Getting sweaty in a hot yoga studio has been one of the biggest fitness trends of the last decade. The mental, physical and spiritual practice has fans all over the world, from Meghan Markle (aka the Duchess of Sussex) to Lady Gaga.
But what's all the hype about?
We asked experts to fill us in on just what hot yoga entails, why people love it and how to set yourself up for success if you decide to try it out.
What is hot yoga?
In a broad sense, hot yoga is exactly what it sounds like: yoga in a heated room. As the popularity of the practice has increased, it's expanded to include different variations of hot yoga classes.
Originally created in the '80s by yogi Bikram Choudhury, hot yoga was "really his way of trying to mimic the heat in India that allowed him to feel like he could get deeper into postures a little bit easier," says Dr. Christa Kuberry, a vice president at Yoga Alliance.
Today, the Bikram style of hot yoga consists of a series of 26 postures. In hot yoga classes not labeled as Bikram, you will find the same elements of heat and humidity but the postures and flow of the class will stray from the Bikram series.
"I would say that in general hot yoga is when you are doing an elevated practice," says Sarah Levey, CEO and co-founder of Y7 Studio.
At Y7, for example, hot yoga is done in the vinyasa style, meaning that your movements flow from pose to pose partnered with your breath, with one breath corresponding to one movement.
Who is hot yoga best for?
In general, Levey says, “It’s really great for anyone."
Dr. Edward Laskowski, co-director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine, agrees that if you're a person who likes hot yoga, it's a good way to get exercise.
"A lot of the postures require and improve stability and muscle strengthening," he says.
One of the biggest benefits of hot yoga is that it allows your muscles to heat up and relax much more quickly than they would in a traditional yoga class. This can make hot yoga a great supplement for someone who is an avid runner or loves strength training.
"Heat, in general, dilates the blood vessels so it brings blood flow to the muscles," Laskowski says. "Muscles need blood flow when they are working, they need oxygen that is delivered by the blood. Many people like to exercise in a hot environment because it loosens up the muscle."
Hot yoga is also a cardiovascular workout.
"The demands of the poses and also the hot environment you are in raises the heart rate so you are getting some cardiovascular or heart conditioning in there," Laskowski explains.
Research is still being done to better understand even more of the potential benefits of hot yoga, but, according to Kuberry, some have seen skin improvement (specifically those with eczema) and a feeling of detoxification.
Who should avoid hot yoga?
There are risks involved in practicing hot yoga for those with specific health issues.
According to Laskowski, pregnancy, heart disease, dehydration, heat intolerance or a prior stroke would be cause for concern and these are just some of the potential conditions that may affect your ability to practice. If you have questions about the potential risks, consult your physician before trying a hot yoga class.
Overall, Laskowski says, "If you have no health concerns, you don’t have any problems with heat-related illness and that is what you like to do, it probably is OK."
How hot are we talking?
Just as the class structures can vary, the temperature of the room can as well.
Kuberry advises that Bikram studios are generally heated to between 106-109 degrees with 40% humidity. Y7 Studios heat its classes from 80-90 degrees.
There are also different ways to heat the studio. The traditional method is to use a hot yoga-specific heater which pumps in hot air as well as a humidifier, but at Y7 and many other modern hot yoga studios, the rooms are heated with infrared heat.
"Infrared heat actually heats you from the inside out," Levey says. "If you held your hand up to an infrared heater, you wouldn’t actually feel any air coming out."
With this style of heating, she claims that you sweat out less water and a larger percentage of oils and toxins.
Studios often advertise how they heat their rooms and the temperature. Before you try a new class, you should ask the studio about the temperature so you can mentally prepare for your workout.
What are some best practices for before and after a hot yoga class?
Make sure you have enough water, both before and during the class. Levey, Kuberry and Lastowski all agree that staying hydrated is one of the most important elements of practicing hot yoga.
"Know that it is a pretty extreme environment so to be prepared for that both mentally, emotionally and physically," says Kuberry. "The biggest thing is just the hydration piece."
Going into the room dehydrated puts you at greater risk of experiencing heat-related issues or fainting.
"It is going to be a lot more difficult so just have the courage," says Levey.
After class, Levey says she likes to get her sugar levels back up with a healthy snack like an apple.
You also want to avoid any shock to your muscles that could come with a rapid variation in temperature after a hot yoga class.
"I would suggest if you are going out of the room to not go into another extreme temperature. If you are going outside in the cold, make sure to put your jacket on; things like that," says Kuberry.
Still on the fence?
If you don't have health concerns and you're still curous, Levey recommends going for it. "I would say just try it," she says. "You never know unless you get in there."