While the health benefits of yoga are many and include muscle strengthening, improved sleep, increased flexibility and reduced stress; there are multiple styles and methods of exercise, each providing different benefits. Some of these types include karma yoga, kundalini yoga, bhakti yoga, tantra yoga, yin yoga, hatha yoga, power yoga, yoga nidra, and prenatal yoga.
Hot yoga is one of the most popular yoga trends today and is often incorporated into other yoga practices. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex does, and has called hot yoga one of her favorite forms of exercise. Hailey Bieber also practices hot yoga, as do Jessica Alba and Alex Rodriguez.
But experts say hot yoga isn’t for everyone and that the central heat element in hot yoga isn’t part of yoga’s spiritual origins. “The heat isn’t even purported to add to yoga’s spirituality which is, after all, its point to many,” says Loren Fishman, MD, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Columbia University and medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
What is Hot Yoga?
Hot yoga is simply any form of yoga practiced in a heated environment. “Such environments typically range from 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit,” explains Brett Larkin, certified yoga instructor and founder of Uplifted Yoga. It can be done alongside standard yoga poses or during “strict power yoga styles for an intense workout,” says Larkin. “You can experience hot yoga by performing any other style of yoga be it hatha, vinyasa or yin.”
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How is hot yoga different from regular yoga?
While many traditional yoga practices are about building strength and flexibility, centering yourself, or connecting to yoga’s aforementioned spiritual roots, hot yoga is all about sweat.
“The originator of this concept was the Indian-born American yoga guru, Bikram Choudrey,” explains Larkin. To recreate the idea of practicing yoga outdoors in India for his he students, he decided to heat his he studio to 105 degrees while performing several key yoga postures. The heated style wowed both spectators and participants, and “hot yoga has exploded in popularity,” Larkin explains. “Today many studios offer yoga classes in heated rooms in a variety of styles.”
In addition to Bikram yoga practiced in a heated environment, Fishman says power yoga is almost always practiced as a hot yoga technique as well. “The only difference between hot yoga and non-hot yoga is thermal,” he explains. “It can be done outdoors in the steamy jungles of Sri Lanka, but it can also be done indoors, no matter the outside temperature, including the snow-capped Himalayas.”
What is the purpose of hot yoga?
As with any yoga practice, people participate in hot yoga for a variety of reasons. Many especially love the look of sweating, and “some studies show that sweating is good for your skin,” says Fishman. Along with all that sweat comes a good cardio workout that burns a lot of calories, especially when compared to more traditional styles of yoga. “A 90-minute hot yoga session burns an average of 330 calories,” says Fishman. But he adds that most of the weight loss attributed to hot yoga is usually just sweaty water weight “which is quickly (and noticeably) replaced by hydration.” However, “studies have shown that doing yoga in a heated environment makes you stronger more quickly,” he says.
Another of the benefits of hot yoga is the improved breathing techniques. “I think the overlooked benefit of hot yoga is that it forces practitioners to have a greater awareness of their breathing,” says Larkin. “Doing poses in a heated room requires more stamina and endurance and forces yogis to tune into the breath more deeply,” he says.
Additionally, Larkin explains that many also find that being in a heated room warms up the muscles, allowing for greater flexibility as they stretch into the postures, and that “sweating during hot yoga can also facilitate the release of toxins from the body.”
Who shouldn’t do hot yoga?
Despite those benefits, Larkin says “hot yoga isn’t for everyone” and to “always check with your doctor before engaging in it.” Some potential harms of the practice include an increased risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, according to the Mayo Clinic. And hot yoga is not recommended for pregnant women of people with asthma as it has been shown to aggravate the condition. It should also be avoided by anyone with heart problems, Fishman says. “Heat dilates blood vessels and makes the heart work harder, which can be dangerous,” she explains.
“It’s also easy to get dehydrated doing hot yoga,” adds Larkin. “No matter what, wear breathable, sweat-wicking clothes and drink tons of water.”
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