One of my most rookie yoga errors was turning up to a Bikram class thinking it would be similar to my hot yoga flow. Despite both being practised in a hot room, these two sweaty styles of yoga couldnât be more different. Here, weâve outlined the benefits of each style, plus the differences to help you work out which is the best place for you to unroll your mat.
What is hot yoga?
As defined in Yogapedia, âhot yoga is a term that describes a number of different styles of yoga with one common element â that they are all practised in heated rooms with the temperature usually between 29 and 40 degrees celsiusâ. Compared to Bikram yoga, the heat in the room is usually cooler and less humid.
What are the benefits of hot yoga?
According to hot yoga teacher Cloudia Hill, the benefits of practising yoga in the heat are endless. The heat âimproves your circulation and immune system. As the heat warms the muscles, you can gain better flexibility as the muscles get used to being used. It aids weight loss as the postures lengthen and strengthen the muscles, toning the body.â
What postures do you focus on in hot yoga?
Unlike Bikram yoga, which focuses on a specific sequence of 26 postures, a hot yoga class will often be your normal vinyasa or yin yoga class, just in the heat. Hill explains, âin a hot yoga class you can expect more of a flow practice (vinyasa) and the sequences will change depending on the teacher weekly or daily.â
No two classes will be the same, so itâs a good idea to find an instructor and style you enjoy and get ready to sweat. Hill outlines how the postures of the class are âvery dependent on the teacher, their training and their background. I will pick a theme for the week and sequence my classes based on that theme, for example hip opening.â
If you are new to hot yoga, itâs a good idea to try a few different classes to find which is best suited to your goals. For example, if you are using yoga to lose weight and tone up, a hot vinyasa class will burn more calories than a more relaxing warm yin class.
How do I survive my first hot yoga class?
For complete beginners, one of the biggest struggles of a hot yoga class can be adjusting to the heat. Itâs a good idea to turn up hydrated, and bring some water with you to sip during the class should you need to. Remember that in hot yoga, if things get too much you can always return to childâs pose.
Another problem many beginners experience is sweaty hands slipping in postures. Hill recommends new hot yogis âinvest in a good yoga mat or towel. Your mat becomes your home, your safe place. It really is worth the investment if you enjoy hot yoga, as there is nothing worse than your whole practice becoming about not slipping in your downward dog.â
Hill teaches hot yoga at the Power Yoga Company in London.
What is Bikram yoga?
A form of yoga named after its founder, Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga is a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, practised at 40 degrees celcius with 40-50% humidity. We spoke to Melissa McIntyre, teacher and studio director at Bikram studio Hot Spot Yoga.
What are the benefits of Bikram yoga?
âBikram is extremely therapeutic, itâs healing, the heat allows the body to stretch safely, the sweating element of the practice is good for your skin and your circulation,â says McIntyre. âBikram increases lung capacity and is your cardio fitness, strength training, and high-intensity training all in one. The powerful poses are done in a system where you have full exertion, followed by a complete state of rest, so itâs 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a sequence that compresses and extends every part of your spine. Itâs just a great all over mind-body workout.â
What postures do you focus on in Bikram yoga?
The 26 postures of Bikram yoga are always performed in the same sequence. Each pose is usually held for around a minute, and in a class, youâll normally run through the sequence twice. If youâre used to practising other forms of yoga, this set routine can seem alien, but according to McIntyre, itâs part of the charm, as the stillness of the postures allow you to develop your practice.
âWhat I didnât like about flow classes is that they were very teacher-specificâ McIntyre says, âif the teacher changed, the class changed. I never felt like my mind was having a rest. I felt the same with Iyengar, with all the props, blocks, belts and adjustments. By the time I got into a posture I was gritting my teeth and frustrated. When I found Bikram it was just the mat and myself and that was my epiphany.â
If you want to look up the postures before you go, Yogapedia has listed the sequence, but often the best way to learn Bikram is to try it.
Why is the temperature important?
Whether or not youâve tried hot yoga before, the heat and humidity of a Bikram yoga class can feel overwhelming. McIntyre recommends that Bikram newbies spend their first few classes adjusting to the heat and focusing on their breath; âeven if you do other styles of yoga, the heat is the differentialâ. McIntyre also notes that, like anything new, beginners shouldnât get swept up in a studioâs free trial. Rather than try and do five classes a week, you should always ease yourself into the Bikram practice.
But why is the temperature so hot? McIntyre laughs, âthe reason that you can go hotter with the temperature is because of the isometric movements within the postures â itâs more strengthening through stillness. You couldnât have the heat in vinyasa because of the movement in vinyasa, itâs the way that the heat works with the body.â
What should you eat before a Bikram yoga class?
Beginners should arrive to their first Bikram class hydrated and not having just eaten a huge meal. Sometimes the heat can make you feel sick, so itâs better to opt for a handful of almonds or a banana rather than a full English.
Can you do Bikram yoga without the heat?
In a word, no. âThe heat is integral,'' McIntyre says, âthere are a few postures that you can do outside of the room, but we would always say that the safest environment is to do the yoga within a heated environment.â
According to McIntyre, the heat is what takes the sequence of 26 postures and makes it a complete practice. âThe heat takes Bikram to another level â a cellular level, the blood vessels open more, everything rises to the surface, your skin glows. Plus, sweating is so powerful â itâs mimicking your bodyâs immunity in terms of your body fights infection through raising its temperature.â
How can I work out which is best for me?
The best way to decide whether youâre more of a fan of hot yoga or Bikram is to try both. Both will normally cost around $20 a class, with a lot of studios often offering discounts to new members.
As a general guide, if youâre looking for something completely different to your normal vinyasa flow class, Bikram might be what youâre looking for. On the other hand, if youâre not a fan of humid heat, you might be more comfortable in a hot yoga class.
If you are pregnant, itâs a good idea to check with your doctor or midwife before attending a hot yoga or Bikram class.
Does the heat actually make a difference?
It might make you feel better, but what does the science say? Sadly for hot yoga addicts, the results arenât all that impressive. One study published in the journal Experimental Physiology compared healthy adults practising yoga in a hot room of 40.5Â°C for 90 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks, with a group of adults practising at room temperature (23Â°C).
These two groups were compared to a third group, who didnât practise any yoga. The results found that when concentrating on the vascular health of the adults, both groups who practiced yoga gained similar health benefits, whatever the temperature.
Another study funded by the American Council of Exercise also found no difference in heart rate or core body temperature in yogis practising at room temperature and in a warmer class. Obviously, those in the warmer room were sweatier, but when it comes to the cardiovascular benefits, there doesnât seem to be any.
Furthermore, many experts question the idea that sweating âflushes the body from toxins'', as by sweating we lose water, salt and magnesium from the body, none of which are toxic. The body also has the kidneys and liver to cleanse impurities from the system.
That said, practising yoga in the heat does have benefits â it increases your circulation, relaxes your muscles and helps you feel great post-savasana. Research into the benefits of sweaty yoga has looked into the natural antibiotic released in sweat â Dermcidin, which is thought to be most effective when it is allowed to pool on the skin.
Heat also increases the flow of lymph fluid in the body, which assists the immune system and helps the body repair. Plus, exercising in the heat has been found to increase endurance and the capacity to build muscle.
Despite being from different sides of the hot yoga mat, both McIntyre and Hill seem to agree on the power of heat and sweat in hot yoga. Both also agree on the idea that regular yoga practice is a lifestyle change; as you feel the benefits of the heat, your lifestyle becomes healthier. âI donât know if itâs the yoga or if the yoga is a placebo effectâ McIntyre adds, âbut all I know is that it works.â