In the 1970s, there was a mainstream popularization of Hatha yoga as part of a healthy lifestyle with both long and short term benefits for practitioners. But a new trend is on the horizon and taking the yoga world by storm: Bikram Yoga, or more popularly known as Hot Yoga.
Hot yoga is certainly the appropriate name for this relatively new style, considering it’s typically practiced under sauna-like conditions. An ideal hot yoga class is exactly 90 minutes long, practiced in a room heated to 40.6 C with 40% humidity. Derived primarily from hatha yoga techniques, hot yoga is a series of 26 asana (positions) and 2 pranayama (breathing exercises). These poses are performed in a fixed order to promote effective circulation, breathing, and maintain a fixed system of challenging and then ‘rest’ asana.
The pace of a hot yoga class is slow and deliberate, with poses held for about 10 seconds to 2 minutes. Many athletes and dancers use hot yoga to work through injuries and develop a better understanding of their limbs in space, adjusting and extending for desired results.
Traditional yoga classes from beginner to advanced have their practitioners working up a sweat, but hot yoga puts the ‘sauna’ in asana… Founder of the Yoga College of India and hot yoga creator Bikram Choudhury explains that the heated studio encourages deeper stretching, prevents injury, and further reduces stress and tension. In addition to all the benefits of hatha yoga, hot yoga increases circulation to all organs in the body, restoring health to every muscle and joint along the way. This leads to long term prevention of heart disease and organ failure.
Hot yoga emphasizes extreme extension and compression, two processes that work together to profoundly affect blood circulation. When performing Choudhury’s 26 asana, a specific part of the body is compressed and circulation is temporarily cut off. This is called compression. The heart then pumps more blood to compensate for the shortage to the compressed area. This pumping of excess fresh, oxygenated blood is called extension. The fresh blood immediately flows to the formerly compressed arteries awakening and rejuvenating them. This vastly improves circulation. And further, Choudhury’s asana involve the lymphatic system so when the rush of circulation hits, the lymphatic drainage of bacteria and toxins is improved. Combine this with the sweating, and the ‘light, cleansed’ feeling reported by hot yoga practitioners is no surprise.
Hot yoga’s pranayama are also designed to increase lung capacity. The heat and humidity help the practitioners to stretch their lungs on deep inhaling and exhaling exercises. The average person uses only 50% of his or her lung capacity, and the stretching of the lungs will develop the ability to hold more oxygen. From there, oxygen conversion is strengthened and extension in blood circulations occurs more naturally.
While the list of hot yoga’s benefits is long and unrivaled, consideration should be given to its safe practice. With the risk of dehydration from the extreme heat and sweat, many hot yoga teachers encourage their students to drink water regularly in controlled sips throughout the class. Practitioners usually do not eat for the two hours before the class so they may be comfortable during some of the more challenging positions. Although yoga is not competitive in spirit, adding competition to hot yoga can result in overstretching and injury, just as with hatha yoga. As instructors often recommend, it is important to maintain an understanding of one’s own comfort level and not to go too far beyond individual capacity.
With teachers and students alike swearing by hot yoga’s ability to heal injuries, manage weight, flush toxins, and strengthen emotions, it’s obvious why Bikram classes are always well attended at yoga studios everywhere. For the willing student, it’s one more tool for a healthy lifestyle and personal wellness… but REALLY be ready to sweat!
The complete list of Positions for a 90-minute Hot Yoga Class:
Pranayama Series (Standing Deep Breathing)
Ardha Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana (Half Moon Pose with Hands To Feet Pose)
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
Dandayamana – JanuShirasana (Standing Head To Knee Pose)
Dandayamana – Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pulling Pose)
Tuladandasana (Balancing Stick Pose)
Dandayamana - Bibhaktapada – Paschimottanasana (Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose)
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Dandayamana - Bibhaktapada – Janushirasana (Standing Separate Leg Head To Knee Pose)
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Padangustasana (Toe Stand Pose)
Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
Pavanamuktasana (Wind Removing Pose)
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Poorna – Salabhasana (Full Locust Pose)
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
Supta – Vajrasana (Fixed Firm Pose)
Ardha – Kurmasana (Half Tortoise Pose)
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose)
Janushirasana (Head To Knee Pose)
Paschimottanasana (Stretching Pose)
Ardha – Matsyendrasana (Spine Twisting Pose)
Khapalbhati Series (Blowing in Firm)