Hot yoga, also referred to as Bikram yoga, came into existence after its founder, Bikram Choudhury, noticed that his students typically spent their lunch breaks in the sauna.
Interested in mixing the two experiences, Choudhury began to add heat to the yoga room and, ultimately, hot yoga was born.
Conducted in 104 degree Fahrenheit temperatures (40 degrees Celsius) that are humid in addition to being hot, this particular type of yoga is much like coffee. Either you love it or you hate it.
Even if you love it, you may have mixed feelings about a heated yoga experience and rightfully so. Though hot yoga does come with a handful of health benefits, it also comes with its share of risks.
Hot Yoga Pros and Cons
According to 2015 research published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, practicing yoga in a hot, humid environment offers advantages related to improved strength in the lower body, greater range of motion in both the upper and lower body, and better balance.
Some studies have also found that Bikram yoga may lower cardiovascular disease risk factors related to blood glucose regulation and cholesterol levels while also increasing bone mineral density. Mentally, it has been found to improve mindfulness and sleep quality and lower feelings of stress.
What are potential cons associated with hot yoga? This research indicates that potential dehydration is the major issue, which could lead to a number of issues both mentally and physically. Additionally, if there are pre-existing medical conditions present, such as heart disease, Bikram yoga could potentially aggravate these issues, making it unsafe to perform.
Safety is also a concern for individuals who have previously been fairly physically inactive. In cases such as these, researchers indicate that medical clearance should be obtained prior to performing this type of yoga to ensure that it will provide more benefits than potential harm.
How to Create a More Positive Bikram Yoga Experience
If you’re interested in trying hot yoga, Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT 500, award-winning fitness and yoga educator, senior advisor for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and assistant professor of kinesiology and integrative wellness at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California says there are four things you can do that can help create a more positive Bikram yoga experience.
1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
First, “proper hydration is paramount,” says Matthews. “While some yoga teachers and styles of yoga may strongly dissuade students from consuming water at any point during a practice given both the mental distraction and the disruption to the energetic body, in a hot and humid environment in which classes range from 60 to 90 minutes in length (Bikram classes are always 90 minutes in length; hot and heated yoga classes can vary from, on average, 60 to 90 minutes) ongoing hydration is imperative from an exercise physiology perspective as increased sweating results in a greater reduction of water in the body, which can lead to dehydration.”
That’s why Matthews recommends that you consume water both before and after a Bikram yoga class. She also suggests that you drink water “as much as needed” throughout the class to help ensure your physical safety and well-being throughout the hot yoga experience.
2. Give yourself time to acclimate to the heat
Second, Matthews says that it helps to understand that acclimating to the hot yoga environment is a process. “On average, it takes approximately 10 to 14 days for most healthy individuals to acclimate to engaging in physical activity in a heated environment,” she says, “so practice patience in allowing yourself to adjust to performing asana in a new environment.”
Matthews says that integrating resting, grounding postures into your practice can help with this acclimation. A few to consider include: child’s pose (balasana), lying supine (savasana), being seated in an easy cross-legged position (sukhasana) or standing quietly in mountain pose (tadasana).
3. Remain mindful of your body’s response at all times
Matthews’ third tip is to remain mindful so you will know if the heat and yoga together becomes too much. “Mindfulness is such an important aspect of a yoga practice,” says Matthews, “and, as such, it’s imperative that, as students, we remain present and aware so that we may recognize any signs of heat-related illness that may arise during a hot yoga class experience.”
What symptoms could potentially raise concerns?
“While heavy sweating is not unusual in a hot yoga class, profuse sweating coupled with other symptoms such as pale, clammy skin, increasing fatigue and weakness, dizziness and nausea are signs of heat exhaustion,” explains Matthews. If you feel any of these, Matthews suggests that you move outside of the room to a cooler location. Once there, it helps to lie down while applying cool, wet towels to the body. You should also consume water while contacting emergency personnel, she says.
No longer sweating is also a potential issue, or if you “have red, hot, dry skin, are short of breath, have a rapid heart rate and are experiencing extreme dizziness, confusion and even loss of consciousness,” says Matthews, as these are all potential signs of heat stroke.
Because heat stroke can strike rather quickly and can be life threatening, any of these symptoms should prompt immediate emergency medical attention says Matthews. “Remember, your safety and well-being are the top priority,” she reminds, “and, as such, it’s important never to force or ‘push yourself’ through signs or symptoms of potential heat illness.”
4. Welcome the sweating process for the benefits it provides
Finally, Matthews indicates that you’ll likely have a more enjoyable hot yoga experience if you “embrace the process of sweating.” What does she mean? “It’s not uncommon to perhaps feel embarrassed or ashamed over how much you sweat during a practice,” she says. “However, to ease anxieties, it’s important to understand the importance of sweating.”
This importance revolves around the fact that it isn’t sweating alone that cools the body, but also the evaporation of the sweat that ultimately protects the body from overheating. Therefore, Matthews recommends that you “resist the temptation to becoming distracted in your practice by constantly wiping sweat from your skin” as this can lessen the evaporative cooling and result in retained body heat, increasing your risk of dehydration and overheating.
In other words, sweating is a good thing. So, enjoy it for the benefits it provides.