One of the most popular exercise trends out there today is hot yoga. Maybe you’ve already tried it, or maybe you’re a bit apprehensive, but there's no denying the many benefits of this style of yoga. One key aspect of hot yoga is that it focuses on strengthening more than just your muscles. With hot yoga, you can also give your heart and lungs a workout like they've never had before. However, there may be some confusion between hot yoga and Bikram yoga as they are very similar despite being two completely different practices.
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What is Hot Yoga?
Hot yoga owes its existence to Bikram yoga. Bikram is named after the yogi who developed the style, Bikram Choudhury, and is performed in a room where the temperature is cranked up to 105°F (41°C) and the humidity quotient is 40 percent. He devised a sequence of 26 specific poses and a set of breathing exercises that must be done in the exact order as Bikram prescribes. There can be no derivations or variations whatsoever in this 90 minute class.
This brings us to hot yoga, or more accurately the reason for its existence. Many studios and instructors were offering classes which they called “Bikram style,” but they were not adhering to Bikram's standards; namely the poses that were being performed. Teachers were heating up their rooms but they were not leading their students through the prescribed 26 poses in order. This style of class was growing in popularity, but when Bikram found out what had been happening, he was not pleased. To protect his unique style, Bikram threatened legal action against any studio that promoted a Bikram yoga class in their schedule without actually following the 26 prescribed poses in the exact order they were meant to be practiced.
And thus, “hot yoga” was born. This became the official terminology for any yoga class taught in a heated room. As a result, the specifications for hot yoga can vary from one instructor to the next. The room temperature can be anywhere from 80 to 100°F (27 to 38°C) and the sequences of poses are determined by the instructor of the class. The length of the classes can also vary, and while Bikram style favors a much quieter and serene environment for teaching, hot yoga classes might have music playing.
Related: What is Bikram Yoga?
The Benefits of Hot Yoga
One of the first questions on anyone's mind who might be interested in a hot yoga class is “does this have any benefits?” What good reason is there to step into a hotbox to do the same poses you could do at a more tolerable room temperature? The whole point, of course, is the elevated heat and the challenge it presents to the mind and body.
Ask anyone who favors hot yoga and they will tell you it relaxes the mind and spirit while increasing circulation, strength, and flexibility. But there are many other reasons why you might want to give hot yoga a try:
What is the most important thing to do before you start any yoga class or workout? Warm up. A little stretching goes a long way towards warming up your muscles and it's much tougher to perform just about any pose when you go in cold. Your flexibility and range of movement is limited.
Now consider how much more flexibility you can gain when your body is in a hot room. The muscles are more relaxed, the body more malleable, and there are fewer restrictions in your range of movement. Many people who take hot or Bikram yoga classes on a regular basis may start to feel far more flexibility in the hamstrings, the lower back, and the shoulders.
Greater Bone Density
Yoga in general can be very beneficial for improving the density of your bones. Many postures will have you supporting your own weight for extended lengths of time, which encourages greater bone density. But with the elevated temperatures of hot yoga, bone density has been shown to be increased gradually over time in older adults. Bone density loss is common, especially with premenopausal women. Hot yoga can help to slow the effects of age in bone density.
Reduction in Stress
Let's be honest, just about every type of yoga is a great way to lower your stress levels. You may even be thinking that hot yoga might increase your anxiety and stress simply because you're afraid of working out in a high heat environment. But when you're taking a hot yoga class, your breathing becomes even more important and it's that increased focus on breathwork that can actually help to calm you. Deep, cleansing breaths are imperative, and that can promote relaxation.
Increased Caloric Burn
The average person can probably burn anywhere between 150 to 190 calories in a typical hour long traditional yoga class. It's another reason why a lot of people turn to yoga to get in shape. But step into a room at the temperature level of a Bikram or hot yoga class and you can nearly double or even triple your calorie burn over the course of a 90 minute class.
As you may have guessed, you're going to sweat a whole lot more in a hot yoga class than you might in just about any other type of class. When you sweat during a hot yoga session, your circulation is improved and oxygen rich blood filled with nutrients is brought to your skin cells.
This is extremely important. Hot yoga creates an extraordinary environment in which to exercise, but not everybody can or should exert activity in these kinds of elevated temperatures. So if you have a condition such as low blood pressure, low blood sugar, or any pre-existing condition that precludes you from spending time in a hot tub or sauna, hot yoga may not be right for you.
For those who do not have any major health restrictions, hot yoga may pose a risk if you do not take smart and sensible precautions before, during, and after the class. Dehydration is the biggest concern when participating in any hot yoga session, so you must always drink plenty of water before you go into the classroom, during the class, and after you finish. Remember, you are going to sweat profusely which means your body is going to lose a lot of water and electrolytes. Many sports drinks can help you rehydrate and replenish electrolytes, so consider taking one with you to class.
Pregnant women should also avoid hot yoga classes, and consult with their physician before attempting any yoga. You could be creating an unsafe situation for you and your unborn baby.
Lastly, do not force yourself to continue with the class if you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseated. This is your body telling you that it needs to rest or stop altogether. Don’t ignore these warnings, otherwise you could end up fainting or even going into cardiac arrest. If you do start to experience any of these symptoms, go to a cooler environment immediately and take a break.
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