So what is the deal with Hot Yoga?
I regularly teach a “Vinyasa” style of yoga out at three different Air Force Base Fitness centers and I always end my class with an invitation to ask questions. The other day at the end of class, one of my students had decided to tell me about her Thanksgiving break and a yoga class she had taken in California. Well, a little into the conversation, I was pretty sure she was talking about “Bikram” yoga so I asked her if it was called “Bikram” yoga. Once she heard the name, she replied with yes that is what it was called. She then proceeded to tell me how hard it was. Long story short, this led to her question; “what is the reason for Hot Yoga?” and actually as it turned out, quite a few of my students wanted to know. So we chatted about hot yoga and thus I decided to share what I discussed with my students with you.
What is Hot Yoga? Hot Yoga is essentially a yoga practice within a heated and humid room. Heat temperatures can range from 75° to 105° F. Humidity levels can range from 40% – 75%. Together the heat and the humidity produce an “apparent temperature” or “heat index.” Some styles incorporate a Vinyasa or flowing type of practice whereas others are more static meaning poses are held for longer periods of time such as a few minutes.
How do you know it is Hot Yoga? Hot yoga practices have quite a few names to either describe the class or the studio. Some are trademark names while others are a fitness center or yoga studio’s own interpretation or name. Here are a few examples:
- 1. Bikram – Is a trademarked name for a studio that only offers Bikram classes. Rooms are heated up to 105° F and 40% humidity. Class is 90 minutes in length and a “set” series of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises are pursued twice. Also, it is important to know up front that teachers use an exact script, there isn’t any music played, and the floors are carpeted.
- Forest – a style of yoga that pursues longer holds of poses often up to 20 different poses on one side before switching to the other side. The room temperature is usually 85°F.
- Barkan – Yoga is practiced in temperatures from 95 to 105° F and humidity levels of 50-75%. Also, the man behind this method trained with/under Bikram but essentially developed his own style of Hot Yoga. He believes in consistency of poses as well, but incorporates some different poses so his clients don’t get bored.
- Baptiste – Yoga rooms are typically 90°F.
- Moksha or also known as Modo – A style of yoga where the pose sequence is the same but there is flexibility with poses unlike Bikram. For instance, there isn’t a script. Class is 90 minutes in length and the room is typically set at 105° F. Also, these studios don’t have carpet like Bikram studios.
- Power Yoga – a vinyasa style of class that can be practiced in a heated room.
- YogaFit Sweat – A “flex and flowing” vinyasa yoga practice occurring in rooms heated anywhere from 75 to 98°F. The idea is to build heat both within the body as well as externally from the heated room. Class length varies from 45 to 90 minutes in length and music is played.
- Hot Vinyasa Flow – Some studios call their hot yoga series something to this effect. This just means that you will move/flow from pose to pose in a heated room. Check with the gym/studio for temperature ranges and humidity levels.
- Warm Flow – This would be a milder version of hot yoga. Temperatures and humidity levels are on the lower end of the range. This is a great beginner or introduction to hot yoga.
Why “Hot” Yoga? – Of course this is an individual preference as to whether you pursue yoga in a heated room or in one that is considered room temperature. Here are a number of reasons why people choose hot yoga.
Heat is used to purify, cleanse, and heal. Think about why you choose to enjoy a heating pad, hot tub, sauna, steam room, or tropical vacation.
- Heat helps with tight muscles and restricted joints. If the class is a flowing/vinyasa type then the constant movement will heat up the body from the inside in addition to the external heat. A heated body is able to stretch deeper than a cold body. Muscles, fascia, and joints benefit from the stretching. People who pursue single range of movement types of activities such as running, benefit from the deeper stretching as well as other ranges of movement/stimulation that hot yoga provides. Additionally, those with “Osteoarthritis” and other conditions find the moist heat (higher humidity) soothing.
- Skin – Our skin is the largest organ in our body and when we heat up our body through movement/exercise and with the external environment (outside or a heated room), we sweat. When we sweat, our body is attempting to cool itself as well as get rid of internal toxins. And many folks will tell you it is a secret behind their complexion (or maybe they don’t want you to know their secret).
- Heat encourages circulation through our body’s “Lymphatic System” which helps our immune system stay healthy.
- If the class is a flowing/vinyasa style, we tend to breathe more heavily, possibly at a quicker pace which means we exhale a lot. 70% of our toxins are released via the exhalation.
