September 2022, St. Paul, MN: Seriously? Hot yoga is still a thing? Even after the culprit/founder Bikram Choudry has long since fled the country after allegations of rape by multiple women and owing students millions of dollars in settlements?
You can call Bikram Choudry many things, but you can’t call him a poor businessman. He promoted a trademark-worthy routine of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises to be done in extreme heat–to mimic the climate in India. (Sorry Himalayan Yogis). Insiders who knew him back in India will tell you it wasn’t really his material, that he stole it from his teacher. He’s known for his black speedo, Rolexes, Rolls Royces, and yes, those pesky rape charges.
With such a charismatic pitch-man, Bikram Yoga was a hit in L.A./Hollywood and became a major trend in which participants practice in a hot room, often 90-100+ degrees. Bikram studios and teacher trainings had a run of success in the early 2000s. Big corporate yoga (Core Power, Lifetime, etc) and small studio owners alike loved his “passive heating” approach of cranking up the thermostat (pre carbon footprint concerns). All that sweat makes it feel like you’re working really hard right away so classes don’t have to be so long.
Of course, those same studio owners didn’t want to pay royalties to keep Bikram in designer speedos so they stole the heating concept and made do without the rest. Getting you sweating faster meant classes could be shorter. Studios LOVE shorter classes (and, BTW short yoga mats). More classes= more convenience= more revenue!
In a typical Hot Yoga class, the room starts out hot and dry–say Arizona on a summer day. As participants sweat, the humidity rises, so by the time you wrap up, it’s more Florida. So, you’re essentially breathing in the sweat of your classmates.
IS HOT YOGA SAFE?
Make no mistake, hot yoga allows you to do poses you could not in moderate temperatures which can be exciting, even a little addicting. What better way for studio owners to keep you coming back–in a short-run, 1-year contract kind of way. The danger of hot yoga is, however, while the heat endows your muscles with superpowers to stretch to 110%, additional load gets put onto the ligaments and fascia. Muscles respond to that heat as their 70% water; however, ligaments and other soft tissues are just around 20% water, so you’ve got the same old joints trying to hold things together. If you think this sounds like a great set-up for an injury, you’re right!
Never mind all the people who shouldn’t be exercising in a sauna, including those with heart issues, prone to heatstroke, high blood pressure, and chronic inflammatory conditions. I was never screened once when participating in hot yoga classes in California.
So is hot yoga safe? I’d say “no” for anyone over 30; you might get away with it in your 20’s, but even then I’d have concerns. Is it an effective workout? Sure, but you may not be working as hard as you think as much of your struggle is enduring the heat. We’re now trending toward “functional fitness” so you have to ask yourself, is it beneficial to practice things I can only do in the tropics or desert?
Finally, given Bikram Choudry’s predatorial nature and complete lack of integrity, we have to ask ourselves the following: any chance hot yoga is just a good way for a horny, disingenuous guy in a speedo to get women into swimsuits? In the #metoo era, I say let’s not overthink it.
Read more on Bikram HERE.