You don’t have to jet-set to Malibu to sweat like you’re on “Baywatch” — all you need is a little hot yoga.
Although sweating buckets might not be everyone’s idea of a fun time, hot yoga offers a number of health benefits. Turning up the heat and humidity in the room gives your muscles, heart, and lungs an even better workout than they’d get at lower temps.
What is hot yoga anyway?
It’s like regular yoga — but hotter. While you might hear people use the term “Bikram yoga” interchangeably with “hot yoga,” they’re not exactly the same. Basically, Bikram is a type of hot yoga, but not all hot yoga is Bikram.
Developed by the now very controversial yogi Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga consists of a series of 26 poses done in a room heated to 105°F (40.5°C) with 40% humidity. It lasts 90 minutes and sticks to a strict, silent regimen.
Hot yoga just means doing yoga in a room that’s heated to an above-average temp, typically between 80 to 100°F (26 to 38°C). It can include any number of poses and music to get your practice flowing.
If getting fit and easing stress sound like #goals, you’re not alone. Good news: Hot yoga and Bikram yoga both aim to boost relaxation and physical fitness.
When practiced safely, hot yoga can hook you up with the following benefits.
1. Become more flexible (bendy goodness!)
It’s no secret that warmed-up muscles just stretch better. Bending and stretching in hotter temps is safer, and it might make those tough poses a little easier to pull off.
You might find that the heat also lets you settle just a smidge farther into each pose and boosts your range of motion.
In a 2013 study, participants who did Bikram yoga had better flexibility in their lower back, hamstrings, and shoulders after 8 weeks than the control group.
2. Reduce stress
When life keeps piling on the BS, why not try sweating it out?
In a 2018 study of physically inactive, stressed adults, a 16-week hot yoga program reduced the participants’ stress levels significantly.
3. Burn calories
Hot yoga is a solid way to burn calories. A 2014 study found that, on average, women burned 330 calories and men burned 460 calories in a 90-minute Bikram sesh.
The hotter temp makes your body work harder than usual. So even if a hot yoga class is less intense than the standard Bikram fare, you’ll still burn more calories than you would in traditional yoga.
4. Help your cardiovascular health
The extra heat and humidity make yoga poses more challenging for your heart — a bonus if you want to kick your cardiovascular health up a notch.
A 2014 study found that one hot yoga session gets the heart pumping at the same rate as a brisk walk of 3.5 miles per hour.
5. Strengthen your bones
When planning your workout routine, you might focus on your muscles and joints and not give much thought to your bones.
But premenopausal women and older adults in particular should focus on building bone density, since it declines with age. (FYI: Women are at especially high risk for the bone-deteriorating disease osteoporosis.)
In a 2014 study, premenopausal women who practiced Bikram yoga over a 5-year period had increased bone density in their lower back, hips, and neck.
6. Lower your blood sugar
If you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes, you might reap extra benefits from hot yoga.
To be clear: Any type of exercise will help reduce glucose levels in your bloodstream. But a 2013 study found that a short-term hot yoga program boosted glucose tolerance especially well in older adults with obesity.
7. Helps with relaxation and mood
Yoga originated in ancient India, where the practice was much more than physical exercise — it had a meditative and spiritual purpose. Today, it’s still well-known for its relaxation and mood-boosting benefits.
Of course, depression isn’t one-size-fits-all: What works for someone else might not be your thing. Yoga is not a magical elixir for flawless mental health and serenity, but it just might give you some relief.
8. Nourish your skin and immune system
Don’t let getting soaked by your own perspiration deter you from turning up the heat — the extra sweat is kinda the point.
Sweating in a hot environment can boost your circulation, which helps your immune system work its best. It also can help nourish your skin from the inside out, giving you a rosy glow. Who needs makeup?
Here’s what to remember before you get your poses on:
- Dehydration is a legit concern in hot yoga. Drink water before, during, and after class to stay hydrated. An electrolyte drink can also help.
- Fainting during hot yoga is more likely for folks with preexisting health conditions. If you have heart disease, diabetes, anorexia nervosa, arterial abnormalities, or a history of fainting, you may want to talk with your doctor before heading to class.
- If you have low blood sugar or low blood pressure, you may experience lightheadedness or dizziness. Talk with your doc before trying hot yoga.
- If you’re pregnant, chat with a medical pro and your instructor before heading to class.
- If you struggle with heat intolerance, hot yoga might not be right for you.
- If you feel dizzy, nauseated, or lightheaded during class, take a break right away. Drink some water and leave the room for a cooler area.
Hot yoga can be tough on all first-timers, so don’t sweat it if you’re struggling. (JK — you’ll be sweating a lot!)
If you’re new to yoga, you might want to try a regular class first to learn the ropes. As you get more comfortable, you can work your way up to the hot stuff.
Once you’re ready for the warmer temps, follow these pro tips for a successful first class:
- Wear lightweight fabrics that are sweat-resistant. Gear designed specifically for yoga should do the trick.
- Bring a towel to put on your yoga mat to avoid slippage. An extra towel for your face and hands is ideal.
- Bring a large water bottle — preferably one that’s insulated so your H2O stays cool. You’re gonna need it.
- Take a break if you need one. It’s not unusual for newcomers to lie down during their first session.
Like regular yoga and want to kick your workout up a notch? Hot yoga could be the right challenge for you.
Hot yoga helps burn calories, build bone density, get your heart pumping, and improve flexibility. It may also reduce stress and symptoms of depression.
If you have heart or artery conditions, diabetes, anorexia nervosa, a history of fainting, heat intolerance, or you’re pregnant, check with a medical professional before trying hot yoga. You should also chat with your instructor before class to ensure you can get the individualized support you might need.