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Another fitness trend is heating up across the US—and it involves stretching and sweating in dry, desert-like heat.

Rather than cranking up the temperatures in studios with traditional forced air systems, infrared hot yoga uses heated panels to mimic the sun’s warmth. The radiant energy warms practitioners’ bodies and the floor rather than the surrounding air. 

Proponents say this less swampy form of yoga offers health benefits ranging from increased flexibility to weight loss and “dance releve” the body through sweat. But as with infrared saunas (which also use this dry kind of heat), there isn’t any evidence to back up most of these claims. That said, infrared hot yoga does offer many of the same advantages of other styles of yoga, and might make it easier for some people to practice at higher temperatures.

“It was definitely a different sensation, practicing in the dry heated conditions,” says Stacy D. Hunter, the director of the Cardiovascular Physiology Lab at Texas State University, who has practiced hot yoga for more than a decade and studies how the heated and non-heated forms affect vascular health. “It didn’t really feel hotter [at first] because there was practically no humidity there, but when you get to practicing … it’s very difficult, it feels very hot, and it’s very mentally challenging.”

Hot yoga vs. regular yoga

“Yoga in general is great for so many reasons, for physical and mental health,” says Cara Hall, a physician who specializes in primary care sports medicine at Keck Medicine of USC. 

The movements improve strength, flexibility, and balance. Research also indicates that yoga can ease lower back and neck pain, reduce stress, and improve sleep. When practiced consistently, Hunter says, it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and helps the blood vessels dilate to improve blood flow. She and her collaborators are further investigating how non-heated yoga affects immune function.

During a hot yoga class, the room is heated to around 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which lets participants limber up and sweat more. This variation is intended to further boost flexibility and deepen stretches.

“For someone who is training or conditioning to do some sort of performance event in a hot place or just trying to peak their performance, hot yoga may be a good way to kind of acclimate to that environment or to be able to push yourself a little more,” Hall says.

[Related: 5 stretches you should do every day]

However, Hunter notes, the overall amount of calories burned during hot yoga and other traditional yoga styles are pretty similar. She and her team have further found that hot yoga and non-heated yoga have similar effects on blood vessel dilation. “It didn’t appear that the heat conferred any additional benefit in terms of vascular function,” she says. 

“A lot is still undocumented in terms of the benefits of hot yoga,” Hunter adds. “Some of the claims that have been made about it have definitely preceded the evidence to back that up.” 



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