You’ve probably heard about the benefits of yoga. Many believe it can improve flexibility and positively impact your emotional and psychological state, among other benefits. But yoga is not just a cookie-cutter activity, and you may feel you’re better suited for some forms of yoga than others. What about “hot” yoga (including Bikram)? What are its benefits, and is it something that may be a good fit for you? Here are a few reasons why you might want to give it a try.
The unfortunate truth is, not a lot of scientific research has been done on the benefits of hot yoga in particular. So this, as well as other advantages that many believe hot yoga to have over other forms of yoga, may be largely anecdotal. Still, many practitioners feel it’s easier to hold poses in a hot environment, as the higher temperature can reportedly help muscles to feel less tight for some.
One of the benefits of any type of yoga is that it often helps you to place your attention on your breath, which can have a calming effect and can help to reduce stress. Many practitioners of hot yoga report that, due to the added physical stress of high temperatures, they’re basically required to pay even more attention to their breath. And, if carried into other areas of life, this ability to use breath to calm oneself can have all kinds of beneficial applications, like getting through stressful situations at work more easily, for example.
Similarly, as with the ability to focus on one’s breath, many hot yoga participants report that the high temperatures demand they hone their mental focus, as well. Allowing your mind to drift to thoughts of any discomfort that may come about because of the heat will make the yoga session much more taxing psychologically. So instead, participants strive to focus on an awareness of their body and breath. In this way, many believe the benefits to be similar to those of meditation — a reportedly improved ability to tune out distractions and be present in the moment.
Many people report a surge in energy during and/or after a hot yoga session. Of course, this is the case with most forms of exercise. Nonetheless, it is a significant benefit, especially since most of us have busy schedules that can easily leave us feeling worn out and depleted. And if hot yoga can help you recuperate your energy without resorting to caffeine or sugar, that’s a bonus in our book.
It’s important to note that this is very controversial among those in the fitness and wellness communities. The ability of hot yoga to help the body detox has not been demonstrated empirically. However, we thought it was worth mentioning because it seems to be one of the most often-cited supposed benefits. The thinking goes that sweat helps to carry toxins out of the body and lead to a number of health benefits. Whether this is indeed the case remains to be seen, though there are those who strongly subscribe to this idea.
Clearly, there are a number of potential benefits associated with hot yoga. And many of those who practice it regularly do so with great passion and dedication.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that there may be some degree of risk associated with exercising at high temperatures. The possibility of overheating or becoming dehydrated does exist, so it is important to pay attention to how you’re feeling and your body’s cues. Make sure to hydrate well beforehand. Also, consult a medical professional if you are concerned about these risks.
It is also worth acknowledging that hot yoga is likely not one of the most efficient choices if your goal is weight loss. Yoga, in general, does not burn as many calories as cardio exercise. This is the case because yoga is an ancient practice that was designed more to improve mindfulness and body awareness — it wasn’t designed to help you lose weight. Although it can feel like you’re burning more calories when you’re sweating more and your body is feeling hot, it has not actually been proven that hot yoga burns significantly more calories than other forms of yoga.
At the end of the day, hot yoga can be a beneficial activity that, when practiced safely (as with any form of exercise), can have a number of positive effects. What is important is how it makes you feel. We all have unique bodies with unique needs, and the most reliable way to know if hot yoga is right for you is to give it a try (after consulting a medical professional if you have concerns) and see how you feel afterward. Do your muscles feel less tight? Do you feel more energized or focused? Then keep it up!
— Sarah Cooke