Hot yoga has been increasing in popularity since its conception in the 1970s, and it can be an appealing option for both the beginner and experienced yogi alike. However, hot yoga isn’t for everyone and there are some key tips to keep in mind if you are considering taking a hot yoga class.
Hot Yoga for Beginners: What You Must Know: Hot yoga classes are yoga classes performed in studios ranging from 80 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot yoga classes are strenuous, and it is important to stay hydrated, not push yourself too hard, and avoid it if you have any pre-existing conditions that make you susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
While hot yoga can help you achieve a more strenuous and intense workout, there are some helpful bits of advice for making the most of your workout session and also remaining safe and healthy. Read on to find out more about the fascinating realm of hot yoga and decide whether it is right for you.
What Is Hot Yoga?
While hot yoga can vary from class to class, the main concept remains the same. It is a form of yoga that is more strenuous than traditional classes and is performed in very warm, humid environments. For example, Bikram hot yoga is performed in a studio heated to around 105 degrees F and with a 40 percent humidity rate. If you plan on taking a hot yoga class, you should definitely expect to sweat.
The idea behind hot yoga is that the heat will put extra demand upon your muscles and require extra focus, thus giving a more intense workout while also cleansing the mind of outside distractions. There are also some practices that claim hot yoga is trying to replicate the hot and humid climate of India, where traditional yoga originated.
Bikram yoga is considered the original form of hot yoga, but since its conception by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970sthere have since been numerous spin-off variations. Bikram involves repeating the same, unchanging routine of 26 poses over the course of a 90-minute class and there is no music or applause in a Bikram class.
Other forms of hot yoga, which may have varying ranges of studio temperatures and humidity, often allow for different routines and play music. This often creates a more inviting, social atmosphere.
Can Beginners Do Hot Yoga?
Hot yoga can be intimidating, even for seasoned yoga practitioners. This doesn’t mean that beginners shouldn’t participate, but it is important to approach the class with an educated mindset and be ready to face the unique challenge that is hot yoga. Remember to take things slowly and don’t push yourself beyond your limits.
Most importantly, be aware if you have any predisposing health conditions that would contraindicate your participation in a hot yoga class.
If you have multiple sclerosis, hot environments can aggravate and worsen your symptoms. If you have heart disease, dehydration issues, or a history of heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, it is also probably wise to avoid hot yoga. Hot yoga is also not recommended for any women who are pregnant.
If you don’t have any health concerns and want to participate in a hot yoga class, be prepared for an intense workout in a very hot environment. Bring plenty of water to drink before, during, and after the class. Also, don’t be afraid to stop and take a break if you feel lightheaded or sick. It is important not to push yourself too far in hot yoga, and as a beginner it is perfectly acceptable to take as many breaks as you need.
If you are unsure if you should take a hot yoga class but are interested, be sure to consult your primary care physician. Your doctor can help you determine whether you are at risk for adverse health events triggered by hot temperatures.
What to Do Before and After Hot Yoga
Before a hot yoga class, there are several steps you can take in order to make the most of your experience. Simply being prepared can make all the difference between an enjoyable session and a complete nightmare.
First of all, make sure you arrive at class well hydrated but not bloated (see our section below about what to eat and drink before a hot yoga class.) Try not to eat within an hour of your class time and keep meals prior to class light and easy to digest. Be sure to arrive early, as some classes will lock their doors at the start of the session.
Come to class prepared, with a water bottle, yoga mat, and a towel. Sometimes you may want to even bring two towels. Prepare to be soaked in sweat by the time the class ends, so choose clothing that is light, breathable, and that won’t become uncomfortable and heavy when wet. It’s also helpful to bring a change of clothes for when you leave so you don’t have to walk home drenched in sweat, especially in colder seasons.
After the class, you may feel amazing or you may feel a little unwell. It is not uncommon for beginners to feel dizzy or nauseated after a class, but with repeated practice these sensations will go away. Take a few minutes to collect yourself and if necessary, remain seated and drink water to rehydrate.
It is important after the class to replenish the water and electrolytes lost from sweating, so grab for an electrolyte-rich water or coconut water to help restore lost nutrients. Be sure to shower and cleanse away sweat, and don’t be surprised if your body continues to sweat even after you have showered.
