Bikram Hot yoga uses a series of 26 asanas, or poses, conducted in a studio with temperatures of up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and was developed by yoga master Bikram Choudhury, who brought it to the U.S. in 1973. Hot yoga incorporates controlled breathing as students transition between poses to achieve flexibility and mental clarity. “Hot yoga” has become a generic term, and without the qualifier of “Bikram,” the class most likely is not taught by someone certified through Bikram’s school.
The idea behind practicing yoga in a hot studio is to cleanse the body of toxins through sweat. By performing the linked poses in a heated studio, the risk of injury is substantially reduced because the body is already warmed up and the muscles are ready to be stretched and challenged. Some students attend hot yoga classes strictly with weight loss in mind; in a typical session, participants can expect to burn between 400 to 1,200 calories. Practicing the poses consistently three to four times a week will improve muscle memory and increase the students’ ability to perform the asanas correctly and fluidly for optimal flexibility.
Hot yoga is not for everyone, however. Although each class begins with simple poses, the asanas gradually increase in terms of difficulty and could exacerbate pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and heat-related disorders. Women who are pregnant should consider how hot yoga increases the body’s core temperature, which could lead to developmental issues in the fetus. Be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning any kind of exercise regimen, including hot yoga.
Hot yoga has come under fire recently from traditional adherents with the idea of competition. Although the goal of yoga has always been one of spiritual awakening through practice, deep breathing and meditative focus, there is an international movement afoot in hot yoga that advocates competition, even creating a new category in the Olympics. Performing the postures correctly is the goal of all yoga students; whether they want to take it on-stage in a series of compulsory asanas is the individual’s choice. However, this idea of competitive yoga is nothing new: the founder of “hot yoga,” Bikram Choudhury, was the youngest yoga champion in India and called the “Yogi Raj” at the age of 14.