The Benefits of Hot Yoga
Pure Om's Rachelle Demosthene explains why practicing yoga in a 105-degree room can be good for you
Photo by Edgar Artiga
When Rachelle Demosthene of Bethesda tells people that she teaches hot yoga, she gets a range of reactions. “Some people are curious about it and want to give it a try,” she says. “Some people are like, the heat is not for me—I don’t know how you do it. And some people are in the mindset of: I’m not flexible, so I can’t do yoga.”
Demosthene, 35, was also skeptical nine years ago when a friend suggested she try a class to see if it would help the knee pain she had from running. “I can just stretch on my own,” she said. “I don’t really need a yoga class for that.” But Demosthene liked the idea of being in a heated room—she grew up in Haiti before moving to the U.S. about 16 years ago—so she decided to give it a shot. “At first, my flexibility was not there at all. It happened over time, and with practice it got better,” she says. “I liked how I felt, especially after class, because I felt so much more calm and not as stressed out, and my knees were feeling so much better.”
She eventually dropped running altogether and now practices hot yoga about five times a week at Pure Om in Bethesda, where she also teaches classes and manages the studio.
“Practicing inspires me. And teaching just makes me a better student, so I feel like they go hand in hand,” she says.
At Pure Om, where heated class offerings include yoga with weights and Pilates, the 60- or 90-minute traditional hot yoga classes meet in a room that’s 105 degrees. Instructors lead students through 26 poses—held longer than in regular yoga classes—and two breathing exercises. Demosthene plays upbeat music and sometimes jokes around in class to help the 20 or so students—both women and men—power through without quitting.
Demosthene understands that hot yoga isn’t for everyone. Even some teachers she knows say they didn’t enjoy it at first. New students sometimes step out of class for a few minutes because they’re overwhelmed by the heat, but they usually come back. “If it’s a friend or relative who brings them in, often we ask, ‘Are you guys still going to be friends after class?’ ” she says with a laugh.
In her own words…
How the heat helps
“Because it’s so hot in the class, you sweat, releasing toxins, so it’s a detox factor. Doing the warm-up in the heat allows us to go deeper in the postures so it reduces the risk of injuries, and it increases your flexibility, as well. Hot yoga also improves the cardiovascular system and is beneficial for skeletal health. The heat also helps the muscles to recover faster after class.” class.”
Break from the cold
“We have a lot more people coming in in the winter. A lot of athletes practice here, cyclists or runners. In the winter it’s snowing, and they prefer to do something indoors. If you can’t do anything outside, you might as well come in and take a hot yoga class and kind of warm up for an hour, 90 minutes, and go back to reality afterwards.”
“The goal for the first class is to try and stay in the room and learn how to breathe in the hot room. Try to stay the whole duration of the class and do what you can.”
Tips for beginners
“Before class, make sure you drink enough water, especially the day before—3 liters of water per day or more. There’s no pressure to do every posture. It’s never easy, because every day is always different—it depends how you sleep, how much water you drank. Over time it gets better. And you do feel the benefits right away.”
“Doing hot yoga helped me be more mindful of how I eat and how much water I drink, my electrolytes. It brings a kind of awareness. Sometimes we’re in such a hurry to go to work, take care of the kids, and you realize that sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves.”
“One student was 70 pounds overweight and determined to try hot yoga. He said that the heat made it easier for him to stretch. Within a few months he lost 35 pounds. His muscles started to show definition, his posture had significantly improved and he slept more soundly. He gained a lot of flexibility and balance, and his skin looked younger and hydrated from being in the humid studio.”
Associate Editor Kathleen Seiler Neary can be reached at email@example.com.