Hot Yoga Isn’t Any Better for You Than Regular Yoga. So Why Do We Love It So Much?

Photo: Getty Images/ Tom Werner
At age 15, I attended my first yoga class with my dad, who’d been going on and on about how much better he felt mentally and physically since he started practicing. His ranting got me curious, so I agreed to try out a 90-minute hot yoga class without much of a clue what I was getting myself into. (I've since become a certified yoga teacher.)

About 20 minutes into the class, I was gasping for air, fighting the urge to either pass out or hurl.

“This can’t actually be good for you—why do these people want to torture themselves like this?” I wondered. But by the time class was over, it all made sense. I left that room feeling light as a feather—energized, yet relaxed—and I knew I had to do it again.

Many people I’ve spoken to have had similar experiences with hot yoga—it has somewhat of an addictive quality. And on top of the feeling you have after a class, it’s purported to have even more benefits than traditional yoga, like burning more calories, eliminating more toxins (harmful bodily substances), and increasing your ability to stretch in the poses.

But the truth is, research shows hot yoga probably isn’t any better for you than practicing yoga at standard temperatures. In fact, there are even some risks associated with hot yoga you may want to keep in mind.

1. You’re not really sweating out toxins

Many people think when you’re sweating buckets in a hot yoga class, your body is releasing more toxins, but this simply isn’t true.

Sweat is actually made up of 99 percent water combined with salt, proteins, carbohydrates, and urea (a substance produced by the body during protein metabolism)—not toxins, according to UAMS Health.

Toxins leave your body through your liver, kidneys, and intestines. Sweating excessively, say, if you’re taking hot yoga classes often, could cause your kidneys to retain water and actually hold on to toxins and recirculate them in your body, per UAMS Health.

Sweating too much can also lead to dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic.

2. You’re not burning that many more calories

One of the major selling points for hot yoga is that the high temps ramp up calorie burn. Increasing heat in your body can, theoretically, increase calorie burn. That said, research has yet to show that hot yoga actually burns more calories than a regular yoga class.

In a small May 2020 study in the International Journal of Exercise Science, 16 people completed a one-hour hot yoga class and later did the same sequence at room temperature. The researchers looked at joint range of motion, breathing rate, calories burned, and biomarkers of stress and inflammation before and after the classes. Their results showed similar improvements in all measures after the heated and non-heated yoga class.

Because of the small size of this study and limited time frame (each person only took one hot yoga and one regular yoga class), more research is needed into long-term effects of each type of yoga.

American fitness culture often centers around extremes and achievements, so hot yoga is very “sellable.”

3. It’s probably not better for your heart

If you think you’re doing your heart a favor in hot yoga, think again. Researchers set out to test whether hot yoga was more beneficial for the heart than regular room-temp yoga in a January 2018 study in Experimental Physiology.

For the 12-week study, 52 people were divided into three groups: One group practiced traditional 26-posture hot yoga, one group did the same postures at room temp, and one control group who did not practice.

The researchers took measurements to assess blood flow to the heart before and after the classes. Results showed that both groups practicing yoga experienced similar heart health benefits, while the control group that did not practice saw no benefits.

4. You risk overstretching

I always hear people say the heat in a hot yoga class helps them stretch much deeper, and this is probably true: The heat does help your muscles warm up faster, which can give you more mobility than you’d typically have—but this isn’t always a good thing.

With warm muscles, you may be less aware of your body’s limitations and end up overstretching, which can lead to strains and sprains, according to Williams College.

Muscles that are too loose will also fail to properly support your joints, which can lead to joint pain and inflammation, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

5. It may not be best for your body type, or dosha

Ayurveda, the Indian health science of yoga, says the universe is made up of five elements—aakash (space), vayu (air), jala (water), prithvi (earth), and teja (fire). From this perspective, each person is made up of a specific combination of these elements, usually with some more dominant than the others.

The dominant elements determine your dosha, or energetic type, and your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing are said to be governed by it. The three doshas and their associated elements are:

  1. Pitta: Fire and water
  2. Vata: Space and air
  3. Kapha: Earth and water

According to Ayurveda, a person with a pitta dosha already has the energy of fire in their biology. These types often gravitate to intense, sweaty exercise because they enjoy it.

But for the pitta-dominant person, doing yoga, (or any exercise) in heated temperatures is considered harmful. Excess heat in Ayurveda is attributed to problems like stress and anxiety, irritability, burnout, inflammation in the body, skin issues, heartburn, indigestion, and more.

To find out your dosha, seek out an Ayurvedic practitioner for a personal evaluation or take an online dosha quiz.

So why do we love hot yoga so much?

Hot yoga was popularized by Bikram Chodhury in the 1970s, who introduced heat into the practice with the intention of simulating the high temperatures in India. Despite controversy and allegations against him, hot yoga lives on as one of the most practiced forms of yoga in the U.S. today.

People love hot yoga for different reasons. Some say it’s because of the endorphins they get after sweating it out on the mat, others enjoy getting deeply into the postures, and some simply say they just love how it makes them feel.

Not to mention, American fitness culture often centers around extremes and achievements, so hot yoga is very “sellable.” In other words, you may feel like you’re not really doing anything for yourself in a regular yoga class where you’re not gasping for air, leaking sweat from every pore, watching and criticizing yourself in a full-length mirror in a room that feels more like a gym than a sacred space for you to connect with yourself.

But remember: Traditional yogic philosophy says balance (not achievement—that’s your ego!) is the ultimate goal of the practice. When you’re moving your body and connecting to your breath in a yoga class, you’re getting benefits—mental and physical—no matter what.

The bottom line

Truth is, hot yoga probably isn’t any better for you than yoga practiced at standard room temperatures. The research comparing the two is still pretty limited, but small studies seem to indicate that most of the benefits, like improved measures of heart health, more mobility, and calories burned, are about the same.

Hot yoga may also be dangerous for some people—you could become dehydrated or end up overstretching to the point of injury.

That being said, always know yourself. If you love to burn off some steam at hot yoga because it makes you feel like a weightless unicorn flying through the sky, then by all means, practice on. Just be sure you’re doing so safely—drink lots of water (before and after) and mind your body’s limits.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Lambert BS, Miller KE, Delgado DA, Chaliki K, Lee J, Bauza G, Taraballi F, Dong D, Tasciotti E, Harris JD, McCulloch PC. Acute Physiologic Effects of Performing Yoga in The Heat on Energy Expenditure, Range of Motion, and Inflammatory Biomarkers. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020 May 1;13(3):802-817. PMID: 32509120; PMCID: PMC7241641.
  2. Hunter SD, Laosiripisan J, Elmenshawy A, Tanaka H. Effects of yoga interventions practised in heated and thermoneutral conditions on endothelium-dependent vasodilatation: The Bikram yoga heart study. Exp Physiol. 2018 Mar 1;103(3):391-396. doi: 10.1113/EP086725. Epub 2018 Feb 4. PMID: 29349832.

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