- Hot yoga refers to yoga styles done in high temperature and high humidity rooms.
- Benefits of hot yoga include improved strength, flexibility, and mental health.
- Hot yoga is generally considered safe, but take water breaks when necessary to prevent overheating.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Yoga is a type of mind-body exercise that has been around for thousands of years, and as yoga became more prevalent in the West, adding heat became more popular and enticing.
What is hot yoga?
The term “hot yoga” often refers to Bikram yoga and similar styles where you practice for 90 minutes in a 104 or 105-degrees-Fahrenheit room with 40% humidity. Bikram yoga — the original form of Western hot yoga — originated in the 1970s, and it involves a set of 26 postures.
Sometimes, “hot yoga” also refers to other styles that heat the room to a lower temperature, typically around 95 or 96 degrees Fahrenheit, and do not follow the same series of postures. One example is a heated vinyasa class.
Important: Some in the yoga community have raised concerns about the name “Bikram yoga” due to multiple people accusing the founder of sexual assault and harassment. So, you may often see the terms Bikram and hot yoga used interchangeably, though Bikram is a specific type of hot yoga.
The reasons people like hot yoga often mirror the reasons hot tubs and saunas are appealing: It’s relaxing, it feels good to sweat, and you feel more flexible, says John Porcari, PhD, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and program director of the Clinical Exercise Physiology program.
Here are some of the science-backed benefits of hot yoga.
1. Improves flexibility
For your body to move and function efficiently, you need to be flexible. “Exercising in the heat allows people to feel a little bit more flexible and makes their muscles more elastic. They go through a greater range of motion,” Porcari says.
In a small 2013 study, young adults who completed 24 90-minute Bikram yoga sessions over 8 weeks showed increased flexibility in the lower back, hamstrings, and shoulders when compared with a control group that did not practice yoga.
2. Strengthens muscles
Yoga in general builds muscle strength by using your own body weight as a form of resistance. Keeping muscles strong is important for overall health, and the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
The same 2013 study of Bikram practitioners found they had increased deadlift strength and modestly decreased body fat when compared with the control group.
3. Reduces stress
Yoga, in general, can reduce stress levels, but hot yoga, in particular, can feel like a release because it makes you sweat, says Melissa Feldman, a hot yoga instructor, and ACSM-certified exercise specialist. She says that she walks out of a hot yoga class feeling much more centered and calm.
A small 2016 study of people who practiced Bikram yoga regularly found they experienced significant positive changes in their mood and stress level after a 90-minute session.
4. Aids in weight loss
If you’re looking to
, it’s important you are in a caloric deficit, meaning you consume fewer calories than you burn. Hot yoga can aid in weight loss by helping you burn more calories. In one 90-minute session of Bikram yoga, men burned about 460 calories and women burned about 330.
A 2013 review found yoga programs often help people lose weight, although the style of yoga and how much you’re exerting yourself affect how many calories you burn.
Is hot yoga good for you?
Hot yoga can be good for your physical and mental health, but it can also pose risks, particularly if the room is heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. One concern is that you can overheat, which might cause dizziness, feeling light-headed, passing out, or even heat stroke.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) sponsored a small study on hot yoga in 2013. The study had people participate in a 60-minute basic yoga class at 70 degrees, and then, a day later, participated in the same class except it was 92 degrees and more humid.
The study found participants’ core temperature and exercise intensity was only slightly higher in the 92-degree class, so they concluded that concerns about this degree of heat were unwarranted.
However, the ACE researchers conducted another study in 2015 involving a 90-minute class at 105 degrees and 40% humidity and found seven of the 20 participants had a core temperature higher than 103 degrees, and one hit 104.1. While none showed signs of heat intolerance, 104 degrees is the temperature at which the risk of heat-related illness increases.
Important: Make sure to adequately hydrate before a class and to take water breaks during class when necessary to prevent overheating, Porcari says.
Before starting any exercise routine, you should check with your doctor. Generally, hot yoga is safe for beginners, but if you have any injuries or health conditions, you should tell the instructor beforehand, Feldman says. They may be able to modify some postures for you and offer more water breaks.
Some hot yoga classes limit drinking water and discourage resting, and those may be less suited to beginners. A class that is shorter or not as hot, and an instructor who encourages practitioners to lie down in the middle of class if they feel like it, might be a better option if you’re just getting started.
There are many benefits to practicing hot yoga, including increased flexibility and strength, as well as a reduction in stress levels. However, don’t push yourself to the point of dizziness or passing out in a hot yoga class. “Honor where you are, and treat yourself with grace,” Feldman says.
The mental part of yoga is also just as important as the physical. “I like to really encourage people to look at it as less of a workout than a work in,” Feldman says.
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