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Hot yoga is an exercise program in which participants perform a series of yoga poses, or asanas, and breathing exercises, or pranayama, in a heated studio. According to the developers of this exercise system, these high temperatures enhance the health benefits ordinarily achieved through yoga workouts. In addition to improving muscle tone and flexibility, hot yoga is said to promote circulation, cleanse the body of toxins, and increase lung function.
Calcutta-born yoga practitioner Bikram Choudhury pioneered the concept of hot yoga in the 1970s. Convinced of yoga’s power to heal injury when performed in certain conditions, Choudhury developed a highly regimented program consisting of 26 asanas and two pranayama. He directed that this circuit should be performed in a room heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius), with a humidity of 40 percent. Choudhury claimed that this system, which he called Bikram Yoga®, boosted the oxygen content of the blood as well as the body’s ability to circulate the blood. As a result, regular practitioners would experience an overall improvement in bodily health and general well being.
The Bikram Yoga® concept steadily began gaining popularity in the US around the start of the 21st century. Choudhury mandates, however, that the Bikram Yoga® label cannot be used by a studio unless the class’s instructor has completed a nine-week training course which he offers several times each year at various locations in the US. In addition, all classes using the Bikram Yoga® name must adhere exactly to the circuit of poses and breathing exercises that Choudhury designed.
Bikram-based classes which are taught by uncertified instructors or which modify Choudhury’s prescribed series of movements are known as hot yoga. In most cases, hot yoga classes preserve the basics of the Bikram workout, particularly the high temperature aspect. Unrestricted by the Bikram label, however, instructors may adapt their classes to vary the number or order of the poses performed, or even introduce elements of other yoga disciplines.
For beginners, the extreme heat of the studio makes hot yoga classes quite challenging. Many report feelings of faintness and nausea during their first few sessions. No matter their level of experience, hot yoga practitioners lose a significant amount of fluid during each workout, and thus should take care to stay hydrated. Hot yoga enthusiasts claim that the sustained sweat experienced during a workout promotes good health by ridding the body of toxins.