What is ‘Hot Yoga’ really?

Hot Yoga

Hot Yoga first came to Spain 14 years ago, when Bikram Yoga opened their first studio in Madrid. Nowadays it seems that there are Hot Yoga Studios opening up in every major city of Spain from A Coruña to Marbella. But what is ‘Hot Yoga’ really? Hot Yoga is a general term for Yoga practiced in a heated room of 38-40°C, just as ‘Yoga’ is the general term for the practice of ‘Asanas’ (or physical postures). Which means that ‘Hot Yoga’, could be any style of Yoga, such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative, Hatha, Bikram or Power Yoga, practiced at 40°C.

If for example you place the word, ‘Hot’, in front of Ashtanga, it would be an Ashtanga class taught in a room with the temperature elevated to 40°C.

So why are people so confused?

With so many styles of Yoga making their appearance all the time, with different names, the list is becoming endless, so it’s no wonder the average person gets confused when it comes to Hot Yoga too. All Hot Yoga is not the same. Just as all the different styles of Yoga is not the same. If a doctor recommends that their patient ‘go and try Yoga’, after a serious accident or injury, they would definitely do more harm than good if they then joined a Power Hot Yoga class practiced at 40°C. They should instead be advised to join a Yoga Therapy, Restorative, Yin or even Hatha Yoga class. Not a fast-paced Hot Vinyasa class which would then further exacerbate their injuries. All new clients should educate themselves before joining a class, be it hot or not to ascertain whether the particular practice they’ve chosen would be suited to them.

Is Hot Yoga safe?

There seems to be a lot of debate on this subject. In countries such as the United States and Canada, where 40-80 people are crammed into a small space at 40°C with humidity at 70%-90%, there is definitely cause for concern, especially if only one teacher is present, to observe and keep all of their students safe. Luckily in Spain, a lot of studios have smaller spaces, which in turn equals smaller class sizes, and even less humidity in the rooms, so that it doesn’t feel as hot as at a typical Bikram Yoga studio, where you walk in and are already drenched.

Should dynamic practices, such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga, be practiced at a really fast pace in a really hot room then?

Care should be taken with these styles of Yoga in a hot room. Students should stay hydrated before, DURING and after the class. Also perhaps only attempting the classes with a more vigorous pace, after gaining some experience in other slower moving classes. Walking in as a newbie, might be daunting and cause for injury without good guidance from a Hot Yoga teacher.

So why do people go?

Hot Yoga is addictive, plain and simple. Add to that, that you can’t heat your house to 40°C very easily. Hot Yoga is often categorized as being more powerful and more challenging as you sweat a lot and need to control your breath and movement in a heated space. Bear in mind though, that doing a really slow practice, is also very challenging. Really paying attention to engaging your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles in every pose, i.e. slowing down and moving with a lot of control can make you sweat even more.

In Radiant Yoga Marbella studio they focus on variety, by offering hot vinyasa flow classes, as well as providing Yin, Therapeutic, Aerial, Anusara and Ashtanga in a non-heated environment. It is not all about sweating. It is about listening to your body, taking care of your joints, watching out for hyper-extension especially for those very flexible students in a Hot Yoga class.

Why is it then that some Bikram studios have started to offer different styles of Yoga at their locations?

It is probably due to clients demanding variety, some students tend to grow bored of doing the same routine day after day. Then it is also optimal for the body to be moved in different ways, not just doing the same sequence over and over again. Dedicated Bikram students and Ashtanga would vehemently disagree, but humans seek variety. Elena Olmo, director of Montecarmelo, Madrid Bikram Yoga Spain studio came to the  Hot Vinyasa Teacher Training back in May 2017 for just this reason; she wanted to offer more at her studio and wanted to learn how to teach Vinyasa in a heated space. After successfully completing the training she has now brought Vinyasa classes into her studio in Madrid. Radiant Yoga Marbella provides a class called Hot Strala, the yoga postures, rather than being “held” statically for long periods, instead flow together in a soft relaxed and controlled style and are carried along by the natural flow of breath similar to a Tai Chi practice, and Hot Yoga Ibiza has introduced Ashtanga Vinyasa Hot Yoga classes into their schedule as well as providing Bikram for more variety.

So why do people confuse Hot Yoga with Bikram Yoga?

Marketing would probably be the main reason. Bikram Yoga is to Hot Yoga like Kleenex is to tissues, especially here in Spain. In the United States, Canada, UK & Australia the Yoga industry is far more saturated with Hot Yoga studios so more people know the difference between Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga but in Spain it is quite new. As Bikram Yoga (which consists of a set sequence of 26 postures), was the first style of Yoga to be practiced in a heated room, people equate all Hot Yoga with Bikram Yoga. Any Hot Yoga studio will use the name, ‘Hot Yoga’, just as Bikram Yoga uses the term interchangeably. But as students it is best to know the difference before walking into a class. As what you think may be a Bikram Yoga class may be a Hot Vinyasa class instead – so as opposed to being disappointed, be open-minded and just try it. It is still hot!

There are pro and cons to following a practice which involves a set sequence. Just as runners or cyclists, experience certain common injuries associated with the overuse and underuse of structures within the body that happen due to the repetitive nature of the actions that they do; the same is true for practices that are linked to a set sequence, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga or Bikram Yoga. Students perform the same movements over and over again, year in and year out. Whether or not they are performed correctly or incorrectly, over time this can lead to repetitive strain injuries in the body. One of the biggest pros of following a set sequence would probably be the self-discipline to practice that it instills and maintaining a consistent practice that then will bring about change in the body more rapidly.

Many people would argue that in the West, Yoga could be considered a sport, even though it also encompasses mindfulness, an emphasis on relaxation and specific breathing techniques tied into the Asana practice. It is therefore really important for a student to take it at their own pace, take time to explore the different styles of Yoga to see which is the best fit for them, and then dive in. Even if Yoga is your main source of exercise, it is still advised to mix it up and add in some weight training, swimming, walking, rock-climbing or any other activity you enjoy doing. The more varied, the better.

So, what is next for Hot Yoga in Spain?

A lot more Hot Yoga studios, a lot more styles of Yoga in a 40°C space and the introduction of Hot Yoga Therapy and Restorative practices. There is such a huge growth potential for Hot Yoga in Spain. So, if you haven’t tried it, try to find a studio near you or take a class next time you are in a major city.

By Heather

An extract of this article was published by Yoga Journal Spain.