Yoga’s been around for about 5,000 years, and for good reason: Its benefits reach mind and body, including relief from stress and anxiety, better sleep, stronger muscles and bones, and even reduced chronic pain. Makes sense that something with yoga’s exceptional longevity would make you feel good in a whole host of ways.
Place your bets now on whether goat and rage yoga last through the decade. Hot yoga, on the other hand, has been around since the ‘70s, and if you’ve glanced at a local yoga schedule lately, you’re likely to have seen more hot classes than anything else (Sorry, goats). What’s the deal with that?
Performed in a room that’s about 100 degrees Fahrenheit—in other words, hotter than your organs—hot yoga advertises a lot of appealing, but dubious, health benefits.
Legend has it that heated yoga classes arose when yogi Bikram Choudhury wanted to emulate the temperature of his native India while teaching in Japan. He started at around 85 degrees (“heated” or “warm” yoga classes stick with this temperature) but started cranking up the temperatures as students went bananas for the sweaty, heart-racing effects. Some reported euphoria. Others just liked feeling that they’d worked hard—as evidence by all that sweat.
And that’s the main draw: You do your standard active yoga style (vinyasa, usually), and you sweat buckets, breathe hard, get a little stretchier, and generally appreciate your own ability to withstand discomfort. Truly: One of the draws hot-yoga enthusiasts cite is that they dig the torture. To others it’s not torture at all and if you’re the kind of person who can’t ever find a room warm enough, you might well be in that camp.
Namaste, Hot-Yoga Legends
One of the things you often hear about hot yoga is that all that sweating releases toxins. And so attending a Sunday morning class usually means a significant portion of your fellow yogis are trying to sweat out tequila or wine. The reality is that you sweat out salt and water. The end.
Your liver, kidneys, and intestines process toxins, and they do it whether you’re struggling to maintain a slick down dog or on the sofa binge-watching Succession. Regardless, you still get all the nice benefits of yoga when you’re sweating, and there may be something to be said for enjoying them when you’ve overindulged.
A lot of enthusiasts also believe that they’re getting a metabolic boost from the heat. Hey, you’re heart’s beating faster, and you’re sweating like crazy! Surely those indicate greater calorie burn. Nah. Your body’s just trying to maintain its usual temperature. Your heart pumps harder to get more blood flow and make more cooling sweat.
There’s a slight increase in calorie burn for a hot class, but if it’s calorie burn you’re really after, you have a whole host of exercises to choose from.
Before You Try It
If you feel the pull of hot yoga, or just can’t avoid it due to scheduling realities at your nearby studio, here are a few things to know before you head into your first class:
- Bring a towel. Sweat and traction don’t go together. Avoid splatting onto your face—or putting it into a puddle of your own sweat during child’s pose—by bringing a full-sized towel.
- Drink water. Did we mention you’ll sweat? Great googly moogly will you sweat. Be ready by being well-hydrated before you start, and make sure you have water next to your mat during class.
- Pay attention to your body. With all that heat, you may be more focused on getting through the class than on what’s happening with your body. It’s easy to overdo it in a hot yoga class, what with the distraction and the limp rag feeling you get from being so warm. Be careful of stretching too far. And if your breathing or heart rate feel like too much, rest. As with any yoga class, you don’t want to try to keep up with your neighbors but do only what you’re capable of.
- Know the risks. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, hot yoga may not be for you. Same if you’re pregnant.
If you can do yoga, chances are you can do hot yoga. Just don’t think you’re getting some magical extra benefit from the experience. Don’t do it to cure your asthma or lose weight. Do it because you like how it makes you feel. For a lot of people, that’s calm, stress-free, and strong. Also, soggy.