What is hot yoga? Is this sweaty workout right for you?
What do Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and David Beckham all have in common? Yes, they are all rich and famous but they also all enjoy practising Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga. Why do they love it so much? Is it the intense heat? The post-yoga glow? The sweating? No matter the reason, it is proven that hot yoga can have many mental and physical benefits. Yoga is one of the greatest forms of relaxation and meditation. The powerful movements and the breathing exercises have the ability to calm us down almost automatically. Here’s everything to know about hot yoga.
1 What is hot yoga?
Surprise! Hot yoga is indeed hot. Studio rooms are usually set to 100 + degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity, which feels quite nice if you live somewhere cold and you don’t feel like going outside to run or go to a dreary gym for a couple of hours. On the other hand, some people find it difficult to adapt to this intense heat, having trouble breathing and sweating profusely but will get used to it once they have experienced it a few times. The class usually lasts 90 minutes with a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. There are various types of yoga: hatha yoga, vinyasa yoga, iyengar yoga, ashtanga yoga, yin yoga, etc. but hot yoga is definitely one of the most popular and controversial types of yoga.
2 Where does Bikram yoga come from?
The term ‘Bikram’ originated from Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga teacher born in Calcutta. He started practicing yoga in his twenties in India and developed the 26-2 yoga sequence we know today. He did not invent the postures but pieced together already existing sequences that Bishnu Charan Ghosh, a celebrated yogi, had already created. The extremely warm temperatures of the classes are said to mimic the hot climate of India.
After immigrating to the United States, Choudhury founded many yoga studios and gave teaching certification courses and thus, created a movement with Bikram yoga. Many people prefer to call it the 26 & 2 method now, especially after Choudhury was accused of numerous sexual harassment allegations. He fled the United States in 2016 after a warrant for his arrest was issued. He hasn’t been in the limelight since.
3 What happens during a Bikram yoga class?
As mentioned above, the class is divided into a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. The 26 postures include: the half moon pose, the eagle pose, the triangle pose, the tree pose, the cobra, camel, the spine twisting pose, and more. Usually, the teacher will not do the postures and instead will have a kind of script they recite during the flow. Of course, hot yoga has evolved over the years and some teachers have modified the sequences and the postures. You can now find power yoga-type classes that are a mix of pilates and Bikram yoga if you want an even harder workout.
The first breathing exercise is at the very beginning of the session and is called Pranayama breathing. Pranayama breathing is a type of breathing that consists in dividing the breath into three parts: inhalation (inhale using your diaphragm), retention (keep the air in), exhalation (slowly exhale the retained air so you relax completely), suspend (your lungs are completely empty and you take a pause before starting the cycle again). The second and last breathing exercise is at the very end of the class and is called the Kapalbhati breathing (breath of fire). Kapalbhati breathing is a great way of releasing toxins and consists of resting your hands on your lower belly, taking a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. When you inhale, you only fill your belly 3/4 full and you exhale forcefully to expel all the air out. Inhale naturally and keep doing this breathing technique for a total of 10 times.
Tips for a problem-free class
- Eat a meal two hours before the class or have a small snack (half a muffin, a fruit) about 30 minutes before the class;
- Get there early so you can get acclimated to the heat;
- If you have injuries, talk to the teacher about it before the beginning of the class so she/he can adapt certain postures for you;
- Wear 3/4 length leggings or shorts and a t-shirt or tank top and avoid cotton;
- Bring water and hydrate yourself all day before the class (extra tip: add a bit of salt, lemon juice or sugar to your water since they are all sources of electrolytes);
- Bring a towel to place on top of your mat if your hands tend to slip;
- Call different yoga studios to know how many participants are allowed in the classes. Trust us, there’s a big difference between 10 sweaty bodies and 40 of them;
- Try hot yoga at least twice before deciding whether you like it or not.
4 The benefits of hot yoga
Detoxifies your body
You might hate being sweaty when you are sitting outside in the summertime but in the studio, the sweat is welcomed. Extreme sweating in yoga class helps counter water resistance and removes all the toxins from your body (those couple of drinks you had a few days ago will be a distant memory). The heat also heat promotes blood flow because the body’s temperature increases. Embrace the sweat and see it as tangible proof of your hard work.
Improves your mood
Firstly, it is a known fact that your body releases endorphins when doing any type of physical activity. Yoga, especially, is a great way to relax. For one hour, all you have to do is concentrate on your breathing and your postures. After adopting breathing techniques, you will automatically calm down and de stress.
Makes your skin glow
The more your blood circulates, the better your skin looks. That’s why, after an intense workout (and when the redness decreases), you always have a nice glow. If ever you have a wedding to go to or you want to look great for your date, book a hot yoga class the day before or in the morning to get that gorgeous, dewy skin. Who said facials were the answer to beautiful skin?
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you know how amazing you feel after savasana. Post-yoga bliss does exist and it seems as though it is even more powerful after a class of hot yoga. Yoga is all about being there in the moment and only thinking about the present. During a normal yoga class, it is easy for your mind to drift off and think about what you need to buy at the grocery store and the number of washes you’re dreading to do when you go back home. However, hot yoga is so hot that all you can think about is the heat and conquering it. If you are feeling stressed, hot yoga is a great way to push away those negative feelings.
Any form of yoga will help improve your flexibility but the heat from a hot yoga class is especially helpful since it allows your muscles to expand and contract without a bigger risk of injuries. This results in deeper stretches. However, you don’t want to push your limits too much and over-stretch since this could result in problems with your joints and could tear tissue like muscles, tendons or ligaments. All this to say, don’t go too far when you’re doing a backbend.
5 The downsides
Some people cannot handle the heat, especially during their first session. Bikram yoga should not be the first yoga class you take. It is best if you have a tried an Ashtanga vinyasa yoga class or even at-home yoga videos to get familiar with the postures. A newbie should never compare themselves to the yogi in front of them who has been coming three times a week since 2006. If the class becomes too intense, it is vital to take a break in the child’s pose for a few minutes. Every body reacts to heat differently.
Anyone with a heart condition, low or high blood pressure and pregnant women cannot take a Bikram yoga class without risking their health.
6 Hot yoga retreats
Yoga retreats are already very popular with yogis all over the world. If you enjoy practicing hot yoga and you’d like to experience an intense weekend or week of sweaty yoga, there are many retreats all over the world that could interest you. Hot Bikram Retreats, for example, offers hot yoga retreats all over the world including Bali, Thailand, Mexico, Panama, Spain, etc. These types of retreats are perfect for beginners as well as advanced students, people who want to enjoy a relaxing holiday and people who want to take time for themselves.
If you’re looking to lose weight, hot yoga alone isn’t the answer. This sweaty activity should complement other workouts and you should see it as an activity to stretch your muscles, relieve stress and detoxify your body. You might not love it at first but try it a few times before ruling it out forever.
Cover photo: @bodenyc | Instagram