Turn up the Heat! Hot Yoga for Dummies

If you’re one of those confused about the types of hot yoga and the pros and cons to these types of practices, look no further! I’ll demystify the world of hot yoga and provide some considerations for beginners and yogi veterans alike.

What is the benefit to participating in hot yoga?  In a nutshell, the most commonly referenced benefit is that heat allows the muscles and joints to achieve greater range of motion, thus (theoretically) improving flexibility and deepening the benefit sustained from the pose. I can personally attest to that result - but the effect is best maintained with regular hot practice. I've found the heat also increases heart rate and, depending on the type of yoga being practiced, may increase the cardiovascular challenge. Many people find the heat improves their focus and leaves them feeling more rejuvenated, both physically and mentally, after hot yoga classes. Of course, because there is increased sweat produced, there is also greater potential for weight loss and detoxification. Because of the broad scope of benefits, hot yoga makes an excellent compliment to fitness routines and athletic training.

There are two major disciplines of hot yoga; however, many studios offer “hot yoga” classes not specific to either discipline. Most likely, a class in this category will be an otherwise “normal” class for that studio that is just performed in a heated room (i.e. heated vinyasa, heated power yoga class, etc).

 

Bikram yoga

Bikram is the original hot yoga. Originally founded by Bikram Choundhury to help improve his flexibility after an injury, this type of yoga has exploded in popularity and it has not come without controversy. I like to think of Bikram yoga as the Starbucks of hot yoga classes - no matter where you go, you know exactly what you’re going to get. The flow of the class is exactly the same every time at every studio - 26 postures (each held twice per side) in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for 90 minutes.  Water breaks are built into the script of the class and additional breaks are discouraged. For a studio to offer a Bikram class, the teacher needs to be certified through an intensive nine-week course and essentially recite the same script while standing on a podium. Class structure is very militant and each pose comes with a strict progression, with the argument being that if you cannot achieve a part of the pose (for example, keeping your raised leg straight in Standing Head to Knee pose), you are still achieving the benefit of the pose by focusing first on correcting that fault.

Moksha (Modo) yoga

Moksha yoga was born of previous Bikram practitioners who sought more variety in their practice and flexibility in their studios, including aspects not specific to the practice itself.  One example of this is utilization of environmentally-friendly hardwood flooring, a contrast to carpet flooring required in Bikram studios.  Classes of the Moksha discipline varying in length and format with no script in a slightly cooler room (just below 100 degrees Farhenheit) and water breaks are encouraged.

hot yoga for dummies yogatraveltree

 

Turning the heat up:

  • Hot yoga classes can be more pricey than the average yoga class, but don’t fret! Groupon and LivingSocial are always offering deals for local studios and this is a great way to try it out!
  • It is difficult to prepare for what your first class will feel like.  In my case, I had a terrible pseudo-hangover the next day. I had bought a Groupon and I was going to get my money’s worth, darn it! So I returned the next day and I am so glad I did; each subsequent class went much more smoothly.  Just drink lots of water ahead of time (as well as bring some along), wear minimal layers, and bring at least a large towel to cover your mat (and possibly a smaller one for your face).
  • It may be worth asking the studio ahead of time how they heat the room.  Most use a combination of forced air and space heaters; however, I attended class at one studio that used radiant heat from the floor.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know this ahead of time and it was my husband’s first yoga class ever.  He was not able to seek relief on the floor because, well, that was the hottest place of the room!  He had to leave and that is heavily frowned upon in many hot classes. It was not a pleasant experience!
  • There are some medical considerations before beginning a hot yoga practice.  Individuals with certain neurological (i.e. multiple sclerosis) and cardiac conditions may not be good candidates for hot yoga practice.  I would also add that individuals with hypermobility syndromes should use caution with hot yoga classes.  A major selling point of hot yoga classes is that the heat deepens the stretch, but for some this places them at additional risk for injury.  If you have concerns, it is always best to talk to you doctor before starting a new exercise program.

I will end with an observation I’ve made regarding the final savasana in Bikram classes (and perhaps Moksha, too): savasana is the final pose, but for all intents and purposes is considered optional.  Students seldom stay for any significant length of time - now whether that’s due to competing for shower time in a small studio or hot yoga attracting busy Type A’s on the go, I can’t say for sure.  But don’t let hustle and bustle around you intimidate you into staying for a nice savasana - arguably, its more important after a hot yoga class to recover and relax (and bring your heart rate down!) than after a traditional yoga practice.

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Rachel Wiegand has been an athlete her whole life but yoga has been the only constant throughout moves and life changes. A former personal trainer, she is now a practicing chiropractor in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and enjoys helping patients find a physical activity that fits their lifestyle best. In addition to yoga, she practices Pilates and is an avid Crossfitter. On her weekends you can find her teaching yoga at CrossFit Sheboygan, with her hubby at Lake Michigan on her paddleboard, or at the dog park with her boxer, Dug.

Images via: @dobieking, @marcemag