Why Hot Yoga Is Such A Cool Form Of Exercise
A yoga class described as "hot" will usually take place in a room heated to 105 degrees (40°C), while yoga that is described merely as "heated" will generally take place in a room slightly cooler—somewhere between 80 and 100°F (27 and 38°C).
The yoga performed in a hot yoga class can theoretically be any type, but is most commonly a style called Bikram Yoga that originated in the 1970s and gradually gained prominence worldwide.
However, some hot yoga studios now avoid using the "Bikram" name because of allegations of sexual misconduct aimed at founder Bikram Choudhury, who is now the subject of widespread condemnation in the yoga community.
Yet the tradition Choudhury created is alive and well. Reportedly, he noticed that his students could go more deeply into their yoga poses if they practiced in a heated room, and that they also seemed to feel more exhilarated afterwards. Thus, hot yoga was born!The research backs his observations up: multiple studies have shown that heat improves muscles' flexibility, hence the usual practice of "warming up" before exercise to prevent injuries. On the flip side, note that this could actually increase your risk of getting hurt if your feeling of increased flexibility encourages you to push past your usual limits.The fact that heating a yoga session naturally boosts its intensity was probably responsible for the greater adrenaline and endorphin highs that Choudhury observed in his students. Impressively, it seems to do so without putting much more strain on the joints or muscles.
Hot yoga is also naturally more challenging than thermo-neutral yoga, which may enhance yoga's mental and spiritual benefits. Part of the purpose of yoga is to teach yogis how to stay calm and maintain their focus even in the face of pain and discomfort, and what could be more uncomfortable than trying to stay balanced in tree pose in a room as hot as a freaking dessert?
If you're wondering whether heating up your yoga session boosts its fat-burning power as well, the answer is complicated. Though Bikram yoga burns more calories than gentler styles like Hatha and Ashtanga, this owes more to the intensity of the Bikram exercise style than the heat.Yet the heat does seem to provide a small calorie-burning boost by raising hot yogis' heart rates and metabolisms. One study found that while hot yoga practitioners and a control group who performed the same exercises in a thermo-neutral environment experienced similar improvements in vascular health, the hot yogis burned slightly more body fat! Unfortunately, the idea that sweating your butt off in hot yoga can rid your body of toxins is more fiction than fact. Though small traces of toxins like BPA and heavy metals have been found in sweat, the amounts are so small as to make basically no functional difference in terms of your health.
Getting your sweat on can, though, help unclog your pores and protect your skin from bacteria. Sweating may also help you see lower numbers on the scale by temporarily ridding you of some pesky water weight.
Few studies directly contrast hot (Bikram) yoga with traditional yoga, but evidence suggests that it has at least as many benefits as its colder cousin.One study found that, compared with a control group, an experimental group that undertook 8 weeks of Bikram yoga practice increased their dead-lift strength, increased the flexibility of several body parts, and modestly decreased their percentage of total body fat.A review of the literature on bikram yoga also found that it was associated with enhanced range of motion, balance, and lower body strength in healthy adults and could provide additional benefits for certain vulnerable populations.For example, performing bikram yoga has been associated with improved glucose tolerance in obese adults (though not in younger, leaner subjects) and increased bone density in premenopausal women. Practicing Bikram yoga has also been associated with lower perceived stress levels but higher feelings of self-efficacy and health-related quality of life in stressed and sedentary adults.Studies have also found that exposure to heat can lead to improvements in symptoms of depression and hypertension even without exercise, so there's no reason that hot yoga shouldn't do the same!But can hot yoga get too hot? While some experts suggest that the relatively low-intensity nature of the exercise done during a hot yoga class means that participants' body temperatures shouldn't rise to hazardous levels, other research suggests that hot yoga can drive core temperatures dangerously high.This is evidenced by at least one known case in which a woman with no known health problems experienced sudden cardiac arrest as a result of pushing herself too far in a hot yoga class—she survived, but it's still pretty scary!To minimize your risk of hot yoga side-effects, make sure you're as hydrated as possible, and make sure to replenish your electrolytes during or after class as well to avoid over-hydration (hyponatremia). You should also eat an easy-to-digest snack about half an hour before taking a hot yoga class to ensure you're fueled up, but not a large meal that might induce nausea.
If you do start feeling lightheaded during a hot yoga class, don't hesitate to take a rest or even to leave the room. You should also make an extra effort to take it slow and check with your doctor beforehand if you are pregnant or have any serious health problems.
If you plan on attending a hot yoga class, you should come armed with towels, a mat, an insulated bottle to hold your cold water, and lightweight breathable clothing. Some hot yogis also enjoy specialized gloves and socks that can give them a better grip when things start getting hot and sweaty.Hot yoga could be a great way to enjoy a super intense workout session that's still physically moderate enough to suit phase 2 of the 123Diet, which actually doesn't require you to exercise at all! If you don't think you're ready to face the heat, no worries—you can always start with regular yoga and work your way up!