Imagine this: stepping into a near sauna-level heated room, beads of sweat forming on your forehead as you move through a series of yoga postures. This isn't just any yoga class; it's hot yoga, a powerful practice blending the psycho, spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical elements of what it means to be human.
Hot yoga, often incorrectly referred to as Bikram yoga, is more than a fad gone bad or an intense workout. It's a transformative experience that pushes your personal limits while embracing your innate ability and capacity, leaving you feeling invigorated and empowered.
This article will dive into the many benefits of hot yoga and give you insights into how to get started with this transformative journey.
What is Hot Yoga?
Yoga postures are both old and new, having evolved over extended time. Hot yoga overlays a heated environment onto the practice as a way to elevate the experience. Depending on the school or studio, the room temperature can vary between 85 degrees Fahrenheit (warm yoga) and 105 degrees Fahrenheit (Bikram yoga). In addition, some hot yoga studios will add 30 to 80 percent humidity to the room. At Burning Wheel Yoga School, hot yoga sessions are generally heated from 95° - 100° (Power Yoga) without adding humidity to the environment.
What are the Benefits of Hot Yoga?
1. Increased Circulation
The foremost benefit of hot yoga is increased circulation and cardiovascular health. The yoga poses move the blood around the body by flexing and releasing the muscles in a particular way. Blood vessels are made of muscle tissue and can be expanded and contracted or flexed and released like any muscle, and in doing so, the tissues are strengthened. This increases heart health by preventing plaque buildup and hardening of the arteries and keeps the body efficient at regulating blood pressure.
In addition, blood carries oxygen throughout the body. However, in yoga, we call oxygen, the air we breathe, "prana," which means vital life energy. By moving the blood through the process of flexing and releasing the muscles, this vital life energy is moved into every tiny little capillary in the body. Bringing vitality into every crack and crease of the body keeps the whole functioning properly.
A heated environment facilitates this process by encouraging the blood vessels to dilate, which increases blood flow. If you bend over to touch your toes and your toes are cold, the room is too cold for yoga. If your toes are cold, the capillaries constrict to force blood back towards the vital organs. So, the environment must, at a minimum, be warm enough so that the blood may be moved freely to all body parts without restriction, generally around 85°.
2. Improving Joint Range of Motion
If the environment is heated adequately to move the blood without restriction, this has the additional benefit of increasing the range of motion of the joints. When the blood and the "vital life energy" flow without limitation, the muscles and joints are filled with vitality. This removes the accumulated stress that we store in our joints. With the inhaled breath, blood and energy flow into the joints, fueled by the contraction of the surrounding muscles. Just like a wave erodes the sand of the beach, on the exhalation and release, the stress is swept out of the joints with the undercurrent. Space is created in the joints, allowing one to go deeper into the practice, increasing the range of motion, lubrication, and overall joint health.
3. Temperature Regulation
If 85° is adequate to move blood unrestricted, then why increase the temperature to 95F or even 105F? The first reason is the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the area of the brain that regulates temperature in the body. It does this by comparison.
In today's world, the average person moves from one climate-controlled environment to another, rarely experiencing more than a 5-10 degree difference in temperature for more than a few minutes. If your hypothalamus doesn't experience temperatures of more than 70°, it will tell the body that anything over 70° is hot. However, if it experiences 95° - 100° regularly, the body will recalibrate to this being the standard for hot. If the body thinks it is in danger of overheating, it begins to sweat. This moisture on the skin is intended to remove heat from the body by evaporating and carrying the heat away. For example, a newcomer to the tropics might be a walking puddle, while seasoned residents barely register dampness, illustrating the body's remarkable ability to adapt to heat.
Traditional yoga practiced in a heated environment will help the body regulate temperature better by resetting the hypothalamus. The amount one sweats in a hot yoga class should not be attributed to how hot it is. Humidity plays a crucial role that most people fail to understand. Think of the difference between Arizona and Florida. It could be only 85F°, but if it's 80% humidity and you're moving and breathing deeply in that environment, you will dump sweat. Which honestly isn't great for your body, and you run the risk of overheating. It dehydrates, which can be good occasionally but not for daily practice. It can also stress the adrenals if done daily (speaking from almost 20 years of personal experience here.) Many new hot yoga practitioners think the more they sweat, the harder the workout. However, this is not seeing things clearly. If it's 105° and 15% humidity, the sweat on the skin will evaporate as intended, and the body will remain at the proper temperature. In my opinion, this is healthier and, honestly, a lot less messy.
