Hot Yoga: Definition, Benefits, Cautions and Tips for Newbies

hot yoga

More and more people are practicing hot yoga because of the intense workout it provides as well as the many benefits it offers. Hot yoga can give your muscles, lungs, and heart a more intense workout than a regular yoga class because it takes place in a heated room. Plus, hot yoga classes tend to be taught with more challenging poses and sequences. Before you jump into a trendy hot yoga class, you would be best served to learn more about what exactly hot yoga is, what to expect, and how to prepare.

What Is Hot Yoga?

Hot yoga is a style of hatha yoga performed under humid and hot conditions that lead to considerable sweating. People often use the terms hot yoga and Bikram yoga interchangeably, but they are not precisely the same. Bikram yoga is more strick and serious and takes place in a room heated to about 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the relative humidity is maintained at 40 percent. Bikram Yoga comprises a set sequence of two breathing exercises and 26 poses, and each pose is practiced twice in each class. Bikram classes are taught in studios with bright lights, carpet, and a mirrored front wall. Bikram yoga sessions last 90 minutes, while hot yoga classes can be anywhere between 60-90 minutes. The average temperature in a hot yoga studio ranges between 27 and 38 °C or 80 and 100°F. Yoga studios often offer warm yoga classes that are less heated but still are hot enough to make you sweat. Hot yoga sessions use many different yoga poses combined in diverse sequences. Hot yoga classes often include music and interaction among the instructor and participants.

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What Is The History Of Hot Yoga?

Bikram Choudhary created the first style of hot yoga in 1972. Bikram arranged traditional yoga poses in a distinct order for personal health reasons, to promote the healing and health of the mind and the physical body. Choudhury created a successful franchise of his unique style and had trademarked his 26-pose sequence to discourage competition from other styles of hot yoga. In 2013 a former Bikram student accused Choudhury of sexual harassment, discrimination, and defamation. A year later, four additional women filed lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct.  After racking up $16.7 million in legal judgments in November 2017, Choudhury filed for bankruptcy and was rumored to move from CA to Maharashtra, India to avoid an arrest warrant.  (A new Netflix documentary charts the rise and fall of Bikram Choudhury’s global empire.)  Many Bikram studios have since left the franchise and changed their class names to hot yoga. Currently, there are very few dedicated hot yoga teacher training programs as most new hot yoga teachers have a more comprehensive and traditional background.

What Are The Benefits Of Hot Yoga?

Hot yoga has all of the same benefits of hatha yoga, but the additional heat adds other benefits beyond improving physical fitness and mental relaxation. The heated environment can make it more daunting to practice yoga, which is the main reason why it has these additional advantages. Some of the benefits of hot yoga include:

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  1. Fewer injuries. The heat in a hot yoga studio improves vasodilation of the blood vessels. This way, more blood gets to the muscles, making them more elastic and less likely to get injured.
  2. Cleanses toxins from the body. You will sweat a lot when practicing hot yoga, and this is a great way to detoxify your body.
  3. Increases lung capacity. When breathing normally, we only use 50 percent of our lung capacity. Deep breathing practices enhance the lungs’ capacity, making them capable of holding huge volumes of oxygen.
  4. Improves blood circulation. Hot yoga is great for working out the cardiovascular system, which enhances blood flow to all parts of the body.
  5. Strengthens the immune system. Practicing hot yoga regularly can help your immune system to fight infection. Sweating profusely during a workout magnifies the benefits of exercise. Most seasoned yogis do not get sick often, and when they do, the ailments are less severe and shorter because their bodies are healthier overall and better equipped to recover.
  6. Boosts the lymphatic system. Sweating helps get the lymphatic system moving. A clogged lymphatic system is associated with cellulite and a low immune system. A clean lymphatic system means a less dimply and lighter body as well as radiant and glowing skin.
  7. Increases the flexibility of the muscles. Hot yoga can increase muscle flexibility more than other types of yoga because the heat enhances the stretching process beyond the limits of your body at room temperature. The external heat enables the muscles to contract and expand to more significant limits, allowing participants to achieve higher flexibility without the risk of getting injured. Therefore, hot yoga is a useful practice for dancers, athletes, trainers, and people who want to fine-tune and improve their flexibility.
  8. Supports weight loss. Hot yoga can boost your metabolism to support weight loss. The multiple challenging poses you must hold, and the increased heat makes your heart pump faster and your body to build lean muscle. One ninety-minute session of Bikram yoga can enable you to burn up to 1000 calories. Besides, the poses involved can benefit your endocrine and digestive systems, further boosting your metabolic rate.