What to Eat and Drink Before and After Hot Yoga
For the best hot yoga training, there are several steps you can take before, during, and after your class in order to improve your experience. It is important to keep your body hydrated and fueled with enough energy to last through the entire session. One of the biggest challenges to hot yoga is staying hydrated.
The temperatures and humidity will result in you breaking a sweat, so as soon as you step in the door to the studio you will begin to lose water. Give your body a fighting chance by making sure you are properly hydrated before you start your class. Drink at least one 8-ounce glass of water a half-hour before your class. If your class is late, consume several glasses of water over the course of the day leading up to your session.
Avoid consuming large quantities of caffeine prior to a hot yoga class. Caffeine is dehydrating, so if you don’t feel like you can get through your day without a cup or two of coffee, make sure to drink extra water to offset the dehydrating effects before you head to class. However, make sure you don’t consume so much water before class that you feel uncomfortable and bloated.
About an hour to a half-hour before your class, eat a small snack that will help give you a boost of energy and fuel your body through the course. Choose something easy on your digestive system, such as a banana or apple with peanut butter or a granola bar. Don’t consume any large meals or anything that will be hard to digest, as this will likely result in you feeling nauseous during the workout.
After your class, be sure to drink another one to two 8-ounce glasses of water, preferably something that will replenish electrolytes like coconut water. It is also helpful to eat a nutritious meal or snack after class to help provide the nutrients to replenish and repair your muscles. Some foods can be especially hydrating, as well, such as watermelon or cucumber, and can make a great post-yoga snack.
Why Should I Do Hot Yoga?
For some, hot yoga might sound like an absolute nightmare: take an already challenging, strenuous activity and amplify the intensity by placing the participant in a sweatbox. But, for those who aren’t frightened away by its rigorous demands on the body, hot yoga can be an enlightening and astounding workout.
Like traditional yoga courses, hot yoga can help improve strength and flexibility while also reducing stress. Hot yoga can further help flexibility when compared to traditional yoga, likely because warmer muscles can stretch easier and there is less risk of injury. The heat can, therefore, help you push a little further in poses and more effectively execute challenging positions.
Hot yoga can also be beneficial for anyone who is wanting to burn more calories than a traditional yoga class. In a study by the Colorado State University, it was determined that the number of calories burned during a 90-minute Bikram yoga session could be up to 460 calories for men and 330 calories for women. This is significantly more than a traditional yoga course.
Another study, conducted in 2018, showed that after a 16-week Bikram yoga program, participants reported less stress and improved self-efficacy. Therefore, hot yoga can help boost your general sense of well-being and reduce stress levels. Yoga has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression.
A few other isolated studies have even gone on to show that Bikram yoga might help improve bone density and improve glucose tolerance in older, obese adults. So, hot yoga and Bikram yoga have numerous health benefits available to those willing to face the challenge and reap the rewards.
What Are the Arguments Against Hot Yoga?
While many sing the praises of hot yoga and Bikram, there are some who disagree with the courses. Some yoga instructors shun the practice, stating that the entire idea of it contradicts how yoga was originally established to be practiced.
Traditional yoga is meant to be challenging, but not so strenuous as to cause your heart rate to elevate to the same levels achieved in Bikram. Some yoga instructors argue that yoga should not be an emphasis on extremes, and by pushing the body to the limits in Bikram yoga practitioners are not cultivating prana, or energy.
In response to the idea that Bikram is meant to represent the traditionally hot and humid climate of India, hot yoga antagonists point out that in India yoga is traditionally practiced early in the morning before the sun rises or in the evening after the sun has set when temperatures are cooler. So, this pokes holes in the claim of hot yoga being a reflection of ancient yoga practices.
The main arguments against hot yoga or Bikram yoga are routinely from a safety standpoint. In a 2015 study, it was shown that healthy participants in hot yoga had core body temperatures that reached 103 degrees, just shy of the 104-degree level that is considered dangerous. For those who are unfit or have a slightly decreased heat tolerance, Bikram can pose serious health risks.
Many jumps into hot yoga classes without being properly educated or prepared, and this can lead to complications. Those with health disorders such as diabetes or heart disease that would normally have no problems with traditional yoga are dramatically more at risk for adverse events in hot yoga. Even healthy participants can be not properly hydrated during class, and this can result in complications.