4. Boosts Mental Health
The second reason why a heated environment is beneficial is that it will initially trigger the Sympathetic Nervous System. This is the flight, fight, or freeze response that arises in situational or chronic stress.
Unmanaged, this can have significant ramifications for our mental health. Life is full of uncomfortable situations and challenging tasks requiring self-discipline and inner fortitude to navigate gracefully. A guided hot yoga class has a unique ability to offer one a safe space to explore this emotional vulnerability. Through practice, a new perspective arises that thrives on challenge as a means for growth.
5. Burns Calories & Promotes Weight Loss
Finally, yoga is a life system, not just an exercise routine. It will ultimately work to transform the whole organism from top to bottom, inside and out. As bold as this claim may seem, I can report from personal experience that my body in my 40s is physically improved from the one in my 20s.
Yes, it’s true; if you commit to a physical yoga practice, you will burn calories, likely drop some weight and gain muscle tone. The more powerful reason to choose yoga is the fullness of the system, which will guide you toward different life choices that will fuel all sorts of transformations.
What excites me is seeing a student showing signs of increased strength, flexibility, and mobility. I love to hear a student claim improved sleep, emotional stability through a personal challenge, or a new resolve to approach a difficult relationship with compassion.
- Hydration and drinking water are essential.
- The water you consume in a hot yoga class does not rehydrate you. However, if you are overheating, it will help cool the body down.
- Room temperature water is better than cold water.
- If you are adequately hydrated before class, you should not actually need to drink during yoga practice. Putting fluids in the stomach during practice is counterproductive.
- To properly hydrate, drink enough water and electrolytes to urinate clearly at least two hours before practice.
- It's recommended that you do not eat within two hours of practice.
I have had participants practice hot yoga throughout their pregnancy with no complications. I have students with many different health conditions, like asthma, seizure disorders, some who have had heart surgery, students with pacemakers, defibrillators, and some with hip and/or knee replacements. Everyone is different, and you should discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider, but try not to let your health concerns deter you from hot yoga practice. In fact, hot yoga may help your quality of life. Personally, with the regular practice of hot yoga, I have been able to regulate blood pressure, depression, and moderate sleep apnea without a CPAP.
What to Expect from Hot Yoga
I won't sugarcoat it for you. Like any new physical practice, hot yoga will be hard at first. But here's the thing: It's hard for everyone at first. It may seem when you walk into a hot yoga class that everyone is so focused and accomplished, but each person in that room knows what it took to get where they are today. They also know that there’s more personal work to do. We’re all on a journey of self-discovery, and when we look at it that way, we can support one another with compassion and encouragement. Hot yoga is one of the most non-judgemental spaces in my experience. We are all just human beings trying our best. If you need to rest, rest. If you need to leave the room briefly, do it, but come back! Don't give up! Stick with it; I assure you it will pay back your effort tenfold!
How to Get Started with Hot Yoga
Don't worry if you're a beginner; pick a school and go! Don't be afraid. Just do the best you can do every time. Perhaps you have tried hot yoga in the past and didn't vibe with the instructor or that particular class and decided hot yoga wasn't for you. It's important to remember that every school, yoga program, and yoga teacher is different. So, if you go to the closest school to your home or work and it doesn't work for you, try a different teacher in the school. If that doesn't do it, try another school. Don't give up and say, "Hot yoga is not for me." I recommend everyone try at least six different hot yoga classes before you make that choice.
I opened Burning Wheel Yoga School to be a place to escape the commercialized fitness yoga hype and provide a safe space to explore a practice for Self-realization away from the eyes of judgment and comparison. My intention is to offer an environment where we come together as equals on our unique path to liberation and fulfillment.
Twice a year, we offer an Introduction to Yoga, the 8-session course where we gradually introduce the heat and postures to help new practitioners acclimate to the regular class environment.
Dive into Burning Wheel Yoga School and discover the different types of yoga practices we offer by visiting our classes page here.