Peek inside a Bikram, or "hot yoga," studio and you'll see yogis in various poses, drenched in sweat. Bikram studios are heated to about 105 degrees F. If you're overweight, hot yoga can be used within reason as a way to help you gain flexibility as you sweat while burning calories. Take the proper precautions and listen to your body throughout class.
It's a common misconception that the purpose of hot yoga is to make you sweat and burn calories. Although practicing yoga in a 105-degree Fahrenheit studio will certainly make you sweat, the primary focus of hot yoga is to use the heat to help you achieve a deeper stretch. The heat warms your muscles so they yield to better stretching, which in turn results in more flexibility. Bikram hot yoga uses the same 26-pose sequence for every 90-minute class, which can make it easier to refine your asanas.
Hot yoga can be beneficial to your workout routine, but it can also pose some risks, particularly if you are already physically unfit. The high heat and humidity of a hot yoga studio can lead to dehydration, since you're losing water through sweat. If you already suffer from high blood pressure, the heat can elevate it to dangerous levels. It's also possible to sustain muscle injuries like pulls and strains in class, Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at the Beth Israel Medical Center warns in "The New York Times." Once you stretch your muscle past 20 to 25 percent of resting length, it can cause damage.
If you'd like to try hot yoga as part of your weight loss and fitness routine, first talk to your doctor to decide whether hot yoga is right for you at your current weight. She may advise you to lose weight and get your blood pressure under control before you try a class. When you're ready, arrive at class well-hydrated. "Yoga Journal" suggests drinking up to 16 ounces of water about two hours before exercise. Bring plenty of water with you to class and wear as little clothing as is comfortable for you. Stop exercising and contact your doctor should you experience nausea, dizziness, confusion, cramps or vomiting during class, which are all signs of serious dehydration.
Although you may not be physically ready to try hot yoga right away, you can still practice regular yoga with effective results. Hot yoga is often grouped with other advanced styles of yoga, like Ashtanga or Kundalini. It's important that you have a solid foundation in yoga before you attempt a more advanced version of the practice. In the meantime, a beginning yoga class can be beneficial.