By Brandy D.
Yoga has a long, rich history, dating back more than 5,000 years. While various styles of yoga have come and gone over the centuries, hot yoga remains highly popular. Unlike traditional yoga which is typically performed outdoors or in comfortable indoor temperatures, hot yoga is purposely performed in hot and humid conditions.
Many people think that hot yoga is exclusive to Bikram, but that is just one style. Others include Moksha, Baptiste Power Vinyasa and Hot Power Yoga.
While each style differs, the primary concept is the same – to practice established postures and positions in a sweltering environment. You may be wondering why anyone would torment themselves in the name of fitness. The reason is simple. Hot yoga can help prevent injury by warming up the muscles, promote a deeper stretch, and detoxify the body by releasing harmful toxins in your sweat.
Key Benefits of Hot Yoga
Yoga may be associated with exercise, but this ancient practice is not just limited to weight… Click To Tweet. It can also have other health benefits. An estimated six percent of adults used yoga for health purposes within the last year, according to a National Health Interview Survey. In addition to working nearly every system in the body, yoga can also provide mental and emotional health advantages.
Here are some of these incredible benefits of hot yoga:
- Increased Strength:
Yoga may be low impact, but the unique practice has a way of working out muscles you didn’t even know you had. The poses require unique orientations that engage the muscles and tone the body. Of course, some poses are more effective than others when it comes to body strengthening. Work the arms and legs with the Chair Pose. Downward-Facing Dog offers all-over strengthening.
- Rapid Healing:
We all know that exercise promotes faster healing, but hot yoga does one better. When practiced regularly, the age-old therapy can help to heal old injuries and prevent new injuries from developing in the future. Hot yoga has also been found effective in reducing symptoms associated with asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, and depression.
- Enhanced Flexibility:
While you likely won’t reach contortionist status, you can improve your flexibility by mastering some simple postures. When performing hot yoga, you may find it easier to reach deeper stretches during your very first session. This is because the temperature of the room warms up the muscles and connective tissues, making them more elastic and providing a greater range of motion.
- Body Detoxification:
Practicing yoga in a hot, humid environment puts the lymphatic system into overdrive. When stimulated, the lymphatic system works hard to flush out toxins from the body, ridding it of harmful substances that can affect one’s health. These dangerous waste products are released from the body through the skin in the form of sweat.
- Improved Fat Burning:
Like any type of exercise, hot yoga speeds up heart rate. When your heart rate increases, calories are rapidly burned, leading to faster fat loss. The introduction of heat also helps to boost metabolic rate and maximize the breakdown of fatty acids and glucose. The result? An increased ability to burn stubborn fat deposits.
A Look at Bikram Yoga
Popularized by Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, Bikram yoga consists of 26 postures that systematically work every part of the body. Bikram is one of the most well-known types of hot yoga and one that is most widely practiced.
During Bikram yoga, the same 26 poses are repeated over a 90-minute class. These poses were specifically chosen by Choudhury, inspired by classic hatha poses. Together, the set of poses is designed to transfer oxygenated blood throughout all areas of the body to refresh every organ for optimal health.
Bikram poses vary in complexity, ranging from easier positions like Standing Deep Breathing, Tree Pose and Dead Body Pose, to more difficult positions like Half Moon Pose, Eagle Pose and Spine Twisting Pose.
In most Bikram yoga classes, the rooms are heated up to a searing 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius). The humidity is kept fairly high, typically around 40 percent.
During a Bikram session, participants are asked to follow an 80-20 deep breathing method. During the 80-20 method, you begin by taking in a full breath, then assume the yoga position. While holding the position, inhale and exhale only 20 percent of your lung capacity during each breath. The goal is to always keep 80 percent of air in your lungs.
Similar to traditional yoga, Bikram yoga helps to build strength, flexibility and balance by gently stretching and manipulating the muscles, joints, tendons, spine, and internal organs. As you learn to master the positions and breathing techniques, you may notice an expanded lung capacity, lubricated joints, strengthened bones, and toned muscles.
Regular practice can also provide other key benefits, such as the rapid healing of injuries and illnesses and more effective weight loss.
Avoiding Injury and Illness
A session of hot yoga can be tough. Within minutes, sweat pours down your body. Your deep breathing attempts make it difficult to concentrate at the task at hand, and you’re forced to push your body to twist into the next position. While physically and emotionally demanding, most hot yoga enthusiasts find the end results to be well worth the effort.
There has been much controversy surrounding hot yoga since its introduction in the ‘70s, primarily due to the high heat factor. Not only does exercising in hot conditions drastically increase your risk of heat exhaustion, dehydration and heat stroke, but you also face the risk of injury. Some people stretch their more-pliable-than-normal muscles beyond their limitations, which can result in muscle damage.
However, recent studies have found concerns that hot yoga is dangerous to be unfounded. According to a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), which studied a group of men and women practicing hot yoga and basic yoga, heated yoga classes with temperatures ranging from 90 to 95 were not found to be more dangerous than the non-heated yoga classes.
While hot yoga may not be any more dangerous than basic yoga, it’s still important to stay safe. This style of yoga is considered unsafe for children, women who are pregnant, adults over the age of 60, and those suffering from certain medical conditions that have been advised against exercise or exposure to high temperatures.
If you’re new to hot yoga, start slow to give your body time to adjust. During your first session, you may want to sit back during more challenging positions. Allow your body to gain endurance against the heat.
Staying hydrated is of the utmost importance during hot yoga, as your body loses a lot of moisture as you continually sweat. Drink water for two hours before the class, throughout the duration of class, and for one to two hours after class.
You’ll also want to think carefully about your wardrobe choice. Skip cotton in favor of a moisture-wicking athletic material. As your clothes are bond to absorb a great deal of sweat, sport a firm-fitting ensemble that won’t collect sweat and start to droop. Keep as much skin bare as possible to allow your body ample opportunity to release heat.
What You Can Expect
If you’ve never been to a hot yoga class, you may not know what to expect. Even if you’re a self-proclaimed pro at traditional yoga, stepping into a 95 degree-plus room can be a little intimidating. Am I going to pass out? Will I have to leave mid-way through due to the heat?
While your first session will no doubt be taxing, you can get through it by being fully prepared.
- How to Prepare:
During your first hot yoga class, arrive to the studio 10 to 15 minutes early to give yourself time to get acquainted with the studio and teacher. It’s best not to eat anything for at least two hours before the class. If you need to eat, stick to just a piece of fruit.
- What to Bring:
Be prepared for whatever your class throws at you by having some essential staples available. If possible, bring your own yoga mat. If you don’t have one, most places will let you rent one for a small fee. You’ll also want to bring a big towel, a bottle of water, and a change of clothes if you plan on showering afterwards. For convenience, keep all of your supplies in a durable fitness bag.
- Getting in Position:
Once in the studio, you’ll want to find a place to roll out your yoga mat. If the studio has mirrors, like many do, find a place where you can see yourself to allow for better alignment of your body during positions. If you’re new to yoga, choose an area that provides you with a clear view of the instructor.
- After a Session:
After a session of hot yoga, be sure to hydrate yourself adequately. Opt for one to two liters of water to help rehydrate your system. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your session, don’t hesitate to consult with your instructor.
If practiced on a routine basis, hot yoga has the power to completely reshape the body. The carefully cultivated poses, coupled with the high in-studio temperatures, create a rejuvenating atmosphere where participates can effectively tone, strengthen and lengthen muscles while shedding excess pounds. While the word “hot” may be daunting at first, the heated rooms provide a multitude of benefits that aim to enhance health and wellness. Of course, hot yoga is not for everyone. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any type of new or intense exercise regimen.