Hot Yoga vs Bikram - Women's Health & Fitness

What's the difference between hot yoga and Bikram yoga? And which one burns the most calories?

If you’ve ever loitered at the door of a hot yoga studio, you could be forgiven for thinking the class burned as many calories as a camel crossing the Sahara. 

But it’s not the calorie burn putting piping hot studios on the map. Performing poses for 60 minutes in 37 degrees and 50 per cent humidity for hot yoga, and 90 minutes in 40 degrees and 40 per cent humidity for Bikram, can do so much more – from fine-tuning your body to cleansing your mind. 

In fact, instructors from both camps guarantee that one class a week for four weeks will deliver the ‘steam clean’ effect as your entire body and mind undergo a deep detox. In other words, you’ll sweat out all the bad bits and rebuild the good stuff.


Hot yoga occupies a room heated to match teh body’s core temperature using hydronic radiant heating. Often performed to music, it offers two class types 1.) Slow hot flow, a series of floating traditional hatha postures, gentle on the joints and 2.) Power flow, a vigorous practice following Ashtanga Vinyasa lineage that works to create internal heat through strong poses, pace and jumping transitions.

A variation of postures taught in each session is designed to keep clients stimulated week-to-week.


Alternatively, Bikram, usually using forced air heating, adheres to a belief that practising the same 26 poses and two breathing techniques taught in every class ‘warms muscles, prevents injury, allows a deeper workout and cleanses your body by flushing toxins’.

You are likely to become familiar with the routine, which promotes a more present and focused practice.

Which is best?

Yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years – there’s nothing fad about that! But Bikram and hot yoga variations are virtual newbies on the block, first introduced in the 1970s when Bikram Choudhury began heating the room where he taught yoga across the world to mimic the climate of his hometown in southern India. 

Exercise physiologist Luke Bowen, of Sydney Sport and Exercise Physiology, warns that any form of exercise in these temps carries a risk of dehydration, dizziness, nausea, a drop in blood pressure and even loss of consciousness and healthy brain function.

But sceptics warn that without a governing body or the evidence base afforded older protocols, hot-form yoga could hurt your body as much as heal it.

Yet experts in the field welcome the scrutiny and insist that all instructors are trained to keep a watchful eye on everyone in the studio and regularly prompt drink breaks. Both forms of hot yoga also demand doctor’s clearance for participants who are pregnant, under age or have a history of heart disease or stroke.

“Older people tend not to enjoy the heat as much,” concedes Lucinda Mills of One Hot Yoga in Melbourne, “and if you have very high or low blood pressure you will probably spend the whole class feeling ill.”

But, for most, as long as you are hydrated – start upping your water intake 24 hours before class – and have a decent diet, your body and brain will be in perfect condition to take on the challenge.

You might even find the specialty yoga reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes, as University of Texas cardiovascular and ageing scientists are investigating, or even treat depression, as Massachusetts General Hospital doctors began studying in September 2013. Watch this space!

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