Infrared yoga is no joke. The heat is intense, the sweat is real, and the poses are made even more challenging by the rising temperatures. Despite previously deciding that hot yoga was an unnecessary evil and seriously questioning why anyone would purposefully work out in such extreme temperatures, I recently found myself entering not one, but two hot yoga studios to discover what this fitness craze is all about.
Proponents of infrared heat systems argue that this type of heat is more therapeutic and healthier than the heat expelled from forced air systems in traditional hot yoga studios. It's thought to provide a total body detox, relaxing muscles and joints while purifying the skin. Multiple vinyasas, countless beads of sweat, and hundreds of calories later, I'm a believer. I'm not saying it's for everyone and that you should drop your current fitness routine for the nearest infrared yoga studio, but I do believe that this type of heat allowed my body to release toxins and forced me to be more aware of how hard I can push myself in my practice.
Ready to experience a 100-degree yoga class and sweat more than you ever have before? Here's what it's like to take an infrared yoga class, the potential benefits of doing so, and how it all works.
I started my journey toward infrared yoga enlightenment at Sweatheory, a hip health studio located in the heart of Hollywood that offers infrared yoga classes and detoxifying saunas. The space is covered with cedar walls and bamboo floors, making it feel like you're standing in one giant sauna. Inside the studio is a large pink Himalayan salt wall meant to improve breathing and purify the air as well as medical-grade chakra lights designed to benefit the body using different colors throughout the class. (Did I mention this studio is in L.A.?)
The studio's far-infrared panels allow heat to build, so when you first begin class, you hardly notice the heat at all. However, after moving through a few vinyasas, the heat becomes more and more noticeable. After what couldn't have been more than 20 minutes into class, my shirt was on the floor near the flecks of sweat that started to drip from my forehead while I tried to maintain a downward dog pose. Little did I know the room temperature had spiked all the way up to 110 degrees. By the end of the 60-minute class, I was lying in savasana in a puddle of sweat. While I wasn't sure whether or not my chakras were aligned, it certainly felt like there couldn't have been a single toxin left in my body.
When you first begin class, you hardly notice the heat at all. However, after moving through a few vinyasas, the heat becomes more and more noticeable.
Next up was Tantris, an infrared hot yoga studio located just beyond the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Two large studios sit upstairs fitted with a state-of-the-art infrared heat system and moisture-repellent flooring. Entering this space is like walking into a spa. Incense burns while calming statues and Sanskrit phrases adorn the walls. Each room is kept at around 100 degrees during class and instructors control a built-in humidification system as well as small blasts of cool air throughout the class.
Facing an infrared yoga class for the second time now, I feel more prepared and know what to expect from the intense heat. However, thanks to the humidifier and occasional pockets of cool air, I didn't find myself as depleted by the heat this time around. Even still, I had likely burned a ton of calories in the 60-minute class and thoroughly detoxified my body. I left feeling happily exhausted and refreshed as if someone had picked me up and rung me out like a sponge in the best way.
How Infrared Yoga Works
According to Olivia Doneff, creative director of Sweatheory, far-infrared heating systems don't emit UV rays like the sun, but they do provide the same type of warmth you'd experience from being outside on a sunny day. Unlike traditional hot yoga studios that use forced air systems to blow pockets of hot air, the infrared lights distribute heat evenly throughout the space.
The main benefits of infrared yoga revolve around the detoxification and purification of the body. "You're getting a big detox, a really different detox than you'll feel in a hot yoga studio," Doneff says. She also points to skin purification and muscle and joint rejuvenation as additional benefits of the far-infrared heat system.
Many people see improved flexibility compared to non-heated practices and quicker transformation in their bodies.
Additionally, by directly warming the muscles, infrared yoga allows for a greater range of motion, Britton Darby, executive director of Tantris, explains. It also stimulates blood flow to promote quicker healing to sore and injured areas of the body and can help lower blood pressure, oxygenate organs, and rid the body of toxins, according to Darby. "Many people see improved flexibility compared to non-heated practices and quicker transformation in their bodies, which is what keeps them coming back to the mat to explore the deeper transformative power of the yoga practice as a whole," she says.
While some might question the risks involved with purposefully working out in extreme temperatures, both Doneff and Darby maintain that staying hydrated, listening to your body during class, and recovering afterward makes the practice entirely safe. "I'd say there are more risks to working out in something like a Bikram studio… that forced air system, that’s not a natural way of heating the room," says Doneff. Recover with a mineral shot and by drinking plenty of water after class.
"Hot yoga is indeed safe and therapeutic... You do have to make sure you stay hydrated and take moments of rest in class when needed," Darby explains. "It is all about listening to your body and deepening your relationship to yourself—this is when the real healing transformation begins, and the heat component encourages this deep listening organically."
Hot yoga certainly is not for everyone, but if even a skeptic like me could be convinced of the healing power of sweat and infrared heat, it might be worth a try. Gear up with a few yoga essentials below.