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The health benefits of practicing hot yoga

Maggie Giuffrida is a graduate of The University of Arizona where she earned a degree in journalism. She is a contributing writer for SheKnows, specializing in health and fitness. Maggie is a certified yoga instructor and health and well...

It’s getting hot in here — literally!

Sun salutations are hard enough on their own, so why add 100 degrees? Well, the answer is simple — it’s the benefits, of course!
Woman doing hot yoga

As a certified yoga instructor and self-proclaimed “hot yogi,” I can assure you that there are many benefits to practicing Bikram and hot yoga. But of course, those benefits don’t come without a few precautions as well. Read on for the 411 on how to practice safe hot yoga.

The difference between hot yoga and Bikram yoga

Bikram yoga, which is the practice of 26 postures selected and developed by Bikram Choudhury and derived from hatha yoga, takes place in studios with temperatures set around 105 degrees F with 40 percent humidity. Hot yoga, like Bikram, is also practiced in a heated room, usually maintained at a temperature of around 95 to 100 degrees F.

Unlike Bikram however, hot yoga isn’t based on of the same 26-posture series. Instead, it tends to be more of a flowing vinyasa style practice, similar to a dance, linking one pose to the next. In both Bikram and hot yoga, the heated rooms help promote sweating and warm up the body to increase flexibility with less risk for injury.

"One of the benefits to many hot yoga classes is the routine is repetitive. When you are doing the same poses repeatedly, you can begin to see where you are today in relation to yesterday," said Mandy Ingber, fitness expert and author of Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover.

The benefits of a really hot room

Practicing yoga in a heated room increases your pulse rate and metabolism, allowing your blood vessels to become more flexible and making your bod burn some major calories! This in turn makes circulation easier and increases blood flow to the limbs.

"Hot yoga is amazing for weight loss, as you sweat like a fiend. Like other yogas, it will build muscle tone [but will also] improve the lymphatic system and flush out toxins. It's amazing for developing equanimity in the face of adversity and obstacles," says Ingber.

Hot yoga goes above and beyond when it comes to relieving stress and building inner confidence. This practice is the true definition of “mind over matter.” The endorphin rush you receive after completing 60- to 90-minute sweat session will leave you feeling like there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

While I’m a huge fan of hot yoga, there are definitely some precautions you should take in order to stay safe. Read the tips below before turning up the heat in your practice!

1

Stay hydrated

Ingber recommends drinking 2 to 3 liters throughout the day. You will undoubtedly sweat more during these types of classes than in most other forms of exercise, so it’s very easy to become dehydrated. It is extremely important that you drink plenty of water before, during and after your practice.

"Everyone is encouraged to drink at least eight glasses of fluids per day in general," says yoga expert and director of SpaHalekulani, Kamala Nayeli. "When you exercise, this amount should increase by two to three cups. If you raise your core temperature or partake in a hot yoga class, I would [also] recommend including a small dose of salt prior to the class. Or have a natural 'sports drink' that will replenish the sodium you lose when sweating."

2

The rules for eating before hot yoga

It is important to avoid eating too much or too little before participating in a hot yoga class, which can be a tricky task to master. Nayeli suggests avoiding heavy foods, but encourages light snacks before yoga classes to properly fuel your body.

"Fruit, particularly those that have a high water content such as watermelon, or sodium content like bananas [are great to eat before class]," she says. "Dried fruit is good, too (figs, raisins, apricots, etc.). Seeds and nuts are also great. However, I would limit the dairy intake before class."

Ingber agrees and recommends snacks like half a banana, melon or almonds.

3

Listen to your body

It is important not to overexert during hot yoga classes. The warm temperatures and practice of poses can make your body feel looser and more flexible than normal, which can make it easier to pull a muscle. Be mindful of your body and try not to overstretch or push yourself too far when first starting out.

Gradually let yourself experiment with poses as your body adjusts and becomes more accustomed to the atmosphere and workout. If you feel any symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as dizziness, nausea, headache, confusion, poor vision or weakness, stop your practice and immediately leave the room.

"Personally, I do not recommend hot yoga for beginners," says Nayeli. "Rather, it's something to build yourself up to. Every body is different and not always suitable for such an intense workout in such intense heat. I have seen some harsh and concerning reactions in class with people not realizing what to expect, and then they feel they need to 'keep up' with the rest of the class even though their body is saying 'take a break.' "

Ingber says one of her main concerns for hot yogis is the strict guidelines a studio may have about staying in the room. "It's really important to listen to your body more than the teacher."

4

Check with your doctor

If you have any injuries or health concerns, such as diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, or a history of heat-related illness, make sure to get your doctor’s OK before practicing hot yoga.

Fun fact

According to Kamala Nayeli, a person can expect to burn anywhere between 500 to 1,000 calories during a hot yoga class, depending on their metabolic rate. Talk about sweating your butt off!

More yoga advice

The yoga butt-lift
Where to do yoga online
Moksha yoga: A new kind of yoga

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