The first heated yoga studio can be traced back to Japan in the 1970s. Bikram Choudhury was teaching in Japan and he was intrigued by the saunas his students would take during their lunch breaks. That’s when he started experimenting with heaters in his yoga room.
Bikram heated those early classes to 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit) to mirror the temperature of his hometown of Calcutta, India. He noticed that the increased temperature made people sweat and exert themselves more in class, and that as they sweat more they associated this with a better workout. So he increased the heat. And he increased it some more. And more. Today, Bikram yoga takes place in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hollywood was home to the original hot yoga boom in the 1980s when Bikram was the yogi to the rich and famous. Before the allegations of sexual abuse, Bikram and his unique brand of yoga were on top of the world. Now, many practitioners of hot yoga are looking for ways to continue the practice they love while distancing themselves from this brash guru whose star seems to be fading fast.
While there is no evidence of anyone using a heated room for yoga classes prior to Bikram’s innovations, there are plenty of examples of people using heat in order to create transformative, healing environments. In fact, ayurveda makes use of steam baths to induce sweating, both for general health maintenance and to treat colds and flus.Outside of a Speedo-clad millionaire with narcissistic tendencies, there is no authority that guides initiates into the practice of hot yoga.
From the Mayan temascal to the Turkish bath to the Finnish sauna, sweating for health and transformation is something common to almost every culture on earth. What makes hot yoga so interesting in comparison to sweating rituals from around the world is the lack of traditional knowledge that accompanies it. Outside of a Speedo-clad millionaire with narcissistic tendencies, there is no authority that guides initiates into the practice of hot yoga.
The Original Hot Yoga?
A naked, dreadlocked sadhu (one who has renounced all worldly involvement for a life of spiritual exploration) sits surrounded by a ring of flaming piles of cow dung. The midday sun in India is intense enough to drive all but “mad dogs and Englishmen” into the shade. But this yogi sits in the heat of the sun surrounded by fire. The heat and smoke are part of an ascetic practice called panchagni tapas (five fire heat). It is a ritualized practice that includes offerings to the fire, repetition of mantra, and meditative discipline.