Hot yoga has without a doubt changed my body, health and entire outlook on exercise for the better.
I came to hot yoga with low self-esteem, deflated about my body image and desperate to have an exercise regimen that gave me results, while also crucially working within my lifestyle.
I was struggling with:
• Weight and stress management
• Bulging belly and flabby, undefined arms
• Slowing metabolism in my 30s
• A work and travel schedule that threw my eating and exercise schedule for a loop
• Finding an exercise routine that was effective, fit into my schedule and, most importantly, that I enjoyed and could continue doing
I had tried going to a regular gym, doing dance and aerobics classes, running, and doing yoga, aerobics and stretching with YouTube videos on my own at home.
What I realized through these exercise endeavors was that I don't enjoy running or long sessions on a threadmill or bike, and that I dislike anything that involves a lot of jumping, as is the case with some aerobics and dance routines (partially to do with an old knee injury). I enjoyed exercising more and was also more likely to follow through when I scheduled a set group class. This counteracted the loneliness and demotivation I had often felt when trying to exercise home alone at night, and the set time and place pushed me to make room for exercise in my schedule.
I started doing hot yoga as a trial to see if it was going to be do-able for me, both in its intensity and with my schedule, that I enjoyed doing it, and ultimately whether it was going to give me real results. That last part was vital. It could be challenging and exhausting (I understood I'd need to work for it), but it had to be effective.
So, before I dive in about my experience and results with hot yoga, I want to clarify what it is and what you can expect from a hot yoga class.
What is hot yoga?
Hot yoga is basically yoga poses practiced in a heated environment.
The term “hot yoga” is often used interchangeably with Bikram yoga, and while they are both similar in terms of doing yoga in a heated room, there are some key differences between hot yoga and Bikram yoga that you should consider before deciding on the type of “heated yoga” you'd like to try.
Bikram yoga consists of the same 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises performed in the exact same order over a set period of 90 minutes. The room is heated to a set 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity, and studios must be carpeted with mirrors on the front wall and bright lighting. There is no music, clapping or talking in Bikram yoga (apart from the instructor) and the instructor doesn't do any hands-on adjustment of your form.
Hot yoga can be comprised of many different yoga poses, and classes can vary widely from teacher to teacher and studio to studio. The room may be set to any temperature the instructor deems appropriate (usually between 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Hot yoga may be practiced in a dimmed room, by candlelight and on any surface, and is often practiced to music. The instructor may make rounds of the room and help students to physically adjust their form.
At my studio, we have a variety of classes that include hatha yoga, vinyasa or “flow” yoga, power yoga and more, and all last for sixty minutes. A number of lessons incorporate poses from a variety of yoga disciplines along a set theme. For example, we have a “Nature Yoga” class that sees us taking a mental journey to three different habitats, reflected in the music and various animal-related poses, and once we had a special series of “Aloha Yoga” in which we performed a creative routine of beach and jungle poses, and which at one point had us using our yoga mats as surfboards.
Some people like the structure of Bikram yoga as it allows one to work on the same set movements, repeating and improving on each one as you evolve in your practice over time. This can become a point of focus and almost meditation for some. Others may find that the same routine becomes monotonous and/or that they feel unwell in such a hot environment for ninety minutes at a time. If these aspects concern you or you have tried Bikram yoga and didn't like it, you may wish to try hot yoga, in which the room is generally cooler and the lessons more varied and relaxed.
My first hot yoga class
My first lesson was a beginner's yoga class and despite being a completely different pace to other exercise classes I had done in the past, something just felt really good about it.
It was a group lesson – so I could feed off the energy in the room – but at the same time it felt solitary in a good way. Everyone was focused on their own movements and what they needed to do. This felt like the exact equilibrium I had been searching for.
The instructor was super energetic and motivating, and didn't make me feel awkward when she came to correct my form, and although the room was hot and you do sweat a lot, I didn't feel like one sixty minute lesson pushed me past the point where it was no longer enjoyable. I signed up that very same day.
How soon did I start seeing results with hot yoga?
I started seeing noticeable results, including a significant decrease in my belly bulge, more toned arms and general improved strength, within 1-2 weeks of starting hot yoga. This was at a pace of 5 lessons a week and doing no other exercise or making any dietary changes.
Motivated by my quick results (finally!) and how much better I felt about myself, I started to crave hot yoga. I found myself checking the time just to see if it was time for class yet.
