Hot yoga is a popular, and sometimes controversial, exercise method. While Bikram and hot yoga fans report increased strength, flexibility, and better stress tolerances, others worry that doing sun salutations in a 110° room is a risky proposition.
Hot Yoga vs. Bikram Yoga
While all hot yoga is performed in a relatively warm studio space, there are differences between “hot yoga” and “Bikram yoga.”
- Bikram yoga: A Bikram yoga session always last 90 minutes, and the studio must be warmed to at least 110°. Participants complete a sequence of 26 yoga poses and several breathing exercises. All Bikram yoga classes follow the same script, providing a level of consistency.
- Hot yoga: Any form of yoga that is performed in a hotter-than-usual studio. There is significantly more variation in hot yoga classes. They might last less than 90 minutes or occur at a room temperature closer to 90°. Depending on your instructor, the class might focus on Lyengar (deliberate and focused on alignment), Ashtanga (flow-based), Vinyasa (power yoga), or a hybrid yoga practice.
Both Bikram and hot yoga have a large following, and both styles offer significant health benefits.
The Benefits (and Risks) of Hot Yoga
Hot yoga can improve your health. The warmer studio space allows your muscles to soften and stretch more easily, helping you work on your form and push your physical and mental tolerances. Studies suggest that hot yoga might also improve balance, stress levels, and cardiorespiratory endurance. A 2013 study even linked Bikram yoga to improved glucose tolerance and insulin resistance in older obese participants.
While any yoga practice might help you lose weight and increase your flexibility, you don’t actually burn more calories in a hot studio. A 2013 clinical study showed that regular hot yoga participants burn between 333 and 460 calories during a session. This is comparable to taking a brisk walk.
Finally, while many people love their hot yoga practice, it does involve a few risks. During a hot yoga session, you are at risk of dehydration and are putting additional stress on your heart and pulmonary system. In fact, a seemingly healthy Chicago woman went into heat-stroke related cardiac arrest during a hot yoga session in 2016. Thankfully, she survived the episode.
If you have a known heart condition, low blood sugar, are prone to heat stroke, or have been told to avoid hot and humid environments (such as a hot tub or sauna), you should consult with your physician before starting hot or Bikram yoga.
Tips for a Successful Hot Yoga Practice
A little preparation will make your hot yoga practice safer and more enjoyable. Before you head to the studio, you should:
- Take hydration seriously. Before a hot yoga session, you should drink plenty of fluids, so pack an insulated water bottle. This will help you stay properly hydrated throughout the class. Replenish your electrolytes by drinking coconut water or a low-calorie sports drink afterward.
- Eat a light, protein-based snack beforehand. Eating a big meal before a hot yoga session might lead to upset stomach and discomfort. However, you don’t want to push yourself on an empty stomach. Before class, eat a small, protein-based snack (such as fruit and peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or a protein bar).
- Wear lightweight, breathable clothing. Not all exercise apparel is created equal. Don’t wear heavy or non-breathable fabrics to a hot yoga class. Instead, go for sweat-wicking options. Most hot yoga studios are body positive, so don’t hesitate to expose your midriff or wear shorts.
- Stay safe and get a grip. You’re going to break a sweat during a hot yoga session, and holding a yoga pose can be difficult on a slippery mat. Rather than risk injury, pack a beach or other towel to place on top of your yoga mat. You can also use specialized gloves or socks that can help with your grip.
- Listen to your body. If you need a break, don’t hesitate to go into child’s pose and rest for a minute or take a drink of water. If you’re uncomfortable with a specific pose, don’t push yourself to the point of injury. Instead, find an accommodation or perform a different pose. If you’re experiencing lightheadedness, chest pain, or other severe symptoms, stop your yoga session immediately and seek medical care.
Canopy Health: Part of Your Holistic Wellness Plan
Hot yoga and other physical activities can make you a happier, healthier person. At Canopy Health, we encourage our members to look at wellness holistically — seeking out activities that they find rewarding and physically beneficial.
Boddu P., Patel, S., & Shahrrava, A. (2016, August). Sudden cardiac arrest from heat stroke: hidden dangers of hot yoga. American Journal of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(16)30358-8/abstract
Fritz, M., Grossman, A.M., Hunter, S.D., Mukherjee, A., & Tracy, B.L. (2014, May). Acute metabolic, cardiovascular, and thermal responses to a single session of Bikram yoga. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Retrieved from https://insights.ovid.com/medicine-science-sports-exercise/mespex/2014/05/001/acute-metabolic-cardiovascular-thermal-responses/450/00005768
Hewett, Z. (2015, October 5). The effects of Bikram yoga on health: critical review and clinical trial recommendations. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4609431/