Bikram, or hot, yoga—in which you do a series of 26 postures in a room heated to 104 degrees (which is how hot it feels outside right this second), with humidity levels around 40 percent—is said to increase your circulation, help flush toxins from your body, help you relax, and, like other types of yoga, build muscle tone.
But! Research suggests that it may not actually burn more calories than walking quickly.
Researchers from Colorado State University asked young adults—who’d never done yoga before—to do 24 Bikram sessions over an eight-week period. At the end of the study, participants had better balance as well as increased strength and muscle control—but not a huge drop in body weight.
According to exercise scientist Brian L. Tracy, Ph.D. (by way of Time’s Healthland): “To be honest, we were pretty surprised by the small size of the weight change, because when you’re in the Bikram studio you feel like you’re working really hard…. And remember, these were people who didn’t regularly exercise before the study. We were expecting a bigger drop.”
Further research found that people’s core temperatures and heart rates rose significantly during hot yoga—but their metabolic rates did not. On average, women burned 330 calories during 90-minute hot yoga sessions, which is about the same as walking briskly for an hour. Says Tracy: “I think the heat and the difficulty of the postures combine to alter your perception of the intensity of the exercise.”
Which makes sense! The sweatier your workout, the easier it is to think you’ve knocked out a zillion calories—even though research has shown that’s not necessarily true. What it does mean, for sure, is that you need to keep your H2O levels high so that you’re nicely hydrated.
What are your experiences with hot yoga? If you haven’t tried it—would you?