The results just got better from there – my husband noticed it and my instructors noticed it – my recently purchased yoga tops already fitting more loosely around my middle.
Towards the end of my three-month experiment, I felt that changes to the naked eye had plateaued or at least slowed down, but I think this is only natural in any weight loss or body transformation journey. And despite my belly looking basically the same for a few weeks, it felt very different. When I touched it, I could feel the hardening muscles underneath and I knew they would show themselves with some more time and hard work.
In 12 weeks, I did a total of 45 lessons (60 minutes duration each). That's an average of 3.75 lessons a week.
What were my results after three months of hot yoga?
I only measured and weighed myself twice during this three-month experiment – on day 1 and on day 90. The reason being that I didn't want to obsess over numbers, but focus on my physical and mental transformation as I was experiencing it.
My goal was to feel better about the way I looked and improve my own self-confidence, and this was never tied to a number for me. However, I did want to be able to track my progress in some way, and to be able to share my results with you in a measurable way.
The numbers ended up telling a very dramatic story.
In 3 months, I lost 4.3cm off the widest part of my waist (i.e. the highest point of the bulge on my belly fat) and 6.2cm off the smallest part of my waist.
I lost 1.7cm off the widest part of my hips and a whopping 8.4cm off the smallest part.
My arms stayed exactly the same numerically, but they look totally different. They are more toned and muscular, and I feel so much stronger.
To tell the truth, I am actually no lighter now than I was when I started. However, my shape has completely changed.
I have burned a lot of fat into muscle and its distribution is now more flattering and in proportion to the rest of my body. As muscle is heavier than fat and I'm still the same weight as when I started, we can conclude that I actually did “lose weight” in the process.
I have also observed a number of other benefits from doing hot yoga:
• Overall strength – not just in my arms
• Better balance
• More flattering neck line/decolletage
• Clearer skin – goodbye blackheads!
• Reduced stress
• Improved productivity and concentration
• No pain or stiffness the day after (zero recovery time)
While I haven't actively changed much about my diet at all, I have started feeling less like eating junk or sugary foods these days. I guess this is a positive natural byproduct of feeling like you and your body are indeed a temple that you want to nourish.
Tips for those who want to transform their bodies with hot yoga
• Practice regularly, at least 3-5 times a week if you want to see noticeable results, especially in a shorter span of time.
• Try not to eat anything 2-3 hours before hot yoga practice, or at least keep it to something light. If I'm feeling a little hungry before practice, I'll eat some crackers or a handful of almonds to avoid feeling lightheaded in the hot room.
• Drink lots of water – before, during and after practice.
• Listen to your body. If you need a break, rest in child's pose until you feel ready to continue (this is what my instructor tells us to do and lets us know we can do it anytime). We are also given different “levels” of difficulty for many of the poses so we can extend ourselves based on how we are feeling that day. If the heat is causing you to feel unwell, leave the room for some air, and finish the class early if you need to. Health first.
• Avoid cotton clothing. While I don't think you need to get whole new yoga outfits specifically for class (although you may feel like it when you start hitting those body goals), it's best to wear stretchy materials that won't feel uncomfortable when dripping with sweat. Cotton holds water and feels extremely heavy when drenched in sweat.
• Things to bring to hot yoga class: a yoga mat, yoga rug (essentially a towel that goes over your mat to avoid slipping from your own sweat), a small towel to wipe your sweat (you'll be needing it), plenty of water, a towel and bath products for showering, a change of clothes, any grooming products or face/body products you may need. At my studio, they provide make-up remover, cotton pads/Q-tips, antibacterial body wipes to wipe your body before going home to shower (if you don't shower at the studio), shampoo/conditioner/body soap, communal use yoga mats (if you forget your own), antibacterial spray to use on your yoga mat after the lesson, and a yoga mat storage locker service (if you'd prefer to simply leave your yoga mat at the studio). You can also pay extra as part of your monthly fee to have a water bladder you can refill with some fancy water at each lesson (I just bring my own water bottle from home). Obviously this will vary from studio to studio, so ask at yours to see what facilities they have and products/services they provide.
Overall, I've found hot yoga to be an exercise I enjoy and one that has surprised me with its swiftness in helping me reach my body goals. While I cannot say how effective it will be for everyone in terms of weight loss, with consistent practice I think it would be hard not to undergo at least some kind of body transformation and to experience many of the positive benefits I've listed in this post.
Have you tried hot yoga? What has your experience been like? Do/have you struggled with your weight and/or body image? What has helped you?