The Real Deal: It is better to practice hot or regular yoga?
Just like any "new-wave" wellness practice, yoga was once, not that long ago, a vibey, hippie, green-juice drinking, and OM-ing ritual. Once laypeople discover the benefits of these "weird" practices — that they really do make you feel good — the rituals become less weird and more mainstream.
Recently, hot yoga — hot Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram — has become the epitome of a "yoga workout." The use of so many "quotation marks" is necessary to stress the intricacies of beliefs that are not, well, valid. Now, back to yoga. What does a "yoga workout" mean? Yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years, beginning with the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. Its purpose was to train the mind and body to become aware of its own nature through the cultivation of awareness and higher consciousness. Today, its benefits, such as reduced stress, increased flexibility, and relaxation, seem more physical and do not encompass the true purpose of the practice. Yoga is about the breath. You will notice this within the first few minutes of a class, as you are instructed to practice Pranayama (control of the breath). This breathing is what leads to increased awareness. It is what differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise. Yoga is an exercise of the mind and body. Yoga goes beyond the physical.
In Bikram and other forms of hot yoga — where the room is heated between 85°F and 105°F (30°C and 41°C) — you focus on the heat and not on your breath. As The Numinous founder, Ruby Warrington, says in her book Material Girl, Mystical World, "copious sweating meant it felt like a 'proper' workout, while the heat made me bendy enough to ace poses I could never do in a regular studio." Hot yoga not only takes away from the essence of the practice of yoga, but it is like cheating to achieve challenging poses. Work up to these poses in a regular room instead; then you will be truly proud of your progress. Additionally, because the hot rooms get REALLY hot — consider 30 sweaty bodies in a 100°F (38°C) degree room — it becomes nearly impossible to control the breath.
Yes, hot yoga is beneficial: you detox and are more flexible. But yoga is about coming to a sacred space to focus on your body and on your breath. You should, and will, sweat in a regular yoga studio. The practie is about heating up from the inside out. Yoga is an opportunity to work on your mind-body connection. Find the time and space to do it. It feels so good!