A Brief History of Hot Yoga

Students often ask me about the history of Hot Yoga. The story of yoga in the West is an interesting one which is a fairly long and complicated story. But here are some interesting tidbits relating to hot yoga and yoga in general:

  • Physical yoga posture practice (modern asana) in India is a relatively recent development that relates to the movement in India during the early 1900’s which looked to strengthen and increase the fitness level of Indian men. This was largely due to the influence of colonial Britain.
  • During that time weight training, gymnastics, as well as dance were introduced to the Indian people through gymnasiums and schools. This movement was heavily supported by the Indian government.
  • Krishnamacharya is considered the father of modern yoga and he took influences from gymnastics and dance and started creating modern yoga postures and sequences. Prior to this point most yoga practices related to cleaning the body and preparing the body for meditation.
  • So modern yoga postures were created which represented a marriage of Indian culture with western ideals of fitness and physical excellence. Some of the key yoga individuals who were influenced by Krishnamacharya are BKS Iyengar ( Father of Iyengar Yoga), Pattabhi Jois (Father of Ashtanga Yoga) and to some extent Bishnu Gosh, the brother of Paramahansa Yogananda.
  • One of Bishnu Gosh’s most successful pupils was Bikram Choudhury, the father of hot yoga.
  • Hot yoga started officially in the 1970’s when Bikram Choudhury started turning on the heat during his yoga classes offered in Los Angeles. The story is that several of his students had the idea of recreating the conditions of Bikram’s tropical/subtropical homeland of Calcutta (Kolkata). It was seen that the added heat and humidity helped quickly soften the muscles allowing for easier stretching
  • Over the years the heat kept escalating as the endorphin release from the elevated heart rate from hot yoga was a welcome side effect. Since often heat by itself can be experienced as too drying in a hot yoga class, added humidity became a crucial factor. In order to approximate a subtropical climate there needs to be independent control of both the heat and humidity elements for a hot yoga class.
  • Most hot yoga students experience the impact of the humidity in a class more than just the heat temperature level. Good air circulation is also important to avoid having the hot yoga class become too stuffy or oxygen deprived.
  • Bikram had a huge impact on American Yoga as many who took his hot yoga classes borrowed the idea of the heat and created their own hot yoga sequences. In fact today most yoga teachers will agree that practicing in a cold room is far from ideal. So unless someone lives in South Florida, the Southern states, or Southern California, most yoga rooms are heated to a lesser or greater extent.
  • Many studios that were offering unheated yoga found the demand to be so great that they started offering hot yoga classes. Generally, the more active a yoga sequence, the less need there is for heat due to the cardiovascular intensity of the movement. Static, less active, hot yoga classes can often be found at levels above 100 degrees all the way up to 110-112 degrees with 40-60% humidity.

Some level of heated or hot yoga is necessary especially during colder months and in colder areas of the country. The overall impact of the class will be driven by both the heat levels as well as the selection of yoga postures that make up the sequence. Having a nice heated room, a good yoga instructor, and a manageable posture sequence is a formula for a great experience!

Happy Sweating!

Andrew Lane, EYRT 200

Co- Owner of Bikram Yoga Norwalk (1999)

Owner of Hot Yoga Fairfield (2003)

Co-Owner Soma Samadhi Hot Yoga & Dance (2017)

Samadhi Hot Yoga Teacher