Hot yoga is becoming increasingly popular. I’ve been practising traditional yoga for years, but I’d never tried hot yoga. When I came across a place offering hot yoga (Hotpod yoga), I was eager to give it a try. I was already an avid fan of saunas and their health benefits, so logically, I hoped that the benefits of hot yoga would give me the best of both worlds: traditional yoga and the heat of the sauna, all in one.
The benefits of yoga
Traditional yoga, a spiritual, physical and mental practise, originated in India and is thought to have begun around the sixth century BC. (ref)
Benefits of traditional yoga
+ It helps you cope with stress
+ It helps to ‘physically’ work through mental and emotional problems
+ Yoga builds strength and flexibility – both physical and mental
+ It stretches out aching muscles
+ It helps to ease physical pain such as back ache
+ Should you wish it to be, it can provide you with a solid meditative and spiritual practise
+ You can do it in your home, without needing any additional equipment. Though we usually use a mat, a carpet will often suffice. Even better, on warm days, doing yoga outside on the grass is a lovely experience: you can combine the benefits of yoga with the benefits of spending time in nature!
Whilst some yoga practitioners do still emphasise the tri-fold aspect of yoga – mental, physical and spiritual – for many people, it is simply a means to keep physically fit.
Where once using the breath to guide each movement was paramount, I have even been in some yoga classes where ‘the breath’ was barely mentioned. I’ve often found this to be the case, not surprisingly, in yoga classes offered in gyms.
Every class I’ve taken in a yoga centre, on the other hand, has placed great emphasis on the breath, and on the meditative and spiritual aspects of yoga.
For a more detailed description about the benefits of yoga, see this article.
The benefits of saunas
If you’ve never had a sauna, you really don’t know what you’re missing! You can read a more detailed description of how saunas are good for us here, but briefly, the health benefits include:
- Saunas are good for heart health
- They lower the risk of both Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Saunas help to relieve stress
- Saunas help the body recover from injuries and intense physical activity
- They help our bodies to detoxify
- Saunas can help ward off a cold and alleviate symptoms
- Saunas can help us sleep better
- They are good for the skin
- Saunas make our hair look good.
- They can help with weight loss
- Saunas can be a social activity
All of these wonderful health-improving benefits arise from the elevated heat in a sauna – typically upwards of 70deg C
Hot yoga is not practised at such elevated temperatures, however.
Bikram – vs – hot yoga
Bikram yoga is a very particular style of hot yoga, and just as in ashtanga yoga, Bikram follows a set sequence of postures. The temperature is always 41deg C, with a set humidity at 40%.
‘Hot yoga’ though, describes any yoga practice done in a space which is heated above the normal room temperature. Different hot yoga centres heat the room to whatever temperature they prefer for their classes – typically upwards of 27 deg C. A hot yoga class will include whatever postures the centre chooses: there is no predetermined set of postures.
Hot yoga -vs – yoga
So, given that hot yoga isn’t as hot as a sauna, would it have the same benefits? In ashtanga yoga, we use the ujjayi breath to, amongst other things, warm the body up and create internal body heat. Practising yoga in the heat of a hot yoga room already takes care of this aspect for you.
I can promise you that doing a yoga class in a hot yoga pod will make you sweat just as much as sitting immobile in a sauna, if not more. Indeed, you’re likely to find yourself thinking you’ve never sweated so much in your entire life.
You might think sweating is pretty gross, but it’s very good for us to sweat profusely. Clearly, I’m not referring to some anti-social behaviour that will have your colleagues avoiding you in the corridor, but rather, the focussed, purposeful intention of doing an activity that’s good for you and also makes you sweat.
In hot yoga, you WILL end up completely soaked, including your hair. You’ll find that sometimes, little drops of sweat might even drip in your eyes – and honestly this is the only aspect that I disliked. Take a small hand towel with you to wipe your face occasionally and you can avoid this.
Apart from the benefits of sweating, with the addition of heat, hot yoga enables us to get deeper into the stretches. Be careful not to overdo it though! Just because your body is now a little more flexible doesn’t mean you should be tricked into thinking you can do the splits. You don’t want to end up having to visit a physiotherapist for the next week.
My 10 day hotpod yoga trial
Hot pod yoga: it feels a bit like doing yoga in a small spaceship…
Hot pod yoga is simply yoga practised in an inflatable pod, big enough for 20 people, and is offered by a company who has pods in many countries (no, I have not been paid by them in any way to write this article!).
My first impression of the ‘pod’ from the outside was that it looked like a bouncy castle type structure: I half expected to find kids romping around inside. It also reminded me of the fantastic Luminaria structures built by Architects of Air. If you haven’t had the good fortune of visiting one of these, do look out to see if there’s a tour coming near you, it is well worth it!
To enter the pod, there’s a small egg-shaped zip-up door. The HotPod people seem to love dim light, so sometimes finding the end of the zip can be your first challenge in practising hotpod yoga…
Once inside though, it’s anything but bouncy castle. The floor is a hard surface, with mats all laid out in super-regimented rows.
