A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way into my local health food store to load up on a week’s supply of Kombucha, when I spotted an eye-catching billboard for a local hot yoga studio. “Each class burns 1200 calories!” The advert said. My first thought was, “Wow! Where is this place? I need to hit up this studio!” But it wasn’t a few seconds after when my skepticism kicked into high gear. “This can’t be true!” I thought. Then I noticed a similar claim on my local Bikram studio’s website. “With Bikram hot yoga, you burn up to 1250 calories in just one session,” the website claims. So I hit the books and Google to see what I could prove and what I would debunk.
I quickly found out that doing yoga in a hot and humid room does little more to help in the calorie burning process than practicing in a “normal” environment. However, hot yoga will make you feel that you are burning more calories. And, you will likely lose water weight right away when you start regularly practicing hot yoga which might make you seem like it has been instrumental in losing actual weight. This might be why the “30 Day Bikram Challenge” has been so popular. Here’s how hot yoga’s perceived exertion works: when your body enters a hot/humid environment, your body’s natural cooling system kicks in. Your heart rate increases and you begin to sweat. Even if you aren’t moving around you will start to sweat, like you would if you were sitting in a sauna. You are dripping sweat and your body’s natural instincts are going to kick in and tell you that you are working too hard. But you push yourself, you finish the class, and you feel like you just kicked yoga’s butt and vice/versa.Yoga’s mentally taxing nature coupled with high perceived (not actual) exertion is what makes hot yogis think that they are getting the most efficient workout possible. It’s much easier to run on a treadmill with headphones on, the TV blaring, and a magazine in front of your face than to concentrate on acute posture modifications while holding strenuous poses. If you weigh 150 lbs and jog on thetreadmill for an hour (60 min) at 7 mph for one hour, you will burn 800 calories.
Yes, working out in a hot and humid room does increase calorie expenditure — about 10 extra calories per hour per 9 degrees of increase. So if you are doing gentle hatha-style yoga in a 70 degree room for sixty minutes, you will burn 189 calories. Crank the heat up to 88 degrees, and you will burn 209 calories. You know what else burns 20 calories a whole lot quicker and without as much mental anguish? Walking up 4 flights of stairs.
Of course, style of yoga and duration of your favorite yoga practice as well as your weight will also effect the exact number of calories burned. Hatha yoga is a light form of exercise, on par with walking at a leisurely 2 mph pace. Hot yoga (e.g. Bikram) burns more calories than regular hatha yoga, and Power yoga as well as vinyasa yoga burn quite a bit more than Bikram. The most rigorous and highest calorie-burning yoga is hot power yoga (not to be confused with regular hot yoga or Bikram), which can be downright dangerous for people who are not in perfect health. Here’s a look at calories burned by doing yoga based on style and duration:
|Total Calories: 60 Minutes||Total Calories: 90 Minutes|
|Hatha (Gentle) Yoga||189 cal.||284 cal.|
|Vinyasa Flow or Power Yoga||594 cal.||891 cal.|
|Hot Hatha or Bikram||477 cal.||716 cal.|
|Hot Power Yoga||620 cal.||930 cal.|
*all measurements based on 150-lb. female.
Yoga in general (hatha, gentle, yin/yang, restorative) is one of the least efficient ways of burning calories. Plus, studies have shown yoga to slow the metabolism causing your body to become less efficient at burning calories on your own. In The Healthiest You by Kelly Traver, M.D., general yoga is considered light exercise that will burn less calories than “heavy house cleaning” and gardening. It ranks a little higher than bowling and “golfing with a cart”. If you are trying to lose weight, yoga — like any form of exercise — can definitely help. Vinyasa yoga or power yoga is probably the best form if you are looking to use yoga to lose weight efficiently. For weight loss, skip the heat. It causes dehydration and exhaustion. You will be less likely to sustain high activity throughout your day if you wear yourself down in the morning with a hot yoga class.
For me, I like the added mental exertion of hot yoga. I like the way it makes my body feel cleansed after a vigorous and sweaty practice. I notice a decreased appetite following hot yoga. However, if I was looking to burn calories and/or lose weight, I would run. I would go to an air-conditioned gym and hit the treadmill.