Fitness

Benefits of Hot Yoga: Is It Really Worth All That Sweat?

Certified yoga teachers explain how hot yoga affects your body differently than regular yoga. Plus, tips and advice on how to make the most of a heated practice.

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Hot yoga has gained popularity in recent years. Especially in cities or up-and-coming areas with younger crowds, hot yoga studios seem to pop up essentially out of nowhere. 

I grew up in a household that valued the practice of yoga. I was 14 years old when my mom completed her yoga teacher training and began teaching hot yoga at our local studio. It wasn't until recently that I began regularly attending a hot yoga class in my city, and I found that it challenged me, improved my flexibility and overall sense of calm.

Curious about trying hot yoga yourself but aren't sure if it's for you? I interviewed yoga experts and certified yoga instructors with at least 300 hours of training and years of experience in the industry to find out how hot yoga benefits your body, who should try it and how to get started safely. Here's what they had to say.

What is hot yoga?

Hot yoga is essentially yoga in a heat-controlled environment. Yoga teachers are in charge of increasing and decreasing the room's temperature -- usually between 85 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes even hotter. I would describe the heat as the feeling of a hot, dry day in Arizona. 

The practice of hot yoga doesn't differ from non-heated yoga in any technical terms. According to Melanie Rodriguez, curriculum director of the online yoga teacher training program YogaRenew, hot yoga is "simply yoga in a heated room." It is a practice accessible to new and experienced yogis alike. 

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A Bikram yoga pose.

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Hot yoga has a complicated past. Disgraced yoga instructor Bikram Choudhury taught the very first hot yoga class in 1970s Japan. As reported by Yoga International, Choudhury was "intrigued by the saunas his students would take during their lunch breaks… [he] started experimenting with heaters in his yoga room."

When Choudhury found that increased heat made his students work harder, he sought to create a practice that challenged the body to the utmost degree. Choudhury taught his classes from a stage, militant style, shouting out poses. 

Today, hot yoga (or yoga, in general) has relaxed. The yoga class that I attend is very adamant about listening to your body and only doing what feels right to you. While studios may still practice Bikram yoga, it is far from its origins. Choudhury himself fell from popularity after a series of lawsuits involving gender discrimination, sexual harassment and more.

Kat Rebar, teacher at Yoga International and co-author of the book Yoga Where You Are, states, "Many studios have distanced themselves from the Bikram yoga name due to the sexual assault and harassment allegations against its founder, but you will often see similar-style classes described as 'Hot 26' (referring to the number of poses) or 'Hot 90' (referring to the duration of the class). Some studios will teach 'hot vinyasa' classes or other styles of yoga that have nothing to do with the Bikram series but are simply done in a hot room." 

What are the benefits of hot yoga?

General yoga practice has many rewards, such as decreased stress and anxiety levels, improved balance and an enhanced sense of calmness. But what about the benefits of a heated practice, specifically? According to the experts I interviewed, there are five main benefits of hot yoga, as compared to non-heated yoga.

Promoted flexibility

One of the more prominent benefits of hot yoga is the feeling of greater flexibility. "The heat allows the soft tissue of the body to become more relaxed in a shorter amount of time than in a non-heated room," Rodriguez says. "Some poses and positions may become a bit more accessible due to this increased laxity."

More sweat

It is no secret that hot yoga will make you sweat… a lot. Although that may sound like it will be good for your body, Rebar states, "You'll often hear folks talk about hot yoga being 'detoxifying,' there isn't really evidence to back up that claim. You typically sweat a lot, but the primary purpose of sweating isn't detoxification; it's to cool down the body." However, this doesn't mean that you won't feel a general sense of "letting go" or "sweating it out" as you might with any intense exercise.

Extra challenges

Whether you are new to the game or have been practicing for years, any hot yoga class is going to be a workout. Some older yogis find the challenge of hot yoga to be exciting. According to Rodriguez, "The heat adds another layer of challenge, therefore putting your muscle of focus and awareness to the test."

Improved circulation

The heat of the practice does wonders on the body's ability to circulate blood. Combined with increased oxygen, the body can send blood to the muscles more efficiently. Certified yoga instructor Eloise Skinner agrees, saying, "The heat also provides an additional challenge for the body, with corresponding benefits for cardiovascular health."

Energetic environment 

Rodriguez says, "I think the energy in the room is a little different too. There is electricity in the air that comes from a lot of people breathing, sweating and doing yoga in a heated space." Reber agrees, adding, "And for many of us, [hot yoga] offer[s] a general sense of wellbeing and accomplishment. I mean, at least to me, I just feel more satisfied when I sweat a lot!"

10 tips to get the most out of hot yoga

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Hydration is ultra-important during hot yoga.

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Drink water before and after

As you can imagine, hot yoga can deplete water from your body. To combat this, it is important to drink water before and after your class. Rodriguez adds, "And make sure you are adequately fueled for class. Even if it's an early morning class, I would try to eat something small that is easily digested by your body. I would suggest AT LEAST a full hour between class and a big meal 2-3 hours before if that works with your schedule."

