What is Hot Yoga? And tips to get the most of your hot yoga practice

Yoga has become quite popular in the past few years and more and more people are turning to yoga as a way to relieve stress, a way to relax and as a way to stretch and strengthen the body. I am sure if you have looked at joining a yoga class you would have noticed that there are a variety of different styles to choose from. Today, we are going to have a look at hot yoga and what you can expect in a hot yoga class. 

What is hot yoga?

In short, hot yoga isthe same as a normal yoga practice just with the heat turned up! Turning the heat up takes your yoga practice to the next level as it gives you a more intense workout and gets your heart, lungs and muscles working a little harder.
When hearing the term hot yoga, you may instantly think of Bikram yoga, however, although the terms Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga are often used interchangeably, it is important to note that they are not the same. 

The first form of hot yoga was called Bikram yoga and was founded during the 1970’s by Bikram Choudhury. In a Bikram yoga class, the studio is heated to 105°F (41°C) with 40 percent humidity.  The session typically lasts for 90 minutes and consists of a set series of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises that are performed in a specific sequence every class.

The Bikram Yoga sequence is comprised of traditional hatha yoga poses. While working in Japan, Bikram heated the studio to emulate the heat and humidity that would be experienced in India where the practice of yoga originated. Having raised the temperature, he noticed that the participants started sweating and exerting themselves more; the participants associated this sweating with having had a better workout. As a result, the practice of Bikram yoga and now various forms of hot yoga were created. 

The idea of performing yoga in a heated room has grown in popularity over the years and has led to a variety of different yoga styles now being taught in a heated space. We can then say that hot yoga refers to any yoga practice that is performed in a heated room. The room is typically heated anywhere between 80 and 100°F (27 and 38°C). Hot yoga also doesn’t follow a set sequence, instructors have the freedom to design their own sequences and as such the length and style of the classes will differ studio to studio. 

Why the heat?

It may sound daunting, but the heat has a purpose. According to Bikram, having a heated environment helps to prepare the body for movement and helps to remove impurities from the body. The heat causes you to sweat more which in turn increases the heart rate, making it a more intense workout. The heat also allows the muscles to loosen up quicker and more effectively which aids in your flexibility and ability to perform the poses.

What are the benefits of doing hot yoga? 

While practicing yoga in itself offers a number of benefits in terms of our overall health and wellness, turning up the heat during your yoga practice comes with benefits too:  

  • Increased flexibility: practicing in a heated room makes it easier for our muscles to stretch, this is because the heat allows the muscles to become relaxed more quickly. This means that you will find you are able stretch a little further and experience a greater range of motion that you may normally be able to.
  • Improved cardiovascular health: the heat as well as the intensity of the poses raises the heart rate. The heart tends to pump faster when we are hot to push more blood towards the skin to help us cool down.
  • Increases lung capacity: by performing deep breathing exercises we enhance the lungs’ capacity which means they can hold larger volumes of oxygen. Taking deeper breaths causes the lungs to expand more than normal and this allows more oxygen to enter the bloodstream and travel to other organs.
  • Increases blood circulation – hot yoga causes us to work harder which in turn works our cardiovascular system which then improves the blood flow throughout the body. The improved circulation means that the body is able to send blood to the muscles more efficiently.
  • Boosts the lymphatic system: exposure to heat increases the flow of lymph fluid throughout the body; this in turn has a positive effect on the immune system and its ability to help the body repair.
  • Increases bone mass: Studies have shown that when practiced regularly and properly, yoga has the potential to increase bone mineral density.
  • Weight loss: Hot yoga raises the heart rate which helps to burn calories which in turn promotes weight loss.
  • Build and tone the muscles: Hot yoga tends to be more vigorous than more traditional forms of yoga and as such many of the poses used in the classes will help you tone and define your muscles. Many of the poses also help with building strength such as the warrior poses and arm balances.
  • Stress reduction: During a hot yoga practice, the hormone cortisol which causes us to feel stress and tense gets released. During exercise, “feel good” hormones” such as endorphins and dopamine are also released which leaves you feeling happier. The movements and stretches performed in the class will also help release tension in the body, making you feel much better overall. 

