It’s no secret that practising yoga can have powerful effects on our mental and physical health – and is often taught in schools, hospitals, or even prisons for that reason. Not only can it improve strength and flexibility, but it’s also an excellent way to calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety.

There are also many different types of yoga and one of the most popular today – and beneficial – is hot yoga.

But what exactly is hot yoga, and why is it so good for you? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is hot yoga?

What is hot yoga

Hot yoga is, like the name suggests, yoga that’s practised in a hot environment. Temperatures can vary across yoga studios but usually range between 27C and 38C.

Practising yoga with the heat turned up results in a much more intense workout and can have added benefits for your heart, lungs, and muscles.

The terms ‘hot yoga’ and ‘Bikram yoga’ are sometimes used interchangeably. But while both involve practising yoga in a hot room, there are key differences between them.

Bikram yoga is a far more specific form of yoga, where 26 poses and two breathing exercises are repeated continuously throughout a 90-minute class. Studios are heated to 40C, and it’s a very serious, near-silent practice – one that’s often described as ‘cult-like’. Chanting is also practised in Bikram yoga classes.

Bikram yoga has seen a big drop in popularity in recent years due to serious assault allegations against its founder Bikram Choudhury. And because of the controversy, many yoga studios moved to use the word ‘hot yoga’ to describe their heated sessions instead. But hot yoga is far more versatile than Bikram yoga – and more enjoyable too!

Hot yoga can include any style of yoga practice, and the room temperature, as well as the class length, can vary. This means it’s better suited for beginners who might want a less intense temperature and a shorter class.

Also, hot yoga tends to involve interaction between people and music is often played, meaning it feels far more relaxed.

What are the benefits of hot yoga?

What are the benefits of hot yoga

If yoga itself is so good for us, you might be wondering why there’s a need to turn the heat up. But because the heat makes things more challenging, it can provide additional benefits. Let’s take a look at some below.

1. Hot yoga can improve flexibility

It’s common knowledge that stretching when your muscles are warm is much safer than stretching muscles when they’re cold – which is why it’s so important to warm up before exercising. So, it makes sense that stretching when your entire body is warm, not just your muscles, can boost flexibility.

The higher heat can allow you to achieve a wider range of motion, making certain poses – particularly ones that require deep stretching – easier to get into. Because your muscles are more relaxed, difficult poses and positions can become more accessible, which improves flexibility.

There’s science to back this up too: one 2013 study found that after eight weeks of practising hot yoga, participants saw improved flexibility in their shoulders, lower back, and hamstrings compared to the control group who did yoga with no heat. The same participants also saw improved strength, as they could deadlift more weight after the eight weeks were up.

2. Hot yoga may build better bone density

Another perk of hot yoga is that it can improve bone mass. This is particularly important as we age because we start to lose bone density.

Women can also lose up to half their bone mass during menopause and are more at risk of developing osteoporosis – so it’s believed that hot yoga can be even more beneficial for women.

Studies show that because practising yoga in a heated environment can improve circulation, respiration, and perspiration, it can directly improve bone health. A 2014 study of women who practised forms of hot yoga over a five-year period found that they had increased bone mass in their neck, hips, and lower back.

3. Hot yoga may boost heart health

Hot yoga isn’t just good for bone health – it can also be good for heart health. The higher temperatures mean your heart needs to work harder to push more blood towards the skin to keep you cool. To achieve this, it beats faster, giving you an invigorating cardiovascular workout.

2014 study found that hot yoga gets your heart pumping at the same rate as walking briskly (3.5 miles per hour), and this was backed up in a further 2019 study. So, because both your heart and muscles are working harder, people can experience boosted heart rate, respiration, and metabolism too.

What are the benefits of hot yoga

4. Hot yoga can reduce stress

Yoga is a well-documented way of reducing stress levels, anxiety, and tension. As a general practice, it encourages you to look inwards and become more aware of the external factors causing your stress. And practising yoga regularly helps you understand how breathing and stillness can help both your body and mind relax.

But because the high temperatures of hot yoga make you focus more intently on your breathing, it can be even more beneficial for reducing stress. Deep, slow breathing is essential for relaxation and stress relief, and a 2017 study in the Journal of Mental Health found that just a single session of hot yoga can improve mood and reduce stress levels.

Another 2018 study of stressed yet sedentary adults found that a 16-week programme of hot yoga notably reduced the participants’ stress levels.

Yoga is also a great way to improve self-efficacy — the belief that you’re in control over your own behaviour and social environment, and this belief can make you feel more empowered and less stressed.

5. Hot yoga can burn more calories

While a standard yoga class can burn around 180 calories an hour, doing yoga in a hot environment can burn significantly more.

During a hot yoga class, you obviously sweat much more than you would in a traditional yoga class – and when you sweat, your body works harder to circulate more blood and regulate your temperature. This means you’ll burn more calories.

One study that was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that during a 90-minute Bikram yoga session, men burn around 460 calories and women around 330 (larger people burn calories more easily).

