Hot yoga is a generic term that may refer to any type of yoga practiced in a heated environment. The theory behind hot yoga is that it helps the body to sweat out toxins while allowing the practitioner to safely come deeper into asanas (poses or stretches). The room temperature for a hot yoga class can range from 30˚ to 50˚ C (85˚ to 122˚ F). Humidity can range from 40% to 60%. Different methods draw from Hatha, Vinyasa, and other yoga styles. Though the Bikram style was a pioneering force, it is not the only style of hot yoga.
Common styles of hot yoga include:
Bikram Yoga, a copyrighted series of 26 asanas created by Bikram Choudhury.
Power yoga, any of numerous systems of vinyasa yoga, stemming from the Ashtanga system of K. Pattabhi Jois.
History of Hot Yoga
For many centuries, most styles of yoga were practiced exclusively in a hot environment. Much of India, the birthplace of yoga, is tropical or subtropical with summer temperatures that can exceed 122 degrees Fahrenheit and winter temperatures rarely dropping below 80ºF in many regions. With air conditioning being a relatively recent invention, yoga asanas were largely developed and practiced with no knowledge of colder climes.
When yoga’s popularity spread abroad in the 20th century, many of its practitioners brought the heat with them. Bikram Choudhury came to it by necessity while teaching in Japan where he found himself shivering through his postures during winter, so he brought in space heaters. In the heat, Choudhury found it was easier for his students to find flexibility in the asanas, and when he launched his first studio in San Francisco in 1972, the heaters came with him. Bikram Yoga was born. Similarly, the disciples of K. Pattabhi Jois brought the Mysore heat with them to Ashtanga’s widespread tradition, and Ashtanga’s descendants of Power Yoga and other vinyasa styles copied the trend. Whereas Ashtanga’s high-temperature origins stem from climate and the heat produced by the body during vigorous exercise, western practitioners often put greater emphasis on a room’s temperature by regulating it with heaters and thermostats.
Forrest Yoga derives its heated practice only in part due to the South Asian tradition. Ana Forrest, the style’s founder, mixes her yoga with Native American spiritual practice and refers to her yoga ceremonies as sweat lodges.
The room is heated to warm the muscles and induce sweat (see sweat, below). Warm muscles stretch further and with reduced risk of injury. Heat increases the pulse and the body burns more calories in its efforts to stay cool while exercising. Heat dialates capillaries, distributing oxygen more effectively to muscles, glands, organs and other tissues, helping to remove toxins.
Sweat and detoxification
The skin, the body’s largest organ, eliminates toxins through perspiration. The function of sweat is to cool an overheated body through evaporation. There is some debate around the claim that sweat “eliminates waste from the body,” yet hot yoga practitioners purport that perspiration remove waste from the body on a surface level such as smog and dirt from the pores, and on a deeper organic level by carrying waste away from the kidneys and liver. Sweating stimulates the metabolism and immune system (see purported benefits, below).
Focus and breath
As the body has to fight to stay cool, the mind also has to fight for focus in a challenging environment. The method of teaching focus varies in different schools. As in all forms of yoga, hot yoga puts emphasis on deep breathing to increase the flow of prana. The principle is that breath connects the body to the mind and leads the practitioner through the poses. Deep breathing helps to calm the body and mind, and helps oxygen circulate through the body.
Cold muscles are more likely to tear when stretched. Hot yoga advocates propose that stretching warm muscles is more effective and lets the practitioner get deeper into poses. Because stretching is an effective way to increase flexibility, hot yoga can help improve ones range of motion, prevent injuries in exercise, and help a person heal from previous injuries.
Many people seeking to lose weight turn to hot yoga because of claims that it addresses several aspects of weight loss and maintenance, including exercise, stress reduction, and thyroid stimulation. Because hot yoga increases the pulse rate, the body works to maintain thermo regulation, increasing calorie expenditure without the impact on joints of other calisthenic exercise regimens such as jumping jacks or jogging. Hot yoga is also purported to increase oxidation of fat cells.
Exercise, deep breathing, and meditation have been shown to reduce stress levels, and hot yoga combines all three. The mind’s fight to focus on poses in a hot environment distracts and distances from stressors. Lower stress levels allow for better and easier sleep, which improves the immune system and reduces risk of injury to the body. Lower stress levels overall reduce weight gain, reduce risk of illness and injury, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, and improves mood.
Raising one’s core temperature simulates fever-like conditions in the body, increasing white blood cell production and combatting viruses and bacteria. The body also produces more interferon, which increases the production of antibodies. Stress weakens the immune system, so activities that reduce stress also reduce susceptibility to illness.
Aches, injuries and arthritis
Many joints, including and especially the vertebrae, stop lubricating as efficiently when a person enters their thirties. Yoga promotes joint lubrication which can alleviate general feelings of stiffness and discomfort, both reactively and proactively.
Many athletes and hobbyists take up hot yoga to improve performance in other activities. Well-stretched muscles have better range of motion and are less prone to tearing. Joints in proper alignment are less injury-prone in high-impact sports. The breath control of yoga improves performance in cardiovascular and anaerobic activities.