It was the eve of her first-ever hot yoga class and Nikayla Russell was freaking out. “I called the studio and said, ‘I need to set up a private lesson first. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m nervous and I don’t want to be embarrassed.’”
Russell remembers the person on the other line calmly talking her down. “Just come and try it out,” they reassured her. “You’ll be fine. You will follow along and little by little, you’ll start to get the hang of it.”
Sure enough, Russell not only survived—she became completely hooked. “I got so much out of the class physically, as well as mentally and emotionally,” she says. Today, the one-time newbie is an instructor who owns her own hot yoga studio, Doza Yoga in Westhampton Beach, New York.
If you’ve ever tried hot yoga you might be familiar with the addictive effects Russell experienced, and the wide-ranging benefits you can glean from the practice. If you haven’t, read on for some very good reasons to give it a shot—plus tricks from seasoned instructors on how to make the most of your first class and beyond.
What is Hot Yoga?
Just like the name implies, hot yoga is yoga performed in a heated room (or any warm space where you can work up a good sweat). There are many different kinds of hot yoga, but the most popular is “the 26/2 hot yoga series” or “Bikram yoga.” No matter where or when you take a class, the 26/2 hot yoga series follows the exact same format.
“The idea behind the practice is that it is truly designed to be a beginning-level practice built by sequencing 26 postures and two breathing exercises in the same order every time,” explains Carrie Stensrud Lewis, of Missoula, Montana, who has been practicing the series for 20 years and instructing it for eight. “The practice stays the same but offers opportunities to change and grow within it.”
Other popular types of hot yoga include:
Based on movement rather than static postures, this dynamic variety of yoga offers a flowing sequence. Classes will vary based on studio and instructor.
Also known as “Modo yoga”, this specific style of yoga focuses on green living (all studios must live up to environmentally friendly standards) and comprises 45 poses over 90 minutes.
Hot yoga sculpt
Half Vinyasa yoga, half bootcamp class, you can expect as many bicep curls as Downward Dogs.
Often performed in warm (not super hot) space, this slow-paced style focuses on holding gentle postures for restorative benefits.
Hot power yoga
Like Vinyasa, but turned up a notch. Power yoga is a fast-paced style of flowing yoga to encourage strength and endurance.
This is only a starting point. Hot yoga as a practice is flexible and only really needs two essential ingredients (your body and some warmer temperatures). You might put your mat on the ground on a muggy beach or a sweltering garage—suddenly you’re doing hot yoga.
Is Hot Yoga Good for You?
The magic mix of heat plus yoga offers mindfulness, strength training, increased flexibility, and detoxification. “Over the years, I've come to appreciate so many benefits,” Lewis says. “It offers overall fitness and a sense of well-being, plus it helps maintain a strong spine, good posture, flexibility, and agility for day-to-day life.”
Russell adds that apart from the physical benefits, there are a number of lessons that extend beyond the mat. “I remember after starting hot yoga, I really began to feel all of my senses become more heightened. Everything seemed more beautiful, more vibrant, more powerful.” She adds, “Little by little, the practice has changed how I communicate and interact—how attentive I am when I’m with people. It’s trickled over into so many aspects of life.”
What are the Benefits of Hot Yoga?
In addition to the somewhat intangible advantages of sensory awareness and attentiveness, hot yoga boasts a number of proven benefits backed by science.
In a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, participants experienced increased lower back, hamstring, and shoulder flexibility after just eight weeks of hot yoga . “The warmth helps you to go deeper into your practice—you’re able to go a little bit further than you would normally,” explains Russell.
Relaxed nervous system
“Moreso, lately, I appreciate the benefits to my nervous system,” Lewis says, “By focusing on breathing and staying still between postures I find a rhythm that soothes anxiety.” It’s not just in your head—regular hot yoga has been found in research to lower stress and improve overall perceived quality of life.  Lewis points out that it’s also a great time to take a digital detox and step away from hectic, modern life. “Besides when I’m sleeping, it's probably the only time I routinely spend 90 min away from my phone,” Lewis says. “It’s sad but true!”
Lewis says that hot yoga has helped her cope with the grueling schedule of 12-hour hospital shifts she endures as an ICU nurse. The data tracks—improved stamina is one of the most commonly reported benefits of hot yoga, according to a report in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy .
“Hot yoga is literally like hitting a big red reset button—I can feel sore and puffy and tired walking into the studio and completely renewed walking out,” Lewis explains. Russell agrees after a class, she says, “You feel like a new person.” Wonder what’s happening inside of your body? Yoga has been shown to decrease inflammation, while sweating (which you’ll do a lot of in hot yoga) can help rid the body of harmful toxins like BPA [3,4].
Improved mental focus
“The heat forces a mental concentration,” Lewis points out. “If you allow yourself to get in a headspace of thinking that it is too hot and unbearable, your mind will get the better of you.” A recent study in Psychosocial Intervention found that the practice improved not only mindfulness, but peace of mind as well .
Your Guide to Getting Started
So exactly how hot is hot yoga?
One of the most common questions, the short answer is… it depends. For the 26/2 series, the room is almost always heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. However, different studios offering a variety of styles may set the room anywhere from 85 to 110 degrees. Vinyasa-style classes typically start at around 95 degrees—although the room can become hotter and stickier as the class goes on thanks to body heat. If you’re worried, you can always call ahead or find the info on your studio’s website.
For context, saunas are typically around 140 to 180 degrees. Although some people compare hot yoga studios to “like a sauna,” part of that additional heat people feel is generated from within, which most people come to love and even crave. The heat provides an opportunity to remind yourself that you can rely on your body’s innate wisdom to take care of you. In the end, you’ll be amazed at how the practice makes you feel and how it gives you the confidence to tackle all of life’s challenges.
“It can take a while to acclimate to the heat, so be patient the first few classes,” Lewis advises. “Eventually, the heat becomes associated with feeling good, stretching out, and getting a fresh start.”
Should I eat or drink before class?
It’s best to hydrate gradually ahead of time—a sloshing belly can be uncomfortable. As for food, you want to be nourished and have energy, but eating light will lead to a more enjoyable experience.
What to wear to hot yoga
Don’t overthink it. You can wear whatever you want to hot yoga, however, many people prefer fitted styles like bra tops and leggings or biker shorts. Breathable and sustainable, Merino wool is one of the very best fabric options. Merino’s almost-magical heat-beating properties move moisture away from your skin to keep you as dry as possible, while natural thermoregulation helps prevent you from feeling overheated.
“Fabrics can really help,” says Lewis, who loves practicing in the BRANWYN Essential Bralette. “A big part of class is looking at yourself in the mirror, and it's sort of a reconciliation and a getting to know yourself, so being distracted by clothing can be annoying,” Lewis says. “It's nice to know your clothes are going to move with you and perform for you and the BRANWYN bra does both!”
Most people practice barefoot, but others like grippy socks to provide some traction. Like everything, experiment to see what works for you. The most important thing is to be comfortable.
What to bring to hot yoga
- Water bottle: You’ll be sweating a lot and taking sips of water or an electrolyte drink is a good idea to prevent dehydration and a dry mouth.
- Hair ties: If you have long hair, a hair tie will help keep your hair off your face and neck.
- A towel or two: Some studios provide hand towels for wiping sweat off your face and hands, but you might want to bring your own just in case. In addition, some people like placing a towel on their mat because when the sweat drips off you it can make your mat slippery.
- A yoga mat: Many studios offer mats to rent, but you may want to bring your own to avoid the fee.
- A change of clothes: You will be sopping wet after class, so unless you live within minutes of the studio, a change of clothes will be welcome.
What not to bring to hot yoga
- Jewelry and watches: You can leave your jewelry and watches at home. Some people love wearing fitness trackers to measure heart rate, but be warned that they can get in the way.
- Cell phones: Most hot yoga studios have locker rooms where you can leave your phone. This is a sacred time and technology doesn’t need to be in there. Besides, your phone probably won’t like the heat!
- Self-judgment: Everyone faces the mirror together and it can be tempting to compare yourself to others, but you’ll get the greatest benefit if you focus only on what’s happening on your mat.
Remember, there’s no wrong way to do yoga. “It’s important to realize that everyone had their first class at some point,” says Russell. “The heat can be intimidating, but you can always modify and take breaks so you feel comfortable and safe. When you do get through it, which you always do, it’s very empowering.”
Yes, hot yoga is a demanding practice and it will push you, but like any challenge, it gives back tenfold what you put into it. If you have any hot yoga experiences you’d love to share, we are eager to hear all about them. Email us any time at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Instagram at @branwynofficial.