If you get lightheaded: child's pose or step out of the room 

It is not uncommon to get a little lightheaded during your hot yoga class. If you start to feel faint, take child's pose (arms stretched out, head on the mat and legs tucked underneath), or step out of the room for a few minutes. Make sure to check with your studio that they allow students to leave during class, as they might have particular rules. "Careful, too, of standing up quickly in the heat -- many new students can feel a little lightheaded or dizzy as they adjust to the practice," Skinner says.

Bring a towel for the face

It is almost guaranteed that sweat will drip from your face onto your mat, as well as getting into your eyes. Along with your water bottle, bring a washcloth or small towel in the room with you. Some studios, like my own, will offer towels before the class begins. 

Use a sticky yoga mat or a towel for your mat

The best kind of yoga mats for hot yoga are the ones that will allow you maximum movement without sliding out from underneath you. Especially for hot yoga, you will need to invest in a mat that is both durable and has a firm grip on the ground. Accompanying your reliable mat, you'll want to have a towel to place over your mat so you're not slipping and sliding in your sweat.

Wear shorts or fitted clothes that opt for maxim breathability

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you will thank yourself in the end. Make sure to wear clothing that you will be comfortable moving in but will still allow for airflow. Rodriguez even adds, "I would suggest potentially an extra set of clothes if you plan to do anything right after."

Remember to breathe

If, at any time in your practice, you feel your heart racing or beating faster than normal -- keep breathing. Sometimes, the heat, combined with the exercise, does that to your body. If you feel like your heart rate is accelerating, take a break to catch your breath. You can step out of the room until you feel comfortable enough to continue. 

Your body will eventually get used to the heat

Any yoga expert will tell you to keep at it; your practice will eventually get easier. Just as your body will get used to new poses, your body will eventually adjust to the heat. Don't get discouraged if at first you find the heat too challenging.

Know your options

According to Rodriguez, "Not all hot studios are created equal. Not every studio will offer the same teachings or the same practice. Some hot studios only have hot classes, which could be a pillar of that particular style or studio. Some studios will offer both heated and non-heated classes. However, something to keep in mind is that studios specializing in hot classes will have a different (and more effective) heating/ventilation system. The heat may still differ from one studio to the next, and the temperature could also be different." 

Go at your own pace 

In my opinion, this is the most important tip for hot yoga. There is never an expectation that you need to do every pose at the same speed as everyone else. If you feel yourself getting lost, just focus on your breath. You can even use blocks to help you get into poses that you aren't flexible enough for yet. 

Listen to your body

Rebar says, "Always listen to your body and remember that you are your own best teacher. Let your teacher know ahead of time if you're new so that they can help you set up and offer tips and best practices… I recommend steering clear of studios that tell you you're not allowed to have water or not allowed to leave class."

Should you try hot yoga?

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A hot yoga class in session.

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Hot yoga isn't for everyone. It is designed to be difficult, make you sweat a lot and challenge even the most experienced, but in my opinion, the payoff is worth it. I always leave class feeling refreshed and relaxed, proud of the work I accomplished. 

If you are new to hot yoga, you should first check with your healthcare provider if you have any health concerns. Once you are cleared to participate, start with a slower-paced class before moving to the more advanced classes. 

As for the yoga experts, they leave potential new yogis with this final advice:

"New students to yoga might enjoy hot practices because of the added flexibility the heat can bring," Skinner says. "Especially if you're just starting out, the heat can enable the body to relax into certain postures and have a deeper experience of physical practice."

If hot yoga doesn't seem like a class you would enjoy and you're looking for something different, Skinner suggests that "a class like hot Yin Yoga, for example, can be incredibly effective in releasing tension from the muscles and stretching out any muscular tightness."

Rebar states, "You also will often bump up against some pseudoscience and dubious claims in hot yoga (though the hot yoga and yoga worlds, in general, are getting better about this!) Remember that yoga teachers aren't doctors or healers, and if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Rebar says she loves practicing hot yoga, but agrees that it's not for everyone. She states, "If you don't enjoy the experience, know that you can find similar benefits from other types of yoga or exercise that you might find suits you best. Hot yoga can also vary greatly from one studio to the next and even one teacher to the next, so if that 'Hot 90' class isn't your jam, a 'Heated Vinyasa Flow' might still end up being a great fit. Shop around a bit until you find a class that's right for you."

Lastly, Rodriguez concludes, "If you are someone who is into fitness and you haven't found a regular, non-heated yoga class that works for you because you find it boring or too slow, you may consider hot yoga to meet your expected challenges (and meet people with similar goals). While I personally teach the same class across the week to both my heated and non-heated folks, the heated classes tend to move a little faster and can be what is perceived as a little 'stronger.' It's not better or worse, just different. Find the studio that works for you and don't knock it till you try it!" 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.