A soft purple light emanates from around the bottom of the pod. You could be fooled into thinking you’ve just stepped into a small alien spaceship.
Does it smell?
I’m pleased to say there is absolutely no sweaty smell either. Rather, a diffuser releases the most delicious smell into the pod – on a side note, if you use diffusers in your home, adding some phytoncide oils your essential oil / diffuser blend will give you some pretty impressive added benefits!
The temperature in a hot pod is set at 37deg C. It doesn’t feel overly hot when you first walk in, but that soon changes when you’ve done a couple of vinyasas.
I had bought a 10 day hotpod intro trial for an incredibly reasonable £12, but sadly I had to miss the first day. It coincided with bonfire night and as I was changing into my yoga clothes, I heard the first fireworks go off in the distance. I’d been working on desensitisation with my poor dobermann who hated loud noises, and she was getting much better. I hadn’t expected the fireworks to start quite so early though… so I accepted that my duty as a dober-mum was more important than me going to yoga, and I stayed in to make sure she felt safe.
So, I started on day 2. The classes last an hour, and the time passed very quickly. The first class felt more like a workout, or how sometimes doing ashtanga feels. The pace was relatively fast and we didn’t stay in any one posture for very long. I drank quite a bit of water during the session – something they encourage you to do. Still, my head began to ache about halfway through.
It may have been due to dehydration but could equally have been a consequence of knotted up neck muscles: it’s happened to me in the past that during periods of tension, I’ve sometimes got a headache whilst doing bending over postures in yoga. The same thing occurred in the second class, but I decided to work through it. I’m glad I did, because by class 3, it was gone.
Over the 10 days that I did my hotpod yoga trial, I had classes with 4 different teachers, each with their own style and approach. Each one had music playing in the background – a little too loud for me. Thankfully I was at the front of the class so I could hear the teacher over the music, but had I been at the back I think I would have had to strain to hear her.
I did a session 8 of the 10 days. I found myself really looking forward to going – more so than for a traditional yoga class. Whilst I hadn’t felt it in the first two classes, by class 3 I was feeling really mellow and floaty when I left the class. OK, so maybe I topped that off with a glass or 2 of malbec when I got home, but I definitely felt super-chilled out by the hotpod yoga.
Another aspect of it that surprised me was that at no point did it feel like a chore to go: this was November, typically a rotten month in the UK. Our Novembers are full of wet, miserable days. The beauty of autumn has waned already but the crisp, bare stillness of winter has not yet arrived. However much I enjoy doing a particular thing, if it’s a dreadful night out, a small part of me is thinking about staying in, in the warm and dry.
But despite the fact that it rained almost every day of those 10 days, and it was freezing to boot, I did not begrudge dragging myself out of the house and driving across town to the pod. I only missed 1 other day, and that was because I had to work.
Hotpod yoga and weight loss
Chatting to a fellow class mate, she told me that although she hadn’t lost any weight since starting at hotpod yoga, she had dropped a dress size. In my case, my weight did drop a couple of pounds. Just as in a sauna, all that sweating can result in some weight loss. However, hotpod yoga is also quite an active style of yoga, intended for fitness rather than for quiet, gentle meditation, and as such you really feel that you’ve worked hard physically.
Hotpod yoga cost
The one, and only thing, that that puts me off hotpod yoga is the price. The trial was incredibly good value – just £12 for 10 days. A complete monthly membership though comes in at a whopping £65 – more than the most expensive gym in town which has every activity you could ask for – except hot yoga. The off-peak membership isn’t much better at £50.
Whilst I genuinely loved the experience and truly felt the benefits, I’d rather continue going to the gym where I can get traditional yoga, sauna, pool, and various classes, for almost one third of the price. If you think hot yoga’s right for you, hopefully you can find a hot yoga class near you which doesn’t cost the earth.
Dangers of hot yoga
There are certain things we should take into consideration when practising hot yoga, many of which are similar to those of using saunas.
- Make sure that you drink plenty of water before and after your hot yoga session and avoid dehydration problems.
- Leave the alcohol consumption until after your hot yoga: drinking alcohol before and during it is risky.
Our bodies create a hormone during heat stress to help the kidneys retain fluid, but alcohol counteracts that process. Alcohol also makes blood vessels dilate even more than usual when we’re in a very hot environment. This could lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure and consequently, loss of balance or fainting.
What to take to hot yoga : kit and clothes
Whatever you wear will get soaked. Since wet clothes cling to you, it’s easier to wear lycra-type fitted clothing. It’s a horrible feeling having loose, cotton yoga clothes sticking to you.
You’ll also need a towel to put on the mat, and another small one to occasionally wipe yourself down during the class. The best tyoe of towel is a sports one that has a sticky underside to stop it slipping. Oh, and a bottle of water is a must!
I do feel that hotpod yoga is a lovely combination of the benefits of saunas and of yoga. It doesn’t offer everything – it isn’t spiritual like some yoga classes are, for instance. But if what you like is a good workout and you also love heat, hotpod yoga will probably work well for you. There’s only one way to find out!