Wonder what the difference between Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga is? What are the real benefits of Hot Yoga? We researched both empirically and physically to give you the low down on all you need to know about Hot Yoga, from its benefits and controversies, to what to expect in your first class.
What is Hot Yoga?
Hot yoga refers to any yoga performed in a hot environment, to replicate the weather conditions of the birthplace of yoga, India. According to Barnett, the author of Hot Yoga, Energizing, Rejuvenating, Healing, hot yoga is also a mental state that reflects the intensity of effort involved in this style of yoga.
What are the popular forms of Hot Yoga?
Here is our selection of the most popular forms of Hot Yoga:
- The most popular form of Hot Yoga is Bikram Yoga with its notable 26 postures practised in 90 minutes in a heated room. Seriously addictive for those who don't hate the heat. In our opinion, it is definitely worth a try as it really is the founding style of Hot Yoga in the West.
- Power Yoga: flowing sequence of yoga postures that emphasises the synchronisation of breath and movements. Unlike Bikram Yoga, there is no clear founder/owner of the practice, hence it is impossible to predict what a power yoga class will be like unless you try practising with a specific teacher or studio.
- Founded in New York, Modo Yoga was created in response to the moral allegations against Bikram Yoga (which we covered in #9 in this list). It is less hot, less rigid and more eco-friendly than Bikram yoga and there are various levels and class combinations one can try. They even play music in class which was strictly forbidden in Bikram Yoga.
- Also emerged from the Bikram Yoga scene is Fierce Grace Yoga from London, UK. It comes with various class options, from core-focused to the most challenge class, 'the Beast', it is a welcomed departure as it embraces the use of props, music and creativity in class.
- Forrest Yoga: super fierce, super graceful. Founded by Ana Forrest who suffered childhood trauma and eating disorders. She found her strength and combines yoga with Native American spirituality to create a "yoga sweat lodge" in a heated room. If you want more than just 'work out' yoga, definitely check out this awesome review on what it is like to practise Forrest Yoga and whether it is worth your time (spoiler alert: of course it is).
Is Hot Yoga the same as Bikram Yoga?
Bikram Yoga is a form of Hot Yoga, but not all Hot Yoga is Bikram Yoga, as seen from the above list. The main difference between Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga is that Hot Yoga doesn't have to be taught by Bikram accredited teachers and franchises, and hence there are many more variants and styles than Bikram Yoga. Specifically, in a Bikram class, the teacher will always follow a franchised form of yoga with strict guidelines which comprises of 26 yoga poses performed in a systematic way, every time. Whereas other forms of Hot Yoga styles can do what they want.
Top 6 Hot Yoga Benefits
1. Positive Effects of Bikram Yoga on Psychological Well-Being
In a study published by the Journal of Behavioral Health (2014), researchers invited 22 people to complete a 60 days Bikram Yoga challenge (i.e. a Bikram Yoga session everyday for 60 days 😏). They measured how these people evaluate themselves (e.g. their self-esteem, emotional stability, and how well they feel they are in control of their lives) and their life satisfaction both before and after the 60-day challenge. By the end of the 60 days, the participants reported significant increase in how they view themselves and how happy they are with their lives, and concluded that participating in intense physical exercise probably contributed to the improvements of psychological well-being. We've always said that anyway, but it's great that science is now backing us up!
2. Hot Yoga and the prevention of Diabetes
We love this study by the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies (2013). These scientists put 14 young lean and 15 older obese people to complete an 8-week Bikram yoga programme (why weren't we invited?), and they found that consistent practice of Bikram Yoga significantly improves glucose tolerance for the older obese people. Glucose tolerance is scientifically linked to the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Now if that's not a reason for us to practise Hot Yoga, we don't what is.
3. Does Hot Yoga Contribute to Physical Fitness?
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2013) has the answer. These scientists asked ten 23-35 year old healthy individuals to practise 24 Bikram Yoga sessions in 8 weeks. The participants demonstrated significant increase in deadlift strength, substantially increased lower back/hamstring flexibility, increased shoulder flexibility, and modestly decreased body fat compared with participants of the research who didn't do Hot Yoga, but there were no changes in hand-grip strength, cardiovascular measures, or maximal aerobic fitness. In short, Bikram does help with flexibility and fat loss, however, you may still want to supplement your practise with aerobic exercise if you goal is to maximise your cardiovascular capacity.
