Hot yoga is a fitness trend which has really caught on all around the world over the past few years, and remains increasingly popular with celebrities and fitness trendsetters. There are some strong claims about the benefits that hot yoga can bring, and more and more gyms have started to offer this type of class.
Naturally, I was curious whether hot yoga is really as ‘hot’ (literally and metaphorically speaking) as it says on the tin. Can it really help detoxify the body, lead to enhanced flexibility, literally melt any excess fat off, and give us super lean and toned physiques? Or will it give us the same net results as ‘ordinary’ yoga would, just with a slightly higher price tag attached to it?
I decided to find out the truth once and for all, by embarking on a sweaty experiment at The Fitness Space gym. This small gym studio is owned by Tim Benjamin, former international Olympic runner on the 400m distance. The gym is nestled amongst the beautiful rolling hills of Hughenden Valley and currently runs two one hour hot yoga sessions a week (as well as many other type of classes).
My hot yoga experience
I have tried various forms of yoga before, on and off, and in many different gyms, so I was looking forward to trying out something slightly different! In total, I have done 3 classes so far at the time of writing this article, so that I could form an honest view of whether hot yoga and I were meant for each other or not.
Each time I arrived at the studio, I was very much looking forward to ‘defrosting’ in the warmth and having a ‘good stretch’, after spending my mornings flipping giant truck tyres or lunge walking with some heavy duty kegs in the gym I normally go to.
I have to say, it was a really pleasant feeling to walk in from the freezing cold into tropical temperatures of around 40 C degrees. Hot it felt indeed – memories of our holiday in Egypt started to emerge when my Hubby and I took a day trip into the desert. However, I found that after I spent at least 5 minutes in there (in the classroom, not in the desert!), it became slightly more bearable. In fact, even preferable to the frosty conditions outside. The classroom had a very intimate atmosphere with the main lights off, and only some colourful ones switched on to create a very relaxing environment for our yoga practice. I also liked the fact that the room could only fit in a handful of people which gave our teacher Emily the opportunity to give us some personalised tips when it came to holding trickier poses.
Although I was familiar with the majority of the moves Emily guided us through (such as sun salutation sequences, tree pose and other balancing challenges, twists, warrior variations, core strength and many others), what I found most challenging was to deal with the heat. As a runner, I tend to struggle in hot conditions – my heart rate goes up much quicker, I feel I am working harder than normal, yet I am running slower than in cooler conditions, according to my GPS watch. During the hot yoga classes, I tried to overcome the challenges that the heat presented by regularly sipping water and by wearing as little clothing as I could get away with. I was glad I had opted to wear a practical Nike Pro sports bra and some fitted pants with breathable and sweat wicking material from the same brand, otherwise I could have easily overheated.
Even though we had been warned that we would be able to stretch further than normal, thanks to our muscles being quite warm, I still found it quite astonishing how flexibly, easily and gracefully I was able to hold poses and move between them. As a runner, a frequent gym goer, and someone who spends way too much time sitting behind her desk during the day, I often feel quite stiff and ‘rusty’. This is despite the regular foam rolling and stretching I do, in an attempt to maintain reasonable flexibility. During the classes, thanks to the heat, it felt like I had been given a new body because all that tightness and rustiness started to gradually disappear. Even the usual tightness around my left knee started to ease up (on one occasion I actually managed to lower myself into a really deep squat with no discomfort, which I had not been able to do for a long time.) Whilst I was very happy to register these effects, I was also trying to pay attention to how my body was feeling. Emily did say to us at the beginning that a common mistake people make is listening to their ego and not to their body – as a result, you could end up overstretching and even hurting yourself.
At the end of the classes, I always felt I had a really good sweat and left feeling extremely refreshed, re-energised and light for the rest of the day, both mentally and physically speaking.
Proven benefits and myths of hot yoga
I have personally started to see the same benefits from hot yoga as from doing other types of yoga before – it is a great way to improve your flexibility, strengthen and lengthen your muscles and to enhance mental clarity. However, the key difference is that I feel that the heat in particular helped prepare my body better for the poses and moves by making my muscles more supple. As a result, I feel I could get more out of my practice, having a much better experience overall. Last but not least, it has also been nice to indulge in tropical temperatures when the weather is turning so cold and grotty outside day by day!
In terms of the claim that hot yoga helps flush out toxins from the body, I would say that though some toxins do get eliminated through perspiration, the vast majority are processed by your liver and then excreted through urine and stool. Perhaps hot yoga is not the best investment of your time and money if you are looking to embark on a massive New Year detox cleanse – you might want to explore some dietary methods instead.
Also, a lot of people tend to think that the degree of their sweat equals to the quality of their workout, however, in reality, sweating does not correlate to burning significantly more calories. Perhaps this notion derives from the fact that when we are in hot conditions, we have a natural tendency to drink more water and our appetite may decrease as well. Therefore we may naturally end up consuming less calories or opt for lighter food. Again, if maximising your calorie burn/fat loss is your priority, you might want to sign up for a spinning, HIIT or boxing class instead, or something similar.
Hot yoga top tips
If you are ready to turn up the heat with some hot yoga this winter, I have come up with a few tips based on my own experience. Hopefully, these will help you finish your yoga practice feeling energized and invigorated and not like a steamed carrot:-
- Hygiene first – bring your own mat and always make sure to wipe it clean after the session.
- Safety next – invest into a thicker mat which provides good traction for maximum comfort. Puddles of sweat and water may end up on the floor, leading to slip hazard.
- Remove any lotions or oils which could make your skin even more slippery once you start to sweat. Trust me on this!
- Pack a small towel to mop those sweaty parts.
- Sip some water before, throughout and after the session to avoid getting dehydrated. Try not to go overboard drinking too much, though.
- Feel free to take a break whenever you need to. Go into child’s pose or step outside the room into a cooler area if it is getting too hot for you, or if you are feeling unwell at any point.
- Wear light and breathable clothing to help you better cope with the heat. Cotton tends to get soaked with sweat very quickly and starts feel ‘heavy’ and clammy on your skin. I personally find tight fitting clothing better than loose fitting ones as those may trap heat. In any case, my hot yoga classmates and I have reached a consensus that speedos are NOT cool hot yoga wear *wink wink*.
- Try to arrive to the class a few minutes early, so you can get accustomed to the room temperature. I personally like to lie down on my back and relax with my eyes closed until the class is ready to start. (I could literally be in Savasana all day sometimes!)
- Last, but not least, it all comes down to body awareness. Because it is hot, your blood flow will increase, and as I said before, you will find yourself more supple and able to stretch somewhat further than normal. Even though yoga is classed as a moderate form of exercise, you could still injure yourself by surpassing your own ‘safety zone’. Always move slowly and mindfully into the poses to a point where your muscles feel challenged (not painful!), using your breathing to find your ‘sweet spot’. In the words of one of my favourite yoga teachers, Colleen Saidman Yee, “yoga is more about observation than determination!”
You’re welcome. Namaste!
What is your favourite type of yoga?
Have you tried hot yoga before? If so, what did you think?
If you fancy giving hot yoga a go, please contact The Fitness Space on 01494-257-077 to enquire about packages and to book your first class.
However, hot yoga is not suitable for everybody. The heat, especially in combination with exercise, can put extra stress on the cardiovascular system. If you are unfit/have been sedentary/have hypertension/heart disease/pregnant/prone to dizzy spells, you should seek other forms of exercise.
Finally, just wanted to say a big ‘Thank You’ to The Fitness Space gym for giving me the opportunity to trial the hot yoga classes. Thank you Emily for the great and challenging classes – you’re the best!! Looking forward to getting my sweat on again.