It’s getting hot in here: Why it’s worth getting steamy with yoga

What’s actually the point of getting drenched while you stretch?

Steven Bond

Published: Updated:

The first rule of hot yoga club is no secret: You sweat. Rest assured it’s all very much par for the course, but what’s actually the point of getting drenched while you stretch?

Some consider it a mystical ritual and others scoff at it being a novel fad, but hot yoga is enticing hordes of yogis from all walks of life. Hundreds and thousands are turning up the heat to get extra supple while they stretch, and it’s usually at a 90-minute Bikram Yoga session – in a controlled environment of 40°C (104°F) with a humidity of 40 percent. Bikram is the most popular variant of hot yoga, developed in California during the ‘70s, before yoga became a global phenomenon in all its forms.

Meet Mr. Choudhury

Bikram Choudhury originally hails from Calcutta, India, but began his real legacy (and fortune) after emigrating to the Golden State of California. Now 72, Choudhury began his journey yoga at four years old, spending 4-6 hours a day practicing the art at a young age before eventually developing his own system. Basing it on uniformity, heat and humidity, he developed a sequence of 26 beginner asanas (postures) that are still to this day taught by officially certified instructors.

Several decades and more than one and a half thousand yoga studios later, the name “Bikram” has become synonymous with hot yoga, though it’s simply a popular, tried and tested brand – not an entirely unique concept. Other schools and systems may offer variety in terms of the movements, duration and conditions, but the premise is essentially the same; stretch and sweat.

What are the benefits of hot yoga?

A 2013 study by the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that healthy adults who practiced Bikram yoga three times per week for eight weeks were able to lose a modest amount of body fat, with men burning 460 calories and women burning 330 calories during a 90-minute session. For context, that’s roughly the same amount of energy you’d use on a brisk walk for the same amount of time.

But it’s not just about burning fat. Many people practice hot yoga because it allows you to develop flexibility and negate the physical ailments typically sustained during long-term office work or a sedentary lifestyle. The warm environment helps you to get limber and enter positions that would otherwise be too challenging, and many practitioners also report stress-relieving benefits.

Are there any drawbacks?

Excessive sweating can of course result in dehydration, but it’s common sense to drink water before and after each session. Any nausea or dizziness associated with the hot and humid environment may be combated by eventual acclimatisation but if the symptoms persist, it might not be for you. Anyone with heart complications should also consult a physician before attempting Bikram yoga, as the sustained heat could cause complications. It’ss simply worth trying for yourself and finding out how your own body responds – to the environment, the asanas, and the focus of the session.

We spoke to a Bikram practitioner to find out a little more. Laila Banki trained as a yoga instructor in Los Angeles before founding Bikram Yoga Middle East in Dubai.

What are the benefits of the heated room?

It allows you to sweat more, which itself is a great benefit. It also gets you into the postures easier because when you’re sweaty you’re even more flexible. If you try to practise Bikram Yoga in a normal room, it’s just not possible.

Did you choose to become a Bikram Yoga instructor for those reasons?

I actually had a horse riding accident and had two spine surgeries just so I could walk. At the time I wasn’t yet an instructor but I forced myself into the room and [at first] all I could was flatten my hands on the floor. But little by little, every day, I got better and better. People told me not to go and finally I ended up doing everything just as well as before. I just had so much passion to learn and that led me to teach.

Is there a benefit to having a set routine?

The postures are not something he created so it’s not like [Bikram] could get a patent on it, but he was the first to use the heated room. You want to master the same postures each time and our clients have complained when we’ve switched to different type of yoga. The benefits are significant. You’ll lose weight and it will leave you feeling good, helping with issues like insomnia and stress. Your appetite can end up being less or more, depending on what you need, and your muscles will get toned and your skin will get cleaner.