What to Expect in a Hot Yoga Class
Hot yoga and Bikram incorporate traditional yoga elements, but depending on the class and the studio, the experience can vary. The one unifying factor for all classes is the heat. Stepping into a hot yoga studio will be a shock to your body, with the temperature hitting you like a desert heatwave. You may start sweating before you even strike your first yoga pose.
Bikram yoga is always the same experience. The studio will be about 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 40 percent. You will always perform the same 26 poses in the same order over the course of an hour and a half. Bikram is traditionally silent, so there is no talking allowed and no music. Other hot yoga studios, however, choose to practice a more casual approach and vary the routine with each class.
Some studios have intense, rhythmic music while others have meditative ambient acoustics. Poses may be held for long periods or they might be rapidly cycled in a flowing routine. Fellow participants will be dressed in minimal, breathable clothing. Some men go shirtless and some women wear only a sports bra. Sweating is inevitable in a hot yoga class, so you and classmates will be drenched by the end.
In hot yoga, some participants prefer to bring slipless yoga towels. With all the sweating, it can occasionally get slippery and hard to hold a grip, so it can be helpful to bring extra towels to help mop up the humidity and reduce slippage.
It’s not uncommon to feel light-headed or dizzy in class, especially if you become dehydrated or you are just beginning. Be sure to take breaks whenever necessary, and you’ll likely see classmates adopt the child’s pose or lie quietly for a few moments if they feel overwhelmed. Take sips of water throughout the class in order to avoid becoming dehydrated.
Does Hot Yoga Help Detoxify the Body?
Hot yoga is often associated with the idea of ridding the body of toxins since it causes your body to sweat profusely. Sweating is your body’s natural way of cooling itself down, and sweat is primarily composed of water and minerals, like salt and potassium. As such, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with eliminating toxins from your body.
People often confuse sweating as the elimination of harmful toxins but in actuality it is simply your body’s way of trying to cool itself.
While hot yoga won’t help rid your body of toxins through sweating, it does help you in other ways to improve your wellbeing. By burning more calories, it will help reduce harmful fat, and the workout will stimulate increased blood flow and better oxygenation to muscles.
The healthy, cleansed sensation many feel after a hot yoga class is simply because the body has had an effective workout, not because toxins were sweated out of the system.
How is Bikram Different from Hot Yoga?
The terms hot yoga and Bikram are occasionally used interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct entities that should not be confused. While all Bikram yoga is hot, not all hot yoga is Bikram. Hot yoga is simply an all-encompassing term that includes any yoga that is performed in a heated environment between 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bikram yoga, therefore, is a form of hot yoga. However, it is a specific practice that comes with strict requirements in order to be considered Bikram, rather than just hot yoga. Bikram is a 90-minute class performed in a studio heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a 40 percent humidity. It consists of the same 26 poses performed in the same order for every class. Bikram instructors must be Bikram certified in order to teach.
In Bikram yoga, there is no music, no clapping, and students are not permitted to talk during the course. Instructors also will not interact with students and perform hands-on adjustments. In contrast, hot yoga studios often permit students and instructors to talk and interact, and there is often music and classes end with a round of applause.
One hot yoga style is Moksha, or Modo Hot Yoga. It was created in Canada in 2004. Moksha studios adhere to environmentally friendly requirements, including the use of sustainable building materials, as well as offering water bottle refill stations and reduced paper usage. The room is heated to about 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The studios aim to provide a positive, all-inclusive experience for anyone wishing to try hot yoga.
Another style of hot yoga is CorePower yoga. CorePower yoga was founded in Colorado in 2002 and is now available at studios nationwide. Classes are broken into levels, with level one being unheated while level two advances to the heated setting. This is sometimes appealing for new participants because it eases you into the idea of a heated yoga course.
How Hot Will A Hot Yoga Class Be?
Depending on the studio and the style of practice, hot yoga studios can range in temperature and humidity. Most studios are heated to be somewhere between 80 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heating studios above 105 degrees is not advisable, as most medical professionals agree that heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, occurs when your core body temperature reaches 104 degrees.
A study by the American Council on Exercise demonstrated that participants in a Bikram yoga course, heated to 105 degrees, reached core body temperatures of 103 degrees, dangerously close to critical temperature levels.
