Hot yoga, as you may have guessed, is yoga that turns up the heat. But what type of yoga is hot yoga? And how hot does it get in a hot yoga class?
Hot yoga can vary from class to class. Some hot yoga studios focus on intense vinyasa-style flow yoga or hot power yoga, while others teach restorative, yin, or gentle yoga in hot environments. Some teachers set the temperature to 85°F, while others crank the heat to 100°F or higher. Some use space heaters or simply turn up the thermostat, while others use specialized infrared sauna systems or heated floors.
One well-known style of hot yoga is Bikram yoga. The practice, developed by Bikram Choudhury, has stringent rules: Each class is 90 minutes long and consists of a specific set of 26 poses done in order, and the room is always 105°F with 40 percent humidity.
Is Hot Yoga Harder than Regular Yoga?
“Practicing any form of exercise in 105°F can feel challenging,” says Stephanie Saunders, Openfit Executive Director of Fitness. “Trying to balance on one leg while sweat drips into your eyes feels Herculean. If you are the sort of person who loves to push your limits, hot yoga will probably appeal to you.”
A study comparing hot yoga to room-temperature yoga found that hot yoga feels more intense — participants in hot yoga reported a higher maximal heart rate and higher rating of perceived exertion. However, oxygen consumption was the same for both styles of yoga, and both were classified as light intensity exercise.
In other words — like regular yoga, hot yoga is a great complement to your workout program, but if you’re working to reach certain fitness goals, it’s not a replacement for a more intense cardio workout.
What You Need to Know Before You Do Hot Yoga
Even if you’re a seasoned yogi, you need to know what to expect from hot yoga. Poses you know and love may feel more challenging, and you may feel looser and more flexible. Here are some tips to stay safe and comfortable during your first hot yoga class:
- Take it slow. Some people report feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous during a hot yoga class. Everyone deals with heat differently, so take a rest if you need one. “Even if the instructor is pushing you, listen to your body,” says Saunders. “If you need to take a break, do so, regardless of what anyone else says.”
- Hydrate. There is a risk of mild dehydration during hot yoga, especially when some studios forbid students from drinking during practice. “Drinking water once class is complete is a given, but it is too late,” says Saunders. “Start hydrating at least two hours before class, and continue to sip throughout the class.”
- Dress for the heat. A cotton tee or comfy sweats might be fine for unheated yoga, but you’ll feel more comfortable in a hot yoga class if you’re wearing sweat-wicking fabrics. Cotton absorbs moisture, so your clothes will feel heavy and wet after an hour of sweating.
- Bring a towel. You may have seen fellow yogis use grippy yoga towels — these are designed to keep you from slipping on your mat when you start to sweat. Even a bath towel can work in a pinch. (You may also want to bring a small hand towel to wipe your face if you sweat heavily.)
- Pack a spare set of clothes. There’s nothing worse than having to drive home in sweaty, soggy gear after a hot yoga class. Pack some dry clothes to change into and any toiletries you need to freshen up.
- Choose your space carefully. “If it’s your first class, place your mat near a door or window,” Saunders says. “It won’t be a steady breeze, but it will be a bit cooler.” And if you get overheated, child’s pose is your BFF. It allows you to catch your breath — and since heat rises, it may feel a bit cooler down on your mat.
Are There Long-Term Benefits of Hot Yoga?
Most of what we know about the benefits of hot yoga comes from self-reported data — hot yoga aficionados reported benefits like increased flexibility, stamina, and overall fitness, as well as a mood boost.
Hot yoga has also been shown to improve heart health, but it’s likely the yoga itself, not the heat. One study found that Bikram yoga practiced at room temperature showed similar cardiovascular benefits to Bikram yoga practiced in a heated environment.
And there’s some evidence that locally-applied moist heat — like the kind you’ll encounter in most hot yoga studios — can help increase the range of motion of muscles. So, if you stick with your hot yoga practice, your flexibility may improve.
“We know from scientific studies that heat will increase the elasticity of muscles and tendons, up to about 25 percent,” says Saunders. “The temperature and application of that heat might alter the level of elasticity, but there is definitely a reason why practitioners feel more flexible in a heated environment.”
Hot yoga may also be an effective technique to train athletes to deal with heat — researchers found that a hot yoga regimen helped elite female field hockey players boost their cardiovascular performance and running speed, among other metrics.
Can Hot Yoga Help You Lose Weight?
“Hot yoga has been said to cure just about every ailment on the planet,” says Saunders. “And although there is not a lot of scientific evidence to substantiate these claims — yet — there are studies that prove it may lower body fat.”
But while some Bikram devotees claim you can burn up to 1,000 calories per class, a 2016 study found that a 90-minute Bikram yoga class actually burns around 460 calories for men and 330 calories for women.
Still, hot yoga — like any type of yoga — can help with weight loss by improving the mind-body connection and supporting a healthy lifestyle. And a recent study found that regular yoga practice (at any temperature) was associated with healthier eating habits and improved motivation to do other forms of physical activity.
So if the idea of hot yoga appeals to you, go ahead and crank the heat on your next yoga session.