Have You Tried Hot Yoga?

Several of my personal training clients in London do yoga between our weekly sessions, and one does Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, although strictly speaking they’re two subtly different disciplines.

If you’re looking for a new form of exercise, consider giving Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga a try. Bikram Yoga was invented by Bikram Choudhury (born 1946 in Calcutta, India). It’s a 90 minute yoga session performed in a heated room (95 – 105 degrees F) and also humid, and results in profuse sweating (some studios require you to bring your own mat and towel). There are 26 yoga poses performed twice, including 2 pranayama exercises, which are yoga breathing exercises. Pranayama is just one of the so-called ‘8 limbs of yoga’.

Neither Bikram Yoga or Hot Yoga are recommended for pregnant women, and if you have a hard time coping in the heat, it may not be for you. Make sure you drink plenty of water after the session to replace the water lost through sweating. In addition, you need to replenish your electrolytes lost through sweating, so eat a banana.

Many people have reported great benefits from regular sessions: greater muscle flexibility, less stressed, more patient, better concentration, some feel the day after a session like they’ve had a a deep tissue massage, joint/muscle healing effects. Many describe it as demanding but soothing at the same time.

What’s the difference between Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga?

Bikram Yoga is only taught by instructors trained in the very prescribed Bikram method, according to a rigid script, with no deviation from the Bikram method allowed. Some feel that this results in the instructor coming across as mean, or too strict. Hot Yoga is similar (hot room, similar effects) but Hot Yoga instructors are not affiliated with the Bikram organisation, and not allowed to call themselves Bikram instructors. Some say that Hot Yoga is more flexible, more relaxed, more holistic, and open to variations according to the preferences of each class of students in any particular session.

Some claim that the profuse sweating has a great detox effect, but this is a bit of a myth. Real detoxification can only occur when toxins are eliminated in the urine and faeces. There may be some minor detox through sweating, but this is not the primary benefit. The indirect and longer term detox effect may be to make your body work more optimally, including your liver and kidneys, which in turn will enable you to eliminate toxins more efficiently.

Does Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga help you lose weight? To the extent that it relaxes the muscles, helps remove muscle knots over time, and boosts circulation, these benefits make the body a more efficient fat-burning machine. There is also some muscle-toning effect, and the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate, and the more fat you’ll burn. Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga are not the greatest muscle-builders though. And the cardiovascular exercise effect is not as great as going for a run. So don’t rely on this form of exercise alone for weight loss. It should be part of a wider programme of varied exercise, which should definitely include resistance training with dumbbells, exercise machines, and  bodyweight.

Does the heat-effect of Hot Yoga make it a better fat-burner than Ashtanga yoga with its higher tempo of ‘asanas’? Opinion is divided. Some argue that the heat makes your body burn calories faster, as your body is working hard to cool you down. Others say that the heat gives you the illusion that you’re working harder than you are, and that your main focus is on not passing out in the heat.

Will regular weekly Bikram or Hot yoga sessions encourage you to eat more healthily? The discipline of 90 minutes exercise in this heated environment may well help you develop the mental toughness and healthy-mindset to stick to a more nutritious diet. And this form of yoga almost certainly relieves stress, which will reduce stress-related food binges. There are more and more Hot Yoga centres opening up in London, so we’re spoilt for choice. If you think you can stand the heat, give it a try!

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London