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Hot Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide

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Once someone has brought up the subject of yoga, the conversation will often turn into a discussion about hot yoga. What is it exactly, and why would you want to do it? Yoga can be uncomfortable enough without turning up the temperature!

Let’s explore the specifics and benefits of these specialty classes.

What Is Hot Yoga? 

Hot yoga is a simple concept- do yoga in a warm room. The original or “real” hot yoga took form in the 1970s when Bikram Choudhury made it a central tenet of his yoga school. Since then, there have been many variations on the theme, and you can find traditional Bikram hot yoga or heated power or flow classes almost everywhere.

What to Expect

When you do more rhythmic, active yoga, most people are going to break a sweat. It’s a workout. But in a hot yoga class, you might start sweating before doing a single pose – you might even get a sweaty smell hitting you as soon as you walk in (sorry!).

You don’t need much in the way of special experience or instructions, but it will undoubtedly be helpful if you’re familiar with doing yoga and know how to keep up with the rhythm of a class. The heat will only add difficulty — that plus the sweating could really stress you out if you aren’t prepared.

We recommend beginning with regular active yoga sessions (as opposed to gentle yoga). You can try these short and long guided videos with the popular YouTube yoga instructor Adriene.

Then, make sure you get the details of your specific heated class. Understand how hot it will be and what kinds of poses you’ll have to engage in. Keep in mind that “hot” yoga temperatures often go over 100°F while “heated” usually refers to temperatures well below that, from the high 70s to around 90°F.

Aside from that, make sure you have:

  • towel for your mat or a specialty mat with a built-in towel topper, lest you begin slipping in puddles of sweat — and maybe a wristband or headband for the sweat on your face and hands
  • Try grippy gloves and socks.
  • Cool water in a no sweat, temperature-retaining bottle
  • Clothes — from the undies up — should be made of a light, breathable fabric, with moisture-wicking properties and no restriction of movement.

What Sets Bikram Yoga Apart

Bikram yoga has strict standards around setup and execution. You should get a consistent experience with it no matter where you go. It’s also the most extreme version of hot yoga, and you could believe that everything else is something of a dilution.

  • A temperature set to 105°F
  • 40% humidity in the room
  • A carpeted or padded floor, bright lights, and full mirrors
  • No music, no clapping, and only the instructor speaks
  • Also, the instructor only speaks, talking you through without demonstration.
  • Each session begins and ends with a breathing exercise, and in between, there are the same 26 poses in the same order.

Bikram Yoga Poses

Hot yoga poses, generally speaking, might be anything. It depends on the type of hot yoga class you’re in, which is why it’s vital to clarify with the instructor or studio. But for Bikram yoga, you’ll always know what you’re getting. You’ll be able to learn the routine and pick it up at any studio.

You can follow along with this class guided by Maggie Grove or reference the full list of postures and their benefits on Mission Yoga. Though the poses aren’t necessarily difficult, compared to everything out there, they require some degree of balance and flexibility.

Be sure not to overextend yourself. Remember, you can always skip on a particular pose or series of poses, and only need to take them as far as you’re capable of that day. It may feel bizarre to be the only one doing so, but no hot yoga police will rip open the studio door.

Your instructor shouldn’t pressure you either. If you go to more than one session, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to improve.

What Happens to Your Body During Hot Yoga?

It’s pretty obvious what might happen to your body during a hot yoga session. You’re going to be very hot and get quite sweaty.

But is that useful? Is hot yoga good for you, or is it actually a big stressor on the body? Let’s break it down.

You may be familiar with the idea of a hot workout. Maybe you’ve seen someone jogging while wearing a trash bag, or decked out in a hoodie to hit the gym. The trash bag is a bad idea. It prevents sweat from evaporating, and most people wear them so that they sweat more, burn more calories, and “lose weight” faster.

But the only extra weight loss would come from lost water weight, which you’ll gain back after taking a drink. Plus, there’s a huge chance you could overheat or become dehydrated.

A hoodie is still excessively warm but much more breathable than plastic. You’ll retain body heat better, raising your core temperature and keeping your muscles warm. You’ll indeed burn more calories because your body is working to cool itself while you’re also continuing to tax it with the workout. And since your goal isn’t to sweat but to keep your temperature up, hopefully, you’re drinking enough water to stay properly hydrated.

What Are the Benefits of Hot Yoga?

Think of hot yoga as the hoodie, not the trash bag. If you aren’t usually at risk of heat sensitivity and don’t skimp on water, it’s fairly harmless. Although a rigorous yoga sesh can be intense, your body isn’t responding to a higher intensity workout than you could normally do — the extra intensity comes from the heat itself.

Are you already comfortable doing a full round of active yoga workout or some other high-intensity training? Heated yoga shouldn’t pose much of a problem; it just takes a little adjustment. It can be worth it for these unique hot yoga benefits.

  • As we mentioned, keeping your core temperature elevated will help you burn more calories as your body puts energy into cooling.
  • You’ll keep your muscles fully warmed up — that’s conducive to flexibility and perfect for a yoga class.
  • 5-year study published in 2014 suggests Bikram yoga may help counteract bone loss in premenopausal women.
  • Enjoy the increased blood flow and circulation of oxygen.
  • It’s good for you as a whole, plus your skin and pores, as long as you get a chance for a nice bath or shower soon after.
  • It’s physically stressful, but just as long-distance runners get their runner’s high, hot yoga is an excellent way to destress mentally.

Takeaway 

Hot yoga isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a try if you’re curious. Just remember to stop — and leave if you have to — if you become uncharacteristically lightheaded, dizzy, queasy, or feel faint. Check with your physician beforehand if you have pre-existing conditions or other concerns.

Otherwise, get in there and sweat it up to your heart’s content. Don’t forget the towel!

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