Hot Yoga or ‘Hot’ Yoga?

Hot Yoga has made an explosion in its popularity at yoga studios around the world since the early 2000’s. But what is Hot Yoga? Here is an in-depth look at what separates Hot Yoga from ‘Hot’ Yoga and really makes a Hot Yoga Studio unique.

Lady Gaga in Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
Photo credit; unknown

Due to it’s increase in popularity, yoga studios all over have begun adding and advertising their own versions of hot yoga, but what is hot yoga?  Are all hot yoga classes equal and feature the same benefits to students? Not to sound elitist, but no, not all hot yoga classes are created equal and not all hot yoga classes feature the same benefits.

So, if you just take the term, ‘Hot Yoga’, technically any yoga performed in an artificially heated environment is hot yoga.  However, this is far from the principle that makes Original Hot Yoga so successful.

Hot yoga first appeared in the United States in the 1970’s. It was a concept brought to North America by Indian National and yoga competitor Bikram Choudhury. Bikram created a class sequence of 26 hatha yoga postures and 2 breathing exercises, conducted over 90 minutes.  This sequence was designed to address some of the common conditions that affect modern western society. Conditions such as poor posture, chronic pain, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and a loss of mental focus to name a few. Celebrities such as Michael Douglas and Shirley MacLaine were some of the first adopters of the Bikram practice in the Hollywood scene. Since then, others such as George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston, David Beckham, Lady Gaga and more have practiced and touted the benefits of this practice.  

Until the late 2000’s, Bikram Yoga was equivalent to “hot yoga”.  The unparallelled benefits and worldwide popularity inspired many to try to imitate it and name classes “hot yoga”. But it’s not the heat that makes hot yoga successful. It’s the sequence of 26 postures designed to work and stimulate all of the bodies systems that’s made the program so beneficial. By following this proven structured sequence millions of students have improved their bodies and lifestyles. Love him or hate him, there is no denying the Bikram scripted yoga sequence works.

So why the heat?

Hot Yoga Studio beginner yoga classes Newcastle Upon Tyne Northeast

A Hot Yoga studio is ideally heated to 36-40*c with a humidity of at least 40% so that the muscles of the body are able to be more relaxed. This means students can gain more benefit from their practice by getting deeper expressions of postures with a lower risk of injury.  Practicing in a heated environment also helps with activating the lymphatic system, which aids in the elimination of toxins, as well as increasing blood circulation and helping to support the metabolic process of the body. With an increase in heart rate as a result of activity in the heat, increased metabolism and cardiovascular activity aid with toning and weight loss.

It is important to understand, however, that while the heat is created and used for positive effects, like anything if the temperature or the humidity become too high they can result in negative effects.  By undertaking specific teacher training for hot environments, hot yoga teachers are able to understand the delicate balance required in controlling the climate of the studio. As the class progresses they are able to adjust and maintain the required 36-40*c and 40% humidity, without the students becoming overwhelmed.

With the growing popularity of Bikram Yoga, many standard yoga studios and teachers took on the idea of heating the studio as part of their practice, and some teaching schools took the principals of the practice and evolved it into new forms of the structured Hot Yoga sequencing.

Hot 26 vs Hot 50

Due to trademark restrictions around the Bikram name, this practice can often be found referred to as Hot 26.  The sequence starts with a warm-up breathing exercise; stretching the lungs and warming up the spine, before moving onto balance and strengthening postures.  Half of the practice is considered a ‘standing series’ with the second half coming down onto the mat for a ‘floor series’ which centres around deeper strengthening and stretching after the body has been sufficiently warmed up.  

Absolute Hot 50, follows the idea behind the Hot 26 structured, scripted sequence practiced over 90 minutes, but incorporates more postures into both the standing and floor series.  The Hot 50 sequence is designed to increase the flow through the practice, working on shoulder and core strengthening, hip opening postures, as well as a few more shoulder and hamstring stretches.

Both of these programs differ from other advertised ‘hot yoga’ practices. Other classes are generally a shorter, 45-60 minutes duration. However the biggest differences is these other ‘hot yoga’ classes do not follow any pre-designed structure. The class is never the same and is left to the discrepancy of the teacher. Not following a standard class script makes it difficult for students to build upon their successive practices and makes it difficult to gauge personal feedback on how you are progressing from practice to practice. Many times these classes are not purposefully scripted to work with the heat, but rather are scripted to work towards a ‘peak posture’, and this means that they can lack balance in working the complete body system.  

Mirrors in the Hot Yoga Studio… are Hot Yoga Students Really Vain?

With the exception of the most attractive of super models on instagram, hot yoga is not glamorous. Think about it.  A room heated to 38°c, physical exertion means most hot yoga students are a gorgeous sweaty mess. But we’re not here to admire ourselves (or anyone else) during class, that’s what we do after class once we are all showered.  

During class the mirrors play an important part in everyone’s practice. The mirror’s job is to assist a student in being able to align their postures correctly. By following the Hot Yoga teachers dialog describing the posture, students use the mirror for self corrections  in real time during their practice. Helping to create a great focus point, the mirrors allow students to develop a strong sense of awareness while also being able to evaluate and see how their practice improves over time.

Bikram Hot Yoga Studio beginner yoga class

Other ‘hot yoga’ studios claim the mirrors are merely a distraction.  But most Hot Yoga students find the mirrors helpful. Along with self evaluation, many students find the mirrors create a focus point that helps as they meditate through their practice and assists with their balance.  True Hot Yoga studios invest and feature mirrors for all these reasons.

The added benefit of the mirrors in 2019 is you can get some truly cool social media photos.  But save these photo shoots for after class though to avoid disturbing your fellow yogis during their self-improvement and meditation.

So why not take some time for yourself and come join us and find out what all the fuss is really about.

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