Benefits of Hot Yoga: Hype or Helpful?

Hot yoga is a practice that has been trending across the world for years, and it keeps growing as more gyms heat up their yoga studios to keep up with the demand for hot yoga classes. The practice involves performing yoga poses in a heated environment, which advocates say may increase flexibility, promote weight loss, and improve overall well-being. But does it live up to all the hype?

In this article, we’ll take a look at the potential benefits of hot yoga as well as explore safety considerations and how it compares to more traditional forms of yoga.

What is hot yoga?

Hot yoga is any style of yoga performed in a room heated to a temperature of between 85–105°F. The humidity level is also kept at approximately 40%.

Bikram yoga is the most well-known form of hot yoga and is partially responsible for making heated yoga famous across North America and Europe. It has a specific sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. Since the controversy surrounding Bikram himself, many studios choose to call the style '26 & 2' rather than using his name.

Hot yoga isn’t limited to one particular style, and studios often offer a whole range of different hot yoga classes, from traditional hatha to a more intense vinyasa flow. The idea is to sweat profusely during your practice, which advocates claim may help the body expel toxins. Performing the postures in a heated environment may also have blood flow advantages, improve stamina, and enhance strength and flexibility.

How does hot yoga compare with traditional yoga practices?

Traditionally, yoga is performed at room temperature with a focus on the alignment of different poses (asanas), breathing techniques, and meditation. While the regular practice of traditional yoga offers significant mental, physical, and emotional benefits, the heated environment may intensify these effects by increasing sweat production, enhancing flexibility, and potentially even accelerating weight loss.

The table below highlights some comparisons between hot yoga and traditional yoga.

Hot yogaTraditional yoga
AlignmentHot yoga is often less focused on the correct alignment of the body during the asanas (postures).Traditional yoga places a lot of emphasis on getting into the right alignment in order to prevent injury and promote long-term healthy posture.
VersatilityHot yoga is often challenging and not suitable for beginners or those unaccustomed to high temperatures. It should also be avoided for those with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions and pregnant individuals.Traditional yoga offers a variety of styles that can be easily adapted to many different needs, ages, and abilities.
AccessibilityHot yoga classes need to be held in a heated room, which limits their accessibility.Traditional yoga can be practiced anywhere. Yoga classes can be held in hospitals, public parks, workplaces, mountaintops, and even your own backyard.
Mindfulness and meditationAlthough not the case for every studio, hot yoga classes are often treated as more of a workout than a meditative, mindful, or spiritual practice.Traditional yoga styles place more emphasis on the mind/body connection, with classes often dedicating time to creating a link between the body, breath, and mind.

What are the possible benefits of hot yoga?

Enthusiasts and yoga influencers report many benefits of hot yoga beyond those you can achieve with traditional types. Some advocates say that practicing in the heat helps speed up the process of improving flexibility; others report that hot yoga can increase stamina and strength faster than traditional types of yoga.

While there are well-documented benefits to other forms of traditional yoga styles, such as hatha, it’s worth noting that scientific evidence is still emerging on the specific benefits of hot yoga.

With this in mind, let’s look at some of the benefits of hot yoga that you might experience with regular practice.

Increased flexibility

One of the most well-known benefits of any type of yoga is increased flexibility. The nature of the practice brings both functional length and strength to your muscles as you stretch and hold poses. Hot yoga keeps your muscles warm, which may potentially help them to stretch more, leading to greater improvements in flexibility.

It’s important to remember to build strength and stability, too. Yoga isn’t just about being able to get into complicated postures that require a high level of flexibility. It’s about building a strong and supple foundation that may help prevent injury and promote a sense of overall well-being throughout your whole body.

Better balance

Having a regular hot yoga practice may also improve your balance. Many of the poses you’ll be guided through in your yoga classes will require the utmost concentration in order to remain stable in the posture. Depending on the level of your class, you might be asked to hold one-legged balances like tree pose (vrksasana) or warrior III pose (virabhadrasana III), which require a significant amount of concentration and stability.

Standing on one leg is both challenging and demanding. Yoga positions help to train your body with proper postural alignments, correct muscular engagements, and focused mental concentration. With regular practice, you may see significant improvements in your overall posture, balance, coordination, and stability.

