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Hot yoga: added value or gimmick?

06 March 2015, 10:05Eugene Lotter (Health24)

The practice of yoga originated in India around the sixth century BCE and is a spiritual, mental and physical discipline. The ultimate goal of practicing yoga is “liberation from the wheel of existence” (moksha), but in the West the emphasis is on “hatha yoga” which consists of a number of physical postures (asanas).

Most Westerners are unaware of the cultural, religious and philosophical context of yoga and are not interested in raising “kundalini” through the seven chakras and achieving “samadhi”. In the West yoga is mainly practiced for relaxation, weight loss and fitness.

What started off as a spiritual discipline thus ended up as a glorified fitness workout. This approach is regarded by purists as a gross distortion of traditional Indian yoga and some go as far as to call it “gymnastic yoga” or “not yoga”.

Swami Vivekananda

The idea of yoga was introduced to the West by Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago as far back as 1893. In the first part of the 20th century yoga was studied as an Eastern philosophy and became popular as a part of the health and vegetarian movement of the 1930s.

Indra Devi opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947.

Read: What is yoga?

Yoga only really began to take off in the 1960s when prominent yogis came to the West to teach their philosophies. The pop group the Beatles piqued the world’s interest when they became interested in the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM). By popularising the yogi’s teachings, they helped to establish yoga in the West.

Yoga industry

Activities using the name “yoga” have become so numerous and commercially so successful that it has become known as the “Yoga Industry” and a survey by Yoga Journal magazine reported in 2008 that it was a $5.8 billion per year industry and that “more than 34 million people in the US either practice yoga or are interested in it”.   

Some of the variety of yogas offered in studios in countries like the US are:

  • Power yoga is “yoga meets aerobics” and involves moving through a series of strenuous poses, while concentrating on the breath.  
  • Kundalini yoga focuses on awakening the life force, which is visualised as a coiled snake at the base of the spine, to experience highest conscience. This is one of the few varieties of yoga taught in the West that focus on the spiritual aspect.
  • Anusara yoga is a relatively new school of yoga and focuses on beauty and goodness and and involves self-esteem, self empowerment and general positivity, which helps one to deal with the stresses in the modern world.
  • Iyengar yoga is named after its charismatic founder B.K.S. Iyengar and focuses on perfect alignment with the help of many different props.
  • Bikram yoga is also called “hot yoga” and is practiced in 40 degrees heat. The “creator” of Bikram yoga managed to get copyright on a series of asanas. A decision by the U.S. Copyright Office in 2012 determined, however, that yoga poses cannot be subject to copyright. 

Hotpod yoga

Hotpod yoga appears to be an offshoot of Bikram yoga and also involves yoga poses performed in heated spaces.

Hotpod yoga classes take place in “cocoon-like pods” heated to 37°C which, according to Hotpod “warms the muscles and aids flexibility as well as making the heart work harder.” They describe their style of yoga as follows: “Our unique style of yoga has its roots in ‘Vinyasa flow’, synchronising a dynamic flow of postures with the breath.”

Hotpod’s unique selling proposition is their pods. In their own words: “We worked with world-leading inflatable experts, top architects and heating consultants to create a range of Pods – our unique portable heated studios. A range of designs and sizes mean that we can pop-up pretty much anywhere! Patent is pending on the concept.

Their mission is to make hot yoga more accessible and find “innovative ways to take it to everybody”. They therefore came up with a “portable, practical and hygienic studio that’s also simply a sublime yoga environment”.

In the UK, Hotpod is meticulously organised and classes are pre-booked and paid for on their website. Customers can purchase single or multiple class passes and it is shown online once classes are full. There is even a waiting list in case of cancellations. Suitable advice is given regarding fitness levels and health, suitable attire and the safety of personal belongings.

View: HotPodYoga as a way for you to keep warm this year. Enjoy!

How unique is Hotpod yoga?

Although they might be adapted, the exercise and breathing regimes offered by Hotpod Yoga are as old as the hills and, as the founder of Bikram yoga found out, belong to everyone and cannot be patented.

However, every product needs at least one unique selling proposition to be marketed effectively and in the case of Hotpod Yoga there are two that stand out:

  • The inflatable Hotpod where the yoga sessions take place. (One thing that they could patent!)
  • The fact that Hotpod yoga takes place in a heated environment. (Not entirely unique, though)

To summarise, Hotpod Yoga sets itself apart from other yoga studios by offering yoga tuition in sweltering heat in a unique environment.

Is it actually good for you?

Hot yoga is not a hot topic in India and most Indian yoga practitioners have never even heard of Bikram Yoga or Hotpod yoga. Apart from the fact that India is largely a very hot country to start off with, a number of traditional Indian yoga teachers have cautioned that this is not how yoga is meant to be practised.

Besides being uncomfortable, it appears that doing yoga in a heated environment poses few health risks in healthy practitioners, provided they stay well hydrated. There is no reason why Hotpod yoga should be more dangerous than any other kind of yoga.

Dr Brian L. Tracy, an exercise scientist at Colorado State University recently led a research project on Bikram yoga. He found that a group of healthy young adults showed “some modest increases in strength and muscle control, as well as a big improvement in balance. They also achieved a slight drop in body weight.”

Tracy and his team were, however, surprised by the small weight loss the participants achieved, especially in the light of the perceived effort involved. “We were expecting a bigger drop.”

Hotpod Yoga is coming to South Africa from the end of March 201. Johannesburg and Pretoria will be Hotpod’s first locations outside of Europe.

Has anyone tried “hot” yoga? Is it worth the discomfort or is it a gimmick? Share your experiences with us.  

- Health24


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