A woman sits in traditional meditative pose in the desert as the hot sun shines on her.

What Makes Hot Yoga Hot?

This summer has been one of the hottest on record, and gyms all across the country are full of people trying to beat the heat while staying active. But for some, it’s not hot enough. Maybe you’ve seen them leaving a studio in your neighborhood, sweat pouring off their bodies, carrying their gym bags and yoga mats out of a room that feels like a sauna. Though yoga has been popular in the U.S. since the early 1960s, the trend of “hot yoga” has caught fire recently – figuratively speaking, of course.

Hot Yoga is So Hot Right Now

The practice first started as an offshoot of Bikram yoga, which is still an extremely popular style in North America today. Developed by guru Bikram Choudhury, this particular style involves performing a strict set of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity. However, many practitioners were turned off by these strict rules and sought a more relaxed atmosphere, and hot yoga was born.

The room is still hot and the workout is still intense, but instead of teaching the same 26 postures and requiring extensive certification for all instructors, hot yoga classes are much less formal affairs where teachers can incorporate their own styles and postures, and practitioners are free to converse with each other during sessions. In this way, the practice feels much more communal, almost like working out in a public sauna. Indeed, most experts think saunas are a fairly apt comparison.

“What’s magical about a sauna? What makes you feel good? There’s something anxiolytic about saunas, and about exercising in a hot environment,” says John Porcari, a professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “I think when you look at the mental benefits, at the mind-body connection, people feel like they’ve accomplished something. They feel better about themselves.”

That seems to be the main draw – while some enjoy the relief that comes once they exit the studio, and others the feeling of actively participating, those that practice hot yoga have almost overwhelmingly positive words about the experience. Some even claim it has health benefits that go beyond modern medicine.

“We’ve seen that it works for people with all kinds of mental and physical conditions. It has helped people with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, autoimmune disorders,” says Elizabeth Glover, an instructor at Hot Yoga Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Mind Over Matter – Or Not?

Though these health benefits have not been scientifically proven, research is currently being conducted on the matter. For instance, medical scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital are currently evaluating hot yoga as a possible alternative therapy for depression. However, before you think that you’ve found the mystical answer to all your health problems, the practice of hot yoga is not for the faint of heart.

Recently, the American Council of Exercise (ACE) released their research on dangerously elevated body temperatures during hot yoga classes, recording some participants’ internal temperatures at close to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They strongly caution those with diabetes, hypertension and obesity that their body-temperature regulation will be severely compromised and could result in hyperthermia or heat stroke. Staying properly hydrated (between 20 ounces and one liter of water) before and during classes, as well as not wiping the sweat off your skin (sweat evaporation is your body’s natural cooling mechanism), are recommended by instructors when performing hot yoga.

Let OGIO Help You Find Your Center

If you’re interested in seeing what all the fuss is about, and you’re not afraid of emerging from a hot room an even hotter mess, OGIO has the essentials you need to get posing in style and comfort. Our Dosha Pack and Kula Tote will flash some color while carrying all your essentials – including a change of clothes. Not that you’ll need them, though, as our Endurance line of fitness apparel uses advanced moisture-wicking technology to keep you cool and dry in even the most sweltering hot yoga studio. When it comes to getting the most out of your workout gear, OGIO’s products are as tough and flexible as they come.