Stress reduction

Yoga is often used as a potentially effective way to reduce stress. By combining physical exertion, mindful breathing, and meditative focus, you may help to calm the mind and lower your stress levels.

One of the other advantages of practicing yoga is that it may encourage the release of endorphins. These peptides, produced in our brains, are often dubbed ‘happy hormones.' They have been extensively studied for their potential to act as natural stress and pain relievers.

Mental clarity

Regular attendees of hot yoga classes report that the practice leads to improved mental clarity. Combined with physical movement, the intense focus required during the class may help to clear the mind of external and internal distractions, leading to improved concentration.

With dedicated practice, overcoming the physical and mental challenges of practicing in a heated room may extend beyond your yoga mat. Maintaining focus, staying balanced, and regulating your breathing demands a high level of mental discipline that, over time, may lead to greater mental dexterity in real-world scenarios.

You might find yourself calmer in situations that would usually provoke a stress response, or you could find more creative solutions to issues that have been hard to work around previously.

Improved heart health

There is some research that suggests yoga is beneficial for heart health. Not only are some types of yoga, such as ashtanga, hot yoga, and vinyasa flow, excellent workouts but the potential calming effects of yoga may be heart-healthy, too. Improved blood circulation and lower blood pressure are some of the reported benefits of a regular yoga practice, according to this 2011 study.

Practicing hot yoga may increase heart rate in a similar way to a cardio workout. One study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that 12 sessions of hot yoga promoted cardiovascular health. While the results are promising, it’s important to note that the study sample was fairly small and only took place over 12 weeks. The relationship between hot yoga and heart health would benefit from more high-quality, longitudinal research.

Remember
What you eat has a profound effect on your heart health. Make sure you are focusing on whole foods with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Safety tips and considerations

As with any type of exercise, there are a few considerations to be aware of so you can practice safely.

Hydration strategies

The high temperatures in hot yoga classes make you sweat — a lot. With the significant fluid loss from sweating, staying hydrated before, during, and after your practice is extremely important. You can also pick up electrolyte-rich drinks that can help replenish any lost minerals and help maintain your electrolyte balance.

If you are new to hot yoga, it’s worth knowing the symptoms of dehydration so you can spot the signs if it happens:

  • Feeling lightheaded and thirsty
  • Tiredness
  • A dry mouth
  • Having dark or strong-smelling urine
  • Urinating less often

Recognizing your body’s limits

While the reported benefits of hot yoga are certainly promising, you must make sure you are listening to your body and recognizing your own limits. It can be tempting to push ourselves, especially in the heat when our muscles are warm and might feel easier to stretch. Going too far too fast can lead to overstretching and injuries.

If you are a beginner, you should start with shorter sessions to allow your body to get used to practicing yoga in intense heat. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, it’s also advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before trying hot yoga for the first time.

Remember
Yoga is about creating a union of body and mind. It’s not about being able to fold yourself into complicated poses. Alignment of the posture is much more important than the depth of it.

Hot yoga vs. regular yoga: which has more benefits?

All types of yoga can offer a myriad of benefits that are healthy for both body and mind. Deciding whether to go for hot yoga versus a more traditional type is really going to come down to personal preferences, current fitness levels, and whether or not working out in a hot room is suitable for you.

The heat in a hot yoga class enables your muscles to relax a little bit further, promotes sweating, and provides a more intense cardiovascular workout than regular yoga.

On the other hand, a more traditional type, such as hatha yoga practiced at room temperature, might offer a calmer and more meditative experience. You may be better suited for regular yoga if you are looking for relaxation and gentle physical activity more than an intense mind and body workout.

Final thoughts on hot yoga

Hot yoga classes offer a unique and intense yoga practice that may provide numerous physical and mental health benefits, but it’s important to remember that it’s not for everyone. What works for one person’s body might not work for yours.

Practicing yoga is a holistic practice that takes time to learn. Alignment and breathing are two incredibly important elements within a yoga practice, and it’s important to be familiar with the basics before trying out anything new.

If you know you enjoy yoga and want to take your practice to another level — hot yoga can be an exhilarating experience. It may increase your flexibility, support your cardiovascular health, and help you to feel stronger and more stable in body and mind. However, always be mindful and approach the heat with caution. Start slowly, stay hydrated, and take breaks whenever you need to.

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