Yoga is the integration of mindful breathing with movement that cultivates strength, flexibility, stamina, balance and nurtures not only our physical but also psychological well-being. There are many different styles of yoga practiced in the West. One of these styles, “hot yoga”, is strongly influenced by a philosophy that suggests practicing yoga in an artificially heated environment will more quickly and effectively generate the benefits associated with a yoga practice.
Bikram yoga is popular within the hot yoga community. It is a style of yoga that consists of 26 specific poses practiced for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity. Bikram yoga is distinguished from “hot yoga” in that the latter often entails shorter classes with less heat and more variety of poses. Hot yoga is associated with many benefits ranging from improved flexibility, strength, cardiovascular conditioning, increased blood circulation, as well as detoxification and stress reduction.
So…why the heat??
The artificial heat and humidity primes the body for elimination of toxins through activation of the lymphatic system, and increases blood circulation, which supports the metabolic processes of organs and glands. In addition, the heart rate will increase when activity is done in the heat, which is thought to increase cardiovascular activity and metabolism thereby aiding in toning of the body and weight loss.
The heat is also thought to enhance the immune system, promote relaxation, and address symptoms of chronic disease such as chronic pain, carpal tunnel, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Moreover, the artificial heat creates an environment in which the student will learn to surrender to and let go of attachment to external distractions. This, in turn, cultivates the practice of mindfulness, a main pillar of yoga.
Interestingly, many of the benefits associated with hot yoga are just as likely to be generated in a traditional yoga class. For example, other styles of yoga such as Power Yoga and Vinyasa cultivate similar benefits with asanas practiced in a room with little (e.g., room heated to 85 degrees) to no artificial heat. In fact, scientific studies have documented the benefits of traditional yoga (without the heat), such as reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels, blood pressure, and chronic pain, and an improvement in flexibility, balance, strength, cardio, stamina, and overall emotional well-being. It is arguable that the artificial heat can function to mask injuries, thereby giving the student a false sense of increased flexibility and the ability to go deeper into a pose. In addition, a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity may work to exacerbate symptoms in students with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and low blood pressure.
Taking online yoga classes can be an optimal way to ignite, support, and strengthen your practice, and can be done effectively in a non-heated environment. The best online yoga videos are those that tailor the practice to your individual needs and allow space for you to explore the practice while honoring where you are in that moment. In other words, you are not being forced into a specific pose and asked to do the pose in a way that is consistent with a particular yoga style’s dogma or philosophy.
Students can access a wide variety of power yoga videos that honor students’ uniqueness at Power Yoga on Demand.