While Bikram yoga is usually more intense than an average hot yoga class, the high temperatures can still help you burn more calories than traditional yoga.

6. Hot yoga can improve skin health

Another unexpected perk of hot yoga is that it can actually improve both the look and overall health of your skin. One of the main points of hot yoga is to get you sweating, which improves circulation and boosts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your skin cells.

Not only does this give you a lovely post-yoga glow, but it can also nourish your skin from the inside. Sweating from exercise can encourage your skin to produce more collagen, which has been shown to improve skin hydration and elasticity.

7. Hot yoga can reduce blood sugar levels

While most people will benefit from hot yoga, it can be especially helpful for people with type 2 diabetes, or people who are at risk of developing it.

According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, participating in an eight-week hot yoga class improved glucose tolerance in older adults with obesity.

While hot yoga can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, it’s less effective at improving glucose tolerance in younger, leaner adults. However, for older adults who are overweight, hot yoga has been shown to be a particularly helpful tool.

Are there any dangers associated with hot yoga?

While science suggests that there are plenty of benefits to hot yoga, it’s also worth being aware of some of the potential risks if you’re thinking about giving it a go. These include…

  • A risk of overstretching. This is because the heat artificially warms muscles up and makes them looser than usual – making overstretching more likely.
  • Exhaustion and dehydration for some people, due to the extreme heat. Experts generally agree that people with heart or blood pressure problems and those who’ve previously suffered from heat stroke or intolerance, or problems with dehydration, should probably avoid hot yoga.
  • The risk of infection. Hot, humid studios can be a breeding ground for germs. So if attending a class, it’s important to look for studios that are clean and well-maintained. It can also help to use your own mat and towel.

How can I find a hot yoga class?

How can I find a hot yoga class

If you’re interested in hot yoga but are new to yoga altogether, then it’s best to try some regular unheated classes first to get used to the poses and breathing techniques. This is a gentler way to ease yourself in before you heat things up. Check out our introduction to yoga for some tips on finding your first class.

When you feel ready to try your first hot yoga class, it’s worth searching online for classes near you.

You can also use yoga directories and online platforms that specialise in yoga class listings. Websites like YogaFinder and YogaTrail allow you to search for yoga classes – including hot yoga – in specific locations. These platforms often provide detailed information about the studios, instructors, and class offerings.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can also be useful when looking for a hot yoga class. Try searching for local yoga studios or communities in your area and checking their posts or updates. Many studios and instructors use social media to promote their classes.

Once you have a list of potential options, it’s always best to compare their schedules, pricing, and any requirements. The yoga industry is unregulated, meaning there are no qualifications required by law to teach yoga. But, to get an idea of a studio’s reputation and the quality of its hot yoga classes, it can help to look for any reviews or testimonials.

It’s also worth finding out what temperature the room will be heated to and what style of yoga will be taught before you arrive so that you know what to expect.

Tips for your first hot yoga class

Tips for your first hot yoga class

To help make your first experience with hot yoga as safe and comfortable as possible, we’ve pulled together the following tips…

  • Choose a class with a lower heat to see how you cope with it, and whether you really need or want to up the temperature any further.
  • Rinse off any oils or body lotions that will make your skin more slippery once your body starts to sweat – so that you’re not sliding around.
  • Invest in a sticky yoga mat to prevent slipping as much as possible once you get sweaty.
  • Bring a towel and water bottle with you, and be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after the class.
  • Know your limits and take rest if you need to. Feeling light-headed or dizzy during a class is a sign that you need to take a break – or maybe even end the class early.
  • Wear something cool and comfortable. Tight-fitting, sweat-wicking clothing is recommended as looser clothing can trap heat.
  • Allow yourself time to adjust to the environment – if you need to sit still for portions of the class and practise breathing, then that’s okay.
  • Avoid overstretching by easing gently into poses.

Final thoughts…

As we’ve seen, hot yoga can be an excellent way to improve both your physical and mental health. While any type of yoga is good for you, the sweating involved in hot yoga returns even more benefits, like improved cardiovascular health, skin, and bone health, as well as reduced stress levels.

It’s also a great way to get the body sweating without doing intense exercise – because while you sweat just as much as you would if you were out on a run, you’re still doing a much gentler workout.

However, due to the high temperatures, hot yoga isn’t for everyone. If you have heart or blood pressure problems, have experienced previous heat injury or heat intolerance, or have problems with dehydration, you should probably give hot yoga a miss. It’s worth speaking to your doctor if you’re unsure whether it’s right for you.

Even if you’re in good health, it’s important to listen to your body when trying hot yoga for the first time. If you start to feel light-headed, it’s perfectly fine to step outside the room for a few minutes. Breathe deeply, be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after; and remind yourself that your body will adjust to the heat.

Because you’ll be sweating, it’s best to bring a sticky yoga mat so you’re not slipping around, and wear shorts or fitted clothes that allow breathability. And remember to bring a towel!

For more yoga content, you might want to check out our article; 7 healing yoga poses for the mind and body.