How to get the most out of your hot yoga practice

  1. Make sure you are well hydrated: You are going to sweat a lot during your hot yoga class, so it is important to make sure you drink enough water before, during and after the class to avoid dehydration. During the class, be sure to take small sips of water, be careful not to start gulping water down in large quantities as this will make you feel ill. It is also helpful to bring ice water so that the water doesn’t get too warm during the class.
  2. Consider supplementing your water with electrolytes: When we sweat, we lose electrolytes, mostly potassium and sodium. This loss of electrolytes can cause muscle cramps and fatigue. As such, it is beneficial to have something after class that contains electrolytes. Coconut water is a great, healthy option or you could add a bit of salt and lemon to your water to make your own electrolyte water.
  3. Listen to your body: Hot yoga is an intense workout, listen to your body and rest when you need to. If you are new to the practice, you may at times feel lightheaded or nauseous, if this happens move into a rest pose such as child’s pose until you feel better and ready to carry on. Moving with intention during the class will help you feel good and avoid feeling completely exhausted at the end. 
  4. You do you: By nature, hot yoga classes are difficult, don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to do what everyone else is doing. Work at your own pace and within your own capabilities; you need to do what is right for you. Each person in the class will have a practice unique to them despite following the same routine.
  5. Choose your mat wisely: A mat that offers you’re a little extra grip will be worthwhile. You will be sweating far more than you would during a normal yoga class and you need to mat that will be able to withstand this. It can become dangerous if you start slipping on your mat.
  6. Be prepared for the sweat: Make sure you have a hand towel handy and wear a headband to keep the sweat out of your eyes. You want to benefit from the sweating not become distracted by it.
  7. Dress appropriately: As with any exercise, what you choose to wear does matter. You need to choose clothing that is breathable, stretchy, and sweat wicking. Sweat wicking clothing is designed to pull moisture away from your body so that it can evaporate. This is beneficial as it keeps you dry and cool rather than being bogged down by soggy, sweat drenched clothing. 
  8. Fuel yourself adequately: While it is not advisable to eat a big heavy meal before class, you do need to provide your body with fuel to get you through the session. Having something small and light like a banana, smoothie or handful of nuts will do the trick. Try not to eat anything within an hour of the start of the class though. 

Safety tips

Although this practice is becoming increasingly popular around the world and offers a variety of amazing benefits, like anything in life you need to proceed with caution and be aware of the drawbacks so that you can get the most out of your hot yoga practice. 

Let’s have a quick look at some things to be cautious of when practicing hot yoga:

  1. Be aware of your limitations before you start:  While practicing in a heated room helps to loosen up the muscles faster, it can also hamper our ability to feel the actual limitations of our body. It is possible to overstretch or strain a muscle without realising it at the time. This is because being warmer allows you to get deeper in certain stretches and poses than you would normally in a standard studio setup. Another thing to consider is that while the muscles may be flexible and able to stretch, the ligaments and tendons may not be able to withstand deeper, more intense stretches. So, before a class, make sure you know your own unique limitations and be sure not to push yourself too far too soon.
  2. Be wary of getting dehydrated:  Dehydration is a major concern; you will be sweating a lot during the session so be sure to stay hydrated during the class and take time to rest where you need to. When exercising in a heated room, it becomes harder for our bodies to regulate our temperature and cool down.
  3. Pre-existing conditions: Hot yoga is not suitable for everyone, if you have a heart condition, diabetes, high blood pressure or are pregnant then it is best to avoid this practice. Remember to always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime.
  4. Dizziness, nausea, and light-headedness: These are a reality when performing intense exercise, know when to stop and take a rest to avoid injury. You may even need to leave the room and give yourself a chance to cool down and reset.  

To sum up

Practicing hot yoga is not for everyone, it is an intense form of exercise that offers many benefits but does need to be practiced with caution. Remember, as with anything, practice makes perfect, the first class may seem challenging and overwhelming but if it is something you want to do, keep working at it, take it slow and build up your strength and tolerance to the heat over time. 

Tamsin Springer

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References :

[0]Hewett ZL, Cheema BS, Pumpa KL, Smith CA. The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:428427. doi:10.1155/2015/428427

[1]Dodge J. (2014). Researcher: 'Hot' yoga yields fitness benefits. source.colostate.edu/researcher-hot-yoga-yields-fitness-benefits/

[2]Tracy BL, et al. (2013). Bikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22592178