Why practice hot yoga over regular yoga? I pondered this question years ago when my good friend, a fellow yogi and former gymnast, encouraged me to try a hot yoga class with her shortly after I moved to Toronto. My initial reaction was “I don’t know if I can handle the heat! I already find a regular yoga class challenging enough.” I’m not one for intense humidity, so I was a bit skeptical; however, my friend thought it would really grow on me. A decade later, I’m glad I went to that one hot yoga class because it changed my practice for the better. Last year, I completed a 30-day hot yoga challenge and my body and mind have never felt better.
While hot yoga isn’t for everyone, here’s more information on the types of classes available, my top favorite benefits of the intense practice and what to be mindful of when attending a class.
Types of Hot Yoga
The varieties of hot yoga have grown over the years, although Bikram is considered the original form. Founded by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s, the Bikram style of yoga is an offshoot of Hatha yoga; however, it is practiced in rooms heated between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity, with the purpose to emulate the temperature in India. (For background on Hatha yoga, read The History of Hatha Yoga.)
Bikram is also unique in the sense that each class is identical, no matter where you attend class in the world. Instructors even have a set dialogue to guide students through the series of 26 asanas over 90 minutes. If you prefer a less regimented form, Moksha might be a good alternative. Similar to Bikram, it is practiced in a hot room and a similar series of asanas are performed, but there is more variation throughout the class, depending on the instructor.
Whatever type of hot yoga you choose to practice, you’ll definitely leave feeling more invigorated.
Benefits of Hot Yoga
The benefits of hot yoga are numerous, but I’ll mention the top three that I’ve experienced.
Detoxing Through Sweat
Firstly, and most obviously, you’ll sweat probably more than you thought was humanly possible. It’s completely normal to leave a puddle on the floor after class. This just means your body is detoxifying from the inside out. The skin is our largest detoxification pathway and this reduces the burden we place on our other organs (liver, kidneys, colon, lungs). After I completed my 30-day hot yoga challenge, I noticed I just felt and looked healthier. People often commented that my skin had a nice glow.
After attending hot yoga about 10 times, I noticed that my flexibility was improving. As more time went on, I felt my body becoming more malleable in asanas I once felt stiff in. One of the benefits of practicing in a heated room is that it enables your body to go deeper into a stretch by more thoroughly warming up the muscles. This is no different from sitting in a sauna.
Powerful Stress Relief
Another benefit of hot yoga, similar to regular yoga, is that it has immense stress-relieving power. The rush of endorphins after emerging from the final savasana is truly invigorating (even though you’re sweaty!). You’ll leave feeling positive, stronger and more relaxed. Hot yoga has been a great way to incorporate relaxation into my week. (For more ways to relieve stress through yoga, try Unlocking the Stress in Your Body.)
How to Stay Safe in the Heat
While I’m an avid fan of hot yoga, there are some things to keep in mind to ensure you stay safe.
Because you will lose so much water in a hot yoga class, I always drink at least two to three liters throughout the day. This ensures my body is well hydrated when I begin. It’s very important to drink water during and after class, too. If you practice hot yoga more regularly, you may want to drink an electrolyte supplement to replace essential minerals that are lost through sweating.
Given the heat, you’ll want to dress in light, comfortable clothing or in layers you can peel off during class. There’s nothing worse than over-dressing for hot yoga because you’ll heat up in no time and then regret it. Don’t forget to bring an extra towel or two, too.
Listen to Your Body
Hot yoga can be intense—both mentally and physically. Because there is an added component of heat, it’s important to stay in tune with your body. Asanas should not be painful, so if there’s any discomfort, don’t hesitate to back off. There’s always an opportunity to ease into it more each time.
Spice up Your Practice
If you’re already practicing yoga, consider giving hot yoga a try as a nice alternative. Notice how your body feels during and after class and see if it has any benefits for the mind as well. Like me, you may fall in love with it. Hot yoga is a part of my life that I couldn’t be without. (Then maybe you'll want to cool down and Try Aqua Yoga this August, Then Soak in the 5 Yamas (Commitments) of Yoga.)