The history of hot yoga began many centuries ago, most styles of yoga were practiced exclusively in a hot environment. Much of India, the birthplace of yoga, is tropical or subtropical with summer temperatures that can exceed 122 degrees Fahrenheit and winter temperatures rarely dropping below 80ºF in many regions. With air conditioning being a relatively recent invention, yoga asanas were largely developed and practiced with no knowledge of colder climates.
When yoga’s popularity spread abroad in the 20th century, many of its practitioners brought the heat with them. Bikram Choudhury came to it by necessity while teaching in Japan where he found himself shivering through his postures during winter, so he brought in space heaters. In the heat, Choudhury found it was easier for his students to find flexibility in the asanas, and when he launched his first studio in San Francisco in 1972, the heaters came with him. Bikram Yoga was born. Similarly, the disciples of K. Pattabhi Jois brought the Mysore heat with them to Ashtanga’s widespread tradition, and Ashtanga’s descendants of Power Yoga and other vinyasa styles copied the trend. Whereas Ashtanga’s high-temperature origins stem from climate and the heat produced by the body during vigorous exercise, western practitioners often put greater emphasis on a room’s temperature by regulating it with heaters and thermostats.
Principles of Hot Yoga
The room is heated to warm the muscles and induce sweat. Warm muscles stretch further and with reduced risk of injury. Heat increases the pulse and the body burns more calories in its efforts to stay cool while exercising. Heat dilates capillaries, distributing oxygen more effectively to muscles, glands, organs and other tissues, helping to remove toxins.
Sweat and detoxification
The skin, the body’s largest organ, eliminates toxins through perspiration. The function of sweat is to cool an overheated body through evaporation. There is some debate around the claim that sweat “eliminates waste from the body,” yet hot yoga practitioners purport that perspiration remove waste from the body on a surface level such as smog and dirt from the pores, and on a deeper organic level by carrying waste away from the kidneys and liver. Sweating stimulates the metabolism and immune system.
Focus and breath
As the body has to fight to stay cool, the mind also has to fight for focus in a challenging environment. The method of teaching focus varies in different schools. As in all forms of yoga, hot yoga puts emphasis on deep breathing to increase the flow of prana. The principle is that breath connects the body to the mind and leads the practitioner through the poses. Deep breathing helps to calm the body and mind, and helps oxygen circulate through the body.