A background: In the 22 years of having yoga in my life, 5 of those years I did hot yoga. I started after I was injured in an ashtanga class. A teacher of mine said that hot yoga helped with his injuries, so I tried it. I did it consistently and didn’t really do non-heated yoga during that time. Currently, I have my home practice again. I sometimes create my own flow or take classes at Commune Yoga Online. Here’s my thoughts about hot vs. room temperature vinyasa yoga.
Hot yoga allows me to go deeper with certain stretches faster. For me, that’s forward folds and back bends. But here’s the drawback: The deepness I can achieve in a hot room that’s more than 100 degrees doesn’t translate to my regular movement. I find a disconnect between what I can do in the heated studio and regular life. This is not the case in a regular vinyasa yoga and that allows me to take yoga into my everyday life. Of course, I don’t think I’ll be in upward facing dog while I’m going about my day, but the openness feels more accessible. The heat, after some time, became a crutch for me. I can’t just be in my living room, for example, and start doing a forward fold for a quick lower back release.
Generating Body Heat
One of the challenges of a non-heated yoga is building heat from the breath and movement. It allows me to connect with my breath and body. During this time, I slowly feel my body come alive. In a hot yoga class, I lose that beautiful feeling of my body slowly heating up. I’ve attended classes where I’m sweating before the class even starts. The heat I feel around my body, overpowers the feeling of what’s going on inside of me.
Heat also makes it hard to focus on the breath throughout the class. I have to stop my ujjayi about 15 minutes into the class since it’s too hot. With this, I lose the feeling of hearing and connecting with my breath. The heat distracts from the breath.
A non-heated yoga class allows me to build more strength and to use strength to get me to a pose. This is especially true for poses such as wheel pose. Without the heat and humidity, I really have to push my hands and feet against the ground to open the front line of the body. In a hot yoga class, I rely more on flexibility than strength.
My hands, my mat, are too sweaty to do handstands. I don’t even attempt them without knowing that there’s a wall to catch my fall. Maybe this is not a problem if you have a more solid handstand, but not for me.
The difficulty rests on the heat and sweat in a hot yoga class. On the other hand, in a regular vinyasa, the challenges are on the poses, holds, and building heat. In my 5 years doing hot yoga, I’ve never had a class cue a lolasana (pendant pose) or some modified version of it, or even pincha mayurasana (forearm pose).
The sweat makes it hard to have a savasana longer than 2 minutes. Although most classes will turn off the heat towards the end of the class, the heat can sometimes make it uncomfortable.
Gratitude for Hot Vinyasa Yoga
I’m grateful for the hot yoga classes that allowed me to get my practice back after injury. It was a great way to build confidence and to just practice. Hot yoga gets your body in “ready mode” for deeper stretches without doing the physical work to generate heat. If hot yoga currently works for you—great. As long as we move and incorporate yoga in our lives, I’m happy. But I knew that I had to go back to a non-heated yoga practice to move my journey forward. Hot yoga feels good after class and a shower. But in terms of where I want to take my yoga journey, to build strength, practice inversions, and continue making pranayama an integral part of my practice, I had to wean myself from the heat.
One of the things that drew me to yoga is the minimalist nature of the practice. You really don’t need any equipment but your body. I had to remind myself that I don’t need to control my environment to practice, and that includes industrial-level heating systems. In fact, yoga teaches us to focus internally and the challenge is to work with the current environment we reside in—this can be weather or mental distractions.
Non-heated yoga is a lot harder for me. I know that for now, I won’t get deeper in certain poses. That’s OK. Committing to it again means forgoing some of the immediate gratification for long term gains. But It doesn’t mean I won’t take a hot yoga class every now and then. And if hot yoga gets you practicing, wonderful. But always remember to explore and to not be afraid to try something new in your journey.
When comparing yoga styles, I stay away from better or worse or a binary comparison. Choose what works for you right now. Hot yoga jump starts your body, but you do lose some of the benefits of the heat-building movements that yoga cultivates.