That being said, hot yoga is exactly that: hot. Then add on top of that the fact you will be performing physical exercise in these high temperatures. Those participating in hot yoga need to be aware of the risks of overexertion and dehydration. It is important not to push your body past its limits and to practice proper hydration before, during, and after a hot yoga session.
Why Should I Drink Electrolytes After a Hot Yoga Class?
In a hot yoga class, regardless of the studio, you are going to sweat. Sweating is your body’s natural way of dealing with the heat. Sweating extracts electrolytes from the body. Electrolytes are the minerals in your body, like sodium, calcium, and potassium, that enable your body to perform vital functions and maintain stasis. They help your muscles contract, your nervous system function, and maintain your pH levels.
If your body gets low on electrolytes, you may find yourself with muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue, and an overall sense of not feeling very well. We lose electrolytes mostly through sweating and urine, so after an intensive hot yoga class, you can expect to have sweat away quite a lot of electrolytes. If you want to avoid later complications, it’s best to try to replenish these lost minerals.
While it might be tempting to grab for a sports drink that claims to contain vital electrolytes, be careful to look at nutritional labels. A lot of sports drinks have high sugar levels that can be bad for the body. Instead, consider reaching for an alternative like coconut water.
Coconut water has the electrolyte concentrations found in many sports drinks but without the high levels of added sugar. Another alternative is to simply drink a glass of water with a pinch of salt and the juice from a wedge of lemon. The key is to try to find a balanced, healthy way to replace electrolytes and restore your body’s natural hydration levels without also consuming unnecessary amounts of sugar.
How to Tell If You Are Dehydrated During Hot Yoga
Unfortunately, just waiting until you feel thirsty is not a very helpful or accurate way to determine if your body is dehydrated. Participating in hot yoga will inevitably result in a good deal of sweating and water loss, and so it is important to listen to your body and recognize the signs of dehydration before more dangerous complications arise.
First of all, if you find that you have bad breath, this can be an early sign of dehydration. When you are dehydrated, your body doesn’t produce enough saliva, and so bacteria are able to flourish in the dehydrated environment and make for a stinky mouth.
If you are experiencing a headache, this can be an early indication of your body becoming dehydrated. Another sign might be if you keep getting cramps in your muscles. When muscles are overworked and the tissues become dehydrated, it can result in the tissues painfully seizing up. This can also occur if your muscles don’t have proper electrolyte concentrations, which can also be the result of dehydration.
If you start feeling unusually hungry, this may also be your body trying to tell you that you need to drink some water. It may sound counterintuitive, but your body is programmed to send you cravings for sweet and salty snacks when dehydrated. If you feel these hunger pains, either drink some fluids or grab a hydrating snack like watermelon, celery, or cucumber.
If you start to feel irritable or lightheaded, these can be signs that you are dehydrated. When your body is low on fluids, it will increase your heart rate and constrict blood vessels in order to balance blood flow to organs. This can result in fatigue, dizziness, and even shifts in mood. When dehydrated, you can also have difficulty concentrating. If you feel like you are losing your focus during a glass, grab a few sips of water.
How Often Can I Practice Bikram Yoga?
Bikram yoga is an intense, physically demanding exercise routine. As such, it should be approached like any other strenuous activity and be practiced with a certain amount of restraint and responsibility.
How often you want to practice Bikram will often depend on what you are hoping to get out of the course. Are you trying to reduce stress and build flexibility? Maybe you are looking to lose weight. Perhaps you just want to try something new. Determining your reasons for practicing Bikram will help you determine how often you aim to attend courses.
That being said, it is important not to push your body past its limits. Most Bikram yogi enthusiasts recommend practicing at least twice a week, but usually not more than four times a week. Listen to your body and determine what is reasonable for your capabilities.
If it seems hard, start with only a class or two a week and try to build up to your goal. Practice will help you get better. Just like a marathon runner isn’t born able to run a full 26 miles, you will need to learn to build up your strength and pace yourself to achieve your ideal.
Ultimately, how often you practice Bikram yoga will depend upon your own physical fitness levels and heat tolerance. Someone who is very fit but has poor heat tolerance may never be able to safely participate in a Bikram yoga class. The point is to listen to your body and if in doubt, consult with your primary care physician to determine how many classes a week are safe and healthy for your body.