The terms are often used interchangeably, but the main difference between Bikram yoga and hot yoga is that Bikram refers to a series of 26 yoga poses performed in a specific sequence in a studio set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity. In contrast, hot yoga is simply any yoga practiced in a warm or hot room.
The different styles are super challenging and invigorating ways to take your yoga game to the next level, but determining which type is best for you depends on your experience level and tolerance to heat.
Bikram yoga is the original hot yoga that gets its name from its controversial creator, Bikram Choudhury. It’s a pretty strict and serious practice of 26 postures performed in a set sequence over 90 minutes. You’ll definitely sweat, too: Bikram yoga studios are set to top off at 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity.
Because Choudhury owns the rights to the name Bikram yoga, many studios opt to use the term hot yoga to refer to Bikram, but it’s not technically the same. Hot yoga is really any yoga performed in a heated room — anywhere from 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s still pretty hot, but not quite as intense and regimented as Bikram.
Many people — me included — tend to think that sweating a lot equals a good workout. You’ll definitely leave a Bikram or hot yoga class in a pool of sweat, but does that translate to tangible benefits to your health?
You bet! While these two types of yoga classes aren’t necessarily better for your body than others, these hot classes can provide some tangible health benefits.
Rids the Body of Unwanted Chemicals and Metals
Sweating is often referred to as a way to rid the body of “toxins.”
While it can’t remove all the bad stuff from our bodies — that’s the job of our liver and kidneys — some research suggests that it can help get rid of health-harming chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), along with heavy metals.
Sweat is also shown to help get rid of some bacteria.
Improves Skin Health
There’s a reason why you feel like your skin is a little more glowy after you work up a sweat. According to some research, sweat can act as a natural moisturizer for the skin, and this is especially helpful for people who battle allergic reactions.
That said, sweat could exacerbate some skin allergies and clog the pores leading to blemishes, so don’t forget to shower off after a heated yoga session.
Gets Your Heart Pumping and Torches Calories
Some people incorrectly assume that yoga isn’t as good a workout like brisk walking or running.
While calorie burn varies, hot and Bikram classes get the heart pumping, thanks to the heat. One 2014 study found that one hot yoga class gets your heart rate up at the same rate as walking 3.5 miles per hour.
This also translates to a higher calorie. Researchers at Colorado State University found that 90 minutes of a Bikram yoga class can burn as many as 330 calories for women — and a whopping 460 for men. Actual calorie burn will depend on your weight and other factors, so this isn’t a guaranteed number (you could burn less or even more!).
Beats Stress and Eases Depression
All types of exercise can positively impact stress levels and mental health, including hot and Bikram yoga.
A 2018 study found that a group of inactive adults experienced decreased stress levels after doing a 16-week hot yoga program. And yoga, in general, is shown to be an effective treatment for depression.
Adding heat to stretching can help you increase your range of motion and improve flexibility.
Bikram yoga and hot yoga are both challenging and stimulating workouts that can offer various benefits to the body. However, there are also some risks associated with these yoga styles that you need to consider before signing up for either class, including:
- Heat Exhaustion or Stroke
Bikram and hot yoga studios can top off at 100 degrees. This high temperature can be difficult for some people to tolerate and can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.
It’s also easier to overstretch your muscles, ligaments, and tendons because the heat helps you limber up more, so you could experience a strain or sprain.
Additionally, both Bikram yoga and hot yoga can be risky for people with preexisting conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
It is essential to consult with a doctor before starting either a hot or Bikram yoga practice to make sure that it is safe for you to participate.
Tips for Practicing Bikram Yoga and Hot Yoga
Get the most out of your Bikram or hot yoga session by following some best practices:
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your class. You should drink at least 16 ounces of water before class, 8 ounces of water during class, and 16 ounces of water after class. When you sweat, your body excretes electrolytes, so consider replenishing those after class by drinking an electrolyte-rich drink like coconut water.
- Wear light and loose clothing so you can move easily.
- Bring a towel to class to help soak up sweat. Sweaty hands and feet can make yoga mats slippery, potentially creating a fall risk.
- Stop if you get overheated or lightheaded. The mantra “no pain, no gain” isn’t something you should follow — especially when it comes to Bikram and hot yoga. Leave the room if you get overheated, and don’t feel bad about leaving the class if you’re not feeling well in the hot temperatures.
The Bottom Line
Bikram yoga and hot yoga are similar types of yoga with specific key differences in sequencing and temperature. Either can help you reach your fitness goals, so try out both and find which you like best — just be sure to stay hydrated and safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Bikram yoga real yoga?
Some people argue that although the practice of Bikram yoga can be beneficial for some people, it is ultimately a form of exercise rather than a style of traditional yoga. Others believe that since almost all forms and styles of yoga have their roots in the same place, almost any type of yoga is real. Ultimately, whether or not you consider Bikram yoga to be “real” is up to you.
Is Hot Vinyasa yoga good for you?
Hot Vinyasa yoga is a relatively new form of hot yoga that combines the flow of vinyasa with the heat of hot yoga. This type of yoga can be a more challenging workout than traditional vinyasa, and should only be practiced by people who are experienced in both vinyasa and hot yoga.
Who is Bikram Choudhury?
Bikram Choudhury is a yoga instructor and created the Bikram yoga method in the 1970s. He developed the sequence of 26 postures that are performed in a heated room set at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.