- More calories are burned in hot yoga than that of regular yoga. Whether you are doing yoga or another type of exercise, exercising in the heat burns more calories than in room temperature. This is because your heart is working harder to pump blood to your extremities so your body can maintain its body temperature. (Don’t confuse this with how much you sweat).
Hot Yoga isn’t for everyone! Just because you like it or did it in the past, do know that hot yoga isn’t for everyone.
- Beginners should never go to the hottest yoga class they can find. Everyone has to “acclimate to the heat” and if you haven’t built yourself up to it, you will be both mentally and physically miserable. It is actually better to start with a warm class and work your way up to the more heated versions. However, if you find the class is too intense, take a moment and rest in “child’s pose” and know that pose is available whenever you need it!
- The haven’t been in a while folks need to realize that for every two days of abstaining or absence from a hot yoga class, one day of acclimation is lost. So if life got in the way and prevented you from attending your favorite hot yoga class, it is best to start back with the lower temperature versions and work back up to the more heated versions.
- Hot yoga is not for Kids! Children are more sensitive to heat because they sweat more.
- Seniors like kids are more sensitive to heat. As adults age (50+), their ability to “feel” thirsty diminishes so dehydration is a concern. If participating in hot yoga, drink plenty of water before, throughout, and after class.
- Hot yoga is not for pregnant ladies! The baby’s temperature in utero is one degree higher than that of the mother and the baby does not have the ability to sweat in order to cool itself! While you are pregnant, is not the time to take hot yoga classes. There are plenty of other types of classes that are better suited for you!
- Those with medical conditions should take caution! Below are just a few.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, and Multiple Sclerosis will be aggravated by the heat.
- Those with injuries might overstretch.
- Take caution if you have a thyroid condition because the thyroid deals with thermoregulation.
- Be aware of the medications that you are on and how you may react to the heat. Ask your doctor.
- Also know this! The higher the humidity percentage is, the more stressful the experience is. This is because the body responds by sweating less in higher humidity. Sweating is how we cool our bodies and the lack of it can contribute towards a heat related injury like heat cramps. So essentially, the higher the heat index is, the more restrictive the population as to who can attend.
So you would like to try out hot yoga! That is great. Check out your local gym or yoga studios for a listing of their class offerings. Take note of the class names and descriptions (compare with the How do you know it is Hot Yoga? section above) to determine if the class is heated or not as well as the extent of it.
- Do wear breathable fabrics in removable layers. Have headbands and hair ties handy.
- Do bring your mat, a mat towel, and another hand towel. You will be sweating and nothing is worse than doing the unintentional splits because of sweaty and slippery hands and feet.
- Bring plenty of water to drink. Drink ahead of class, during, and after.
- Don’t eat just before class! Digestion takes a lot of energy and you don’t want it competing with your hot yoga practice. Trust me, you will be miserable if you go on a full stomach.
- Don’t wear perfume. Don’t put on make up just to go to class. You’ll have quite the unappealing look once you start sweating.
- Don’t put on lotion before class. If you do, you’ll slip more readily.
- Do bring a light snack for “after” class.
Design your own Hot Yoga Room at Home:
Maybe you don’t have a hot studio nearby. Maybe the weather is crappy. Regardless, many people still like to practice hot yoga at home. Here is how you can do it without a huge expense.
- Find a space that is big enough to accommodate you and your mat. You’ll want a few feet around your mat to be free so when you extend your arms and legs, you’ll be able to freely do so. (The smaller the space, the easier it will be to heat). Shut doors, close drapes, put a towel under the door…
- Get yourself a space heater of some sort. Many people like the “radiant” heat types and also one that won’t turn off when it reaches a certain temperature as most won’t get to your possible desired temperature. (I found an awesome radiant dish styled heater at Costcos).
- Purchase some type of Indoor/Outdoor thermometer-hygrometer. These are fairly inexpensive. You can buy one for under $20 dollars at a hardware store. This will help you regulate/determine your heat index.
- Purchase a humidifier or fill the tub with water (if your room is the bathroom).
- Safety First – Please be aware of safety concerns in that the heater shouldn’t be too close to a wall, curtains, or water! You don’t want electrocution to be part of your hot yoga experience. Never leave the heater unattended. Turn the heater off when you aren’t in the room.
I could go on and on about the subject of hot yoga. My intent is just to explain the “why” it is a popular class/practice in the yoga world. I hope you liked it. I like yoga in room temperature (70° F) and I love hot yoga too. I’d love to hear from those of you who do hot yoga. Why do you like it, why do you go…?