Hot yoga, formally known as Bikram yoga, is a vigorous yoga practice performed in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of about 40 percent. Hot yoga classes are 90 minutes long and consist of 26 postures. These poses deliver an intense strength and flexibility workout for all of your body’s major muscle groups, and the heated environment raises your heart rate to supply a challenging cardiovascular workout. Hot yoga does share some similarities with regular yoga practices, such as increasing strength and flexibility. In hot yoga however, the high heat raises your heart rate and forces your body to work harder, increasing the benefits you receive.
Mental and Psychological Benefits
Regularly practicing any type of yoga lowers stress levels, helps your brain regulate emotions and may even alleviate pain. All forms of yoga, including hot yoga, focus the mind and bring your attention to your breathing. Through yogic breathing, or pranayama, you learn to control your breath and increase the oxygen supply to your body. Becoming aware of your body and breath fosters mindfulness and brings you to a meditative state, allowing for deep relaxation. The heat of a hot yoga class may cause you to breathe a bit deeper, but the benefits of yogic breathing are the same as with regular yoga.
Yoga stretches and compresses the body, enhancing its waste removal function. Since hot yoga is performed in a hot, moist environment, it produces a sauna-like effect and your whole body heats up and begins to sweat. As you sweat, your body flushes out waste products and toxins that are present in your glands and organs. Hot yoga practitioners claim that toxins are removed from your body through your skin as you sweat, providing cleansing and detoxifying from the inside-out; no scientific research supports these claims, however.
Increased Strength and Balance
During hot yoga, your heart must work harder to pump blood to your skin in an attempt to cool you down, providing an intense cardiovascular workout. In addition, your muscles work hard to help you maintain each of the poses. Every movement during a hot yoga class works both small and large muscle groups, delivering an intense strength workout while challenging your balance. Standing poses, like Tree pose, build leg muscle and improve your balance as you work to hold yourself steady. Other hot yoga poses, like Cobra pose, rely on the muscles of the upper arms to support the body weight. Each of the 26 poses is held for 10 to 90 seconds, pushing your body to endure and build static strength.
As you practice hot yoga, you will notice your flexibility and range of motion improve. The heated environment of a hot yoga room helps increase your body's circulation, thus increasing blood flow to your limbs. This results in warm, loosened muscles and better movement through your ligaments and joints. The heat allows your body to move into each pose freely and stretch a little more deeply than you normally would. Since your muscles and joints are already warmed up, you can safely move into each posture with less risk of injury than with colder muscles. Never stretch to the point of pain and don't bounce as you stretch. This will help you avoid overstretching.
Before you take a hot yoga class, drink lots of water. The high heat will cause your body to sweat more than during a normal workout, causing you to lose more water, salt and minerals. Rehydrate after class with a sports drink fortified with electrolytes to replace lost nutrients. If you have heart problems or high blood pressure or if you have suffered from a heat-related illness like heatstroke, hot yoga may not be the best option for you. The high temperatures and elevated heart rate during exercise are also not recommended for pregnant women.