Hot Yoga Tips for Newbies

We asked several experts what their best advice and tips were for someone attending their first hot yoga class. The heat and sweat generated in a hot class create unique and different challenges than other yoga disciplines. Even seasoned hot yogis may find these tips valuable to attain the most successful yoga experience in a hot room.

  1. Arrive hydrated. “The most important suggestion I make for people before coming to their first hot or heated yoga practice is to come hydrated,” says Kelly Clifton Turner, Director of Education for YogaSix. “And that means more than downing a bottle of water as you’re walking through the door. Make sure you’re drinking enough water in the 24 hours leading up to that initial practice to avoid feeling faint as you start to sweat.”
  2. Keep drinking. It may be pretty obvious, but “bring a water bottle into the room with you and drink often,” says Leslie Kiel of exercise.com. “Don’t wait for the instructor to cue a water break (though the best ones will frequently) or think you need to stay synchronized with the others in lieu of hydrating. Drink before you feel thirsty, and continue drinking water throughout your day after you leave class.”
  3. Don’t chug. “Resist the temptation to chug your water: Yes, it’s hot, yes you’re sweating, but I promise you, chugging your whole water bottle in one sitting will only make things worse,” says Yoga Teacher Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez. “Practicing yoga on a full stomach is never advised, but drinking your water too fast will probably make you feel nauseous. Don’t take that as an excuse to properly hydrate before and after class though!”
  4. Eat light. “I suggest eating something with a nice balance of calories from protein, fat, and carbs to give you fuel a couple of hours before the practice,” Turner tells us. “You shouldn’t be hungry, but you also should avoid being full.”
  5. Dress for success. “Most students prefer wearing moisture-wicking attire,” says Turner. “Save the cotton or hemp yoga clothes for a non-heated practice. Likewise, because of the sweat, form-fitting attire tends to hold up better in the practice, that baggy, loose clothing that gets weighed down with the sweat.”
  6. Use a mat towel. “There are some yoga mats out there that absorb or wick sweat, to provide a non-slip experience,” Turner tells us. “Most students simply use a mat towel. This can be as low-tech as a beach or bath towel, though you may find it bunches up. I love using yoga mat towels as they are cut to fit the standard mat size, and adhere great to the mat for the practice. One important thing to do is to dampen the towel before the practice begins… that helps it adhere to the mat. Many hot yoga studios will have spray bottles of water in the practice room for that very reason.”
  7. Find your cool spot. It is totally normal to feel overwhelmed by the heat and humidity in the practice room,” says Turner. “Remember that heat rises, meaning if you feel overwhelmed, you can take a seat, lay down, or rest in child’s pose. It’s often 15-20 degrees cooler on the floor than at standing height, so it’s a nice alternative to leaving the room which can shock the system with the cold air in the lobby.”
  8. Breathe through the nose. “If you’re a total beginner, you might have trouble breathing well during a hot yoga class,” says Rodriguez. “To avoid feeling dizzy, you should make sure you are taking deep, slow breaths through the nose. Take a break if you feel you can’t breathe properly, but stay in the room.”
  9. Take breaks as needed. “Yoga is about you and your practice, so never feel like you have to push yourself to keep up with the pace of the instructor if it doesn’t feel right,” says Kiel. “Especially in hot yoga, where your heart rate will be more elevated than the average class, feel free to take child’s pose and take a mental and physical time out. Then you can hop back in with the rest of the class when you feel ready. By listening to your body, you just might be doing other yogi’s a favor; the best instructors will take note when students are moving to child’s pose mid-sequence, and she will cue the entire class to take a few moments of a restorative pose, as well.”
  10. Don’t overdo it. “Hot yoga is so enjoyable because your body is already warm so more flexible and open,” Rodriguez tells us. “This can be dangerous and cause injuries if you’re unaware of your limitations. Keep your ego in check, and only do what feels good in your unique body.”

What are the cautions for practicing hot yoga?

As you practice hot yoga, listen to your body, and use your judgment. Everyone tolerates heat differently. If you feel lightheaded and hot, you can take a break. If you do not feel better after a break, leave the room for some cool air. It is also vital to keep your body hydrated by drinking water before, during, and after your yoga class. Drinking a low-calorie sports drink, or water with a dash of salt and lemon, is also advisable because it can help your body regain the electrolytes it lost during your workout. If you are pregnant, seek the advice of your doctor before you try hot yoga. If you have heart disease, struggles with dehydration, or a history of a heat-related illness (heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, etc.) it’s probably best to skip hot yoga or try a warm class instead.

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