The first beads of sweat started trickling within minutes of the heated yoga class starting at Evolutions @ Yoga.
Sitting in a closed room inside the Greenwood studio, the temperature had been bumped up to near 90 degrees. Seven students started with light stretches, focusing on their breathing, before starting in with poses such as triangle, downward dog and the sun salutation series of moves.
Despite the heat, the participants seemed to bend more easily, stretch further and step lighter than in a normal class.
Yoga’s reputation is more relaxation and inner peace than inspiring a good sweat. But that was before the resurgence of hot yoga. A growing number of practitioners have added the style to their repertoire, combining challenging poses and breathing exercises in a room that can reach 105 degrees.
Participants tout fewer injuries and increased circulation during their sessions, while also cleansing the body of toxins.
“It’s almost like a rebirthing experience. You have pushed yourself hard, and you come out and feel clean. Like your whole presence is changed,” said John Lawrence, a Crawfordsville resident and student at Evolutions @ Yoga.
Evolutions @ Yoga has been offering heated yoga as one of its classes since it opened in 2008.
Heated or hot yoga is a modern practice that developed in the U.S. over the past 50 years. The original version was called Bikram, founded by Bikram Choudhury as a way to heal after he suffered a knee injury.
Choudhury brought the style to Beverly Hills, Calif., incorporating poses such as the triangle, bow and cobra into a hot, humid environment. Temperatures range from 95 to 105 degrees in the closed studio. Since then, the style has been adapted throughout the country.
Not all hot yoga is Bikram; the style is considered the most rigorous of the heated yoga types.
According to VitalityLink, an online center for holistic treatments, Bikram and hot yoga are the two most popular styles of yoga available today.
Lawrence has been doing yoga for about 10 years, practicing all over the country. Recently, he’s started to implement it more into his workout and regularly come to the studio three times a week.
Yoga helps him have more awareness of his body positioning and posture, he said. The hot variety was a natural progression from his interest in yoga and his experience using saunas to detoxify and heal after workouts.
“To mix the two things together was perfect. The heat of it loosens your muscles up more, so it’s easier to get into poses,” Lawrence said.
Because the heat encourages blood flow and allows the muscles to stretch and contract with ease, participants often add more dynamic poses and moves to the sessions, said Jenni Ross, a co-owner of Evolutions @ Yoga.
Much of it mixes foundational postures, starting with the sun salutation to warm up the core of the body. From there, Ross can move to challenging moves such as splits and back bends and King Pigeon pose — which pulls the feet up behind the head in a contortionist knot.
“The heat allows you to go a little bit further. Once your body is warm, the heat becomes a tool, much like a block or a band. You can get stronger and more flexible, to do things you wouldn’t be able to do in a cold room,” Ross said.
The style is ideal for beginners looking to expand their yoga practice.
Lindsey Sipes started coming to Evolutions @ Yoga in only the past couple of weeks and was attending her first hot yoga class at the beginning of February.
“I don’t really know what to expect. I expect to sweat,” Sipes said.
Hot yoga enthusiasts also believe in the cleansing element of the heat. Adding heat to the environment rapidly flushes out toxins, which leave in the sweat, Ross said.
Christi Sanchez of Greenwood tried hot yoga when she started coming to Evolutions @ Yoga and immediately was drawn to the way she felt afterward.
The heat also helps her focus. She can be in her own space during the yoga sessions, taking that time to recalibrate her senses after the work day.
“It releases a lot of things in your body that you don’t need there or shouldn’t be there,” she said. “You feel refreshed when you’re done.”
With the benefits of the hot temperatures also come drawbacks, Ross said. Participants need to make sure they’re drinking more water than they usually do, both before, during and after the yoga.
“If you’re really well hydrated, you shouldn’t have any problems. It’s when you come and you think you’re hydrated, but you’re not, that’s where people get dizzy or feeling a little bit nauseous,” she said.
Ross considers it a supplemental practice, one that can help her grow in her yoga practice but not the foundation of her routine.
“I just came off 30 days of doing it, seven days a week. It was very good, I felt good after it, but is it sustainable for a long, long period of time? Probably not,” she said. “But it’s good in small doses.”