will be Bikram. This type of yoga has a very specified style and sequence, and not every instructor is trained to teach it. If Bikram is what you are looking for, be sure to ask the studio which style is used in their hot yoga classes.
Power Yoga: The term “Power Yoga” has gained popularity, but it can be a little difficult to define. Yes, it is a type of hot yoga, but it has its roots in several different styles. The well-known Baptiste Power Yoga is based strongly on Vinyasa (more varied), while other classes will draw more from Ashtanga (strict structure). Still others may blend Bikram, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and even Iyengar into one practice.
** Unless the instructor is using a very strict Ashtanga sequence for their hot yoga, every class will be different and the style or atmosphere will vary from teacher to teacher. Room temperatures will also vary, so you may want to ask about the heat and humidity levels for each class.
Moksha Yoga: Classes are 90 minutes long and will be performed in a room heated to 100º. Moksha yoga follows a series of 40 poses and, generally, the same sequence is followed for each class. However, instructors are encouraged to add their own expertise and experience to the practice, so the sequences may vary from teacher to teacher. In other words, the sequence of poses you do each and every class (without variance) may be different from the set sequence of poses another instructor uses at different studio.
** Most practices will being with a relaxation pose to center and prepare the body and mind. Moksha yoga also offers the benefit of shortened classes for those days when you don't have 90 minutes to spare.
Bikram believed that by adding the element of heat to a traditional practice it would be possible to increase the benefits that yoga has to offer.
Perhaps the biggest overall advantage is that hot yoga can provide a complete, full-body workout that focuses on your muscles and flexibility, as well as your organs, glands, and cardio health, while also relieving stress and helping you achieve mental clarity.
• Flexibility. Heat warms muscles and tendons and increases their ability to stretch so you can achieve greater flexibility.
• Range of Motion. When your muscles and ligaments are warm, you will have a greater range of motion in your joints and be able to sink deeper into poses and stretches.
• Releases Toxins. Toxins and waste are carried from the body through the skin. Sweat increases the detoxification of muscles and organs, helping your body rid itself of harmful substances that can cause tissue/cell damage and illness.
• Increase Strength. Holding poses in the heat can be more demanding, causing your body to work harder.
• Cardio Workout. Hot yoga will definitely get your heart rate up and improve circulation.
• Weight Loss. An average hot yoga class can burn 600-1000 calories. And, since you are sweating out toxins that make your metabolism sluggish, you will also enjoy the benefits of a more balanced body.
• Improves Immunity. Eliminating toxins will also reduce free-radical damage and give your immune system a beneficial boost.
• Increase Muscle Tone. As with most styles of yoga, you will strengthen, lengthen, and tone your muscles.
• Reduces Symptoms of Chronic Conditions. Many experts claim that hot yoga can help relieve or improve the symptoms of conditions such as thyroid disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, depression, and heart problems.
• Improve Focus. Sweating profusely in tropical temperatures can be a little distracting so maintaining proper alignment and coordinating breathing with movement can be quite challenging.
Proponents of hot yoga believe that it is one of the best styles to improve mental fortitude and focus, increase body awareness, and achieve harmony between the spirit, soul, and body.
As mentioned, there are many different types of hot yoga, but they all share the same poses. Since almost every style can become “hot” simply by changing the temperature of the room, you will find classes that include all the asanas of traditional practices. However, depending on the class and/or instructor, the sequences may vary significantly.
Other types and variations of hot yoga will include the 26 Bikram poses, but will also add in other popular yoga postures like Downward Facing Dog, Wheel, and Child's Pose.
Unless you are taking a Bikram class, your hot yoga sequence could be a combination of any number of poses. With over 100 asanas to choose from, there a lot of combinations.
Performing yoga in high heat and humidity calls for some extra caution, especially if it is a new experience for you. Keep in mind that there is a higher risk of heat-related problems, so hot yoga may not be for everyone. It can offer a lot of benefits, but it can also be dangerous if you ignore your body's warning signs or fail to follow some practical tips.
• Hydrate. Drink plenty of water before and after your hot yoga class. Excessive sweating can quickly dehydrate you, so make sure you take in plenty of fluids ahead of time to help compensate for what you will be losing.
• Do not eat for 2-3 hours before a class. It is best to have an empty stomach, but if you must eat, keep it light.
• Stop if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or experience any other heat related symptoms or signs of dehydration.
• Acclimate. Hot yoga requires a high heat tolerance. You may want to sit in on a few classes as an observer, rather than a participant, to give your body a chance to get used to the extreme heat.
• Take a professional class. Do not attempt hot yoga at home or at an unreputable facility. Make sure to use a studio that is properly heated and ventilated.
• Wear fitted clothing. You will sweat – a lot – and baggy clothing can become wet, sloppy, and heavy. Tight fitted clothing designed specifically for yoga is your best option.
• Invest in a yoga mat. Most studios will have yoga mats, but since you will be doing a lot of sweating, it is a good idea to have your own.
• Bring a towel to class. This is a must! You will need it!
• Get doctor approval. Since hot yoga is so intense, you should check with your doctor before you sign up for a class. This style is not recommended for pregnant women or for those with certain health conditions.
Hot yoga is a fitness craze that is promoted by athletes, celebrities, and fitness trainers everywhere. Practicing in 100º+ temperatures can provide many benefits, but you should exercise caution and make sure you know exactly what the class entails before you begin.
Every studio will have its own interpretation of hot yoga and classes will vary from strict Bikram to the more relaxed Vinyasa. Do some research, find out what is involved, what you need to bring, and whether or not their hot yoga class is a good fit for you.
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I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.