4. Hot Yoga benefits: Increases flexibility
The main benefit of Hot Yoga in comparison with other forms of yoga, is that due to the heat in the room, the body is able to get into postures which require more flexibility more easily. “The heat also allows you to go a little more deeply and safely into the postures,” says Joanna Thurlow, the owner of Moksha Yoga Halifax, “so you know you’re really warming up the muscles and you can really approach the postures from a safe place.” However, a word of caution for pregnant women. According to the US National Library of Medicine, excess heat reduces one's ability to deal with exhaustion and may increase the risk of overstretching, muscle damage, and torn cartilage due to fatigue. Given that a pregnant woman bears extra weight, it is possible that the heat may increase the risk of injury. Thus their advice is that pregnant women should avoid practising Hot Yoga (sorry!).
5. Hot Yoga Detoxification: Myth or Science?
The main benefits of Hot Yoga is of course how much you sweat. And we know you know that sweating is great for you, but allow us to persuade you further with scientific research. According to Medical Daily, the benefits of sweating include endorphin boost (the feel-good hormone that gives you that post workout glow), flushing out toxins (scientifically proven), lowering the risks of kidney stones, AND also helping prevent BOTH colds and acne. Where do we sign up again?
6. The Ultimate Perks of Hot Yoga: Mindfulness and Relaxation
According to Isabel Lambert, director of Tula Yoga Spa in Toronto, working in a heated room also elevates the heart rate, which makes the body work harder. “It’s really for people who want a more intense workout—those who want to develop strength, flexibility and tone along with a cardiovascular workout.” But more importantly so, practising yoga in a heated environment helps the body to relax more and, Isabel continues, "improves the breathing (which helps conditions like asthma) and focuses the mind, which develops better mental concentration."
It's only logical that with all that sweat you have to concentrate extra hard on
not dying trying to stay upright on your mat and staying in position. In fact, some said that a fixed hot yoga routine helps one advance and gain tremendous focus and determination.
Hot or Not?
Hot yoga has been slated for being dangerous. Anti Hot Yoga-ists claim that all of the benefits above are myths (you don't sweat toxins, you just sweat... well, sweat, being hot doesn't increase flexibility, etc., etc.). Jody Kurilla, owner of Yoga Shala in Portland, Oregon is not a fan of Hot Yoga and tells healthline.com that the idea behind regular Yoga is that "if you’re sweating a lot, the session is too difficult. You can be lightly sweating, but if your [breathing] or your heart rate starts to go up, you’re supposed to take a break. So to put yourself into a hot room, and do that on purpose, it’s not what yoga was designed to do. You’re supposed to be cultivating prana, or energy, not dispersing it.”
"Yoga is not about extremes. As the Dalai Lama said, the highs are very high, the lows are very low, and the middle is very boring. But after time, it becomes much more profound." Jody Kurilla, owner of Yoga Shala, Portland.
There is also the risk of over stretching. True flexibility builds on both muscular and joint flexibility, and bad things can happen if one supersedes the other in a heated environment. According to Larsen, "the more you continue to stretch your ligaments in joint-heavy poses, the higher your risk for tearing a ligament, or stretching them to the point where your joints are not as supported. It’s important to understand that when ligaments stretch out they stay that way and cause joint instability."
By now, dear reader, you would have noticed that we lean towards the 'try it, otherwise you will never know' approach. Thus, here comes the question....
What will I need for Hot Yoga?
In case our enthusiastic report convinced you to try it, make sure you bring a towel, water and some clean clothes to a Hot Yoga class. You will sweat; there is no way around it. And you will need to stay hydrated. Here is a short helpful yoga video with some Hot Yoga tips for beginners.
Jonathon's list of items to bring to a Hot Yoga class are:
- a yoga mat (you may want to have your own yoga mat when practicing Hot Yoga)
- a towel (you will sweat... a lot)
- a bottle of water (make it a large - hydration is key)
- a change of clothes (you'll want to take your sweaty ones off immediately after class)
- shower necessities (towel, soap, shampoo, etc.)
- a plastic bag to put your sweaty clothes in afterwards.
More than anything though, you need to bring your discretion. Since this will be a new experience to your body, if and when you feel that you have had enough, you should gracefully bow out.
How can I get started doing Hot Yoga at home?
If you don't want to fork out any money on Hot Yoga in case you don't like it, you could turn up the heat in your house (not too much) or close the windows and do one of these two Hot Yoga videos.
10-Minute Hot Yoga Video with XHIT's Rebecca Louise
25-Minute Hot Yoga for weight loss with Sean Vigue
If after all of this you think that Hot Yoga is something you would be interested in doing, check out the nearest Hot Yoga studios near you and attend a class. Let the teacher know that it is your first time and check out this guide on 10 tips to prepare you for your first Hot Yoga class.
What do you think of Hot Yoga? What experiences have you had? Good? Bad? We would love to hear from you.