Yoga can be many things: soothing, strengthening, centering, challenging – and sweaty. This is especially true when you practice yoga in a room heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Known as hot yoga, this variation on traditional vinyasa yoga is embraced by people who want to supercharge flexibility, strength and cardiovascular benefits.

In hot yoga’s heated environment, the blood vessels dilate, which allows increased blood flow and promotes detoxification. “External heat also increases the rate at which the muscles warm and become supple, which is great for going deeper into a pose,” says Ana Llewellyn, regional manager for Yoga Six, located at 5724 Oakland Ave., with a Des Peres location opening next month.

Yoga Six offers two different hour-long hot yoga classes, Hot Yoga and Power Yoga. “Most people begin their practice in Hot Yoga, a highly structured class that lays the foundation for a heated-yoga practice,” Llewellyn says. “The poses are the same each class, which is great because students who practice consistently can gauge how much their flexibility, strength and balance improve over time. The class is also great for developing body awareness and improving posture.”

Power Yoga, then, is a “heated, full-body blast with arm balances, inversions and progressive posture variations,” she says. Although heated, this class is slightly cooler, between 95 and 98 F, compared to a range of 100 to 104 F in Hot Yoga. Because the heated rooms are not only hot, but also kept at 45 percent humidity, the heat is steamy – akin to a sauna. In addition, hot air is circulated so it doesn’t become stale.

The vigorous pace of Power Yoga makes this class a more challenging workout. “The body benefits of this class are improved strength, coordination and cardiovascular health,” Llewellyn says. “Our teachers offer posture variations in each class, which allows for self-guided progression and exploration in a safe environment.”

Individuals new to hot yoga sometimes express concerns about being overwhelmed by the heat, so Yoga Six offers warm, rather than hot, classes as an alternative to address these concerns. “We acknowledge that hot yoga, like any other fitness activity, can be hard,” Llewellyn says. “We encourage new students to practice at their own pace and to rest, sip water or even step out of the room if they need to.”

These other yoga classes, including Vinyasa, Boot Camp, Deep Stretch and Flow, are kept about 85 to 88 F and offer a range of postures and focuses from fitness to deep relaxation. The studio itself offers two yoga rooms that have a slightly cushioned, nonporous floor known as Zebra mat (rather than cement often found at other studios), closets to hide any clutter and recessed lighting to help achieve the proper mood.

All Yoga Six instructors must complete a minimum of 200 hours of teaching certification in order to help students work hard while honoring their physical limitations. They also pay attention to students’ breathing and make sure they are hydrating properly throughout class. “Overstretching or pushing beyond your limits is a concern in any yoga class, heated or nonheated,” Lllewellyn says. “There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to practicing in a heated room – some people love it, and others do not.”

Erica Poe is one of those who does love it. The 25-year-old visits Yoga Six about five times a week and is a devotee of practicing in the heat, which she’s been doing for about a year. “When I started, I felt it was really good for stretching and making me feel more limber,” she says. “And afterward I feel better than when I began. I’m worn out, but in a good way. Plus, I’ve never been more toned.”

Hot yoga was invented in the early 1970s by Bikram Choudhury, the now 69-year-old Indian yogi who developed a 90-minute series of 26 particular yoga poses done in a room heated to 104° F. Choudhury claimed that the practice was meant to mimic yoga in India’s hot climate, and his regimented routine is known as Bikram Yoga. In recent years, additional forms of hot yoga have been developed using the heated environment but lasting only an hour and involving a less structured series of poses, as is practiced at Yoga Six.

In fact, the heated classes at Yoga Six have become the most popular offerings, notes Michelle Cook, Yoga Six studio manager and instructor. Although Cook doesn’t currently teach hot yoga, she regularly practices it. “This class is very results-driven,” she says. “People often tell us that the heat helps them focus.”

Aside from ensuring you’re well hydrated before class and not overloading on a heavy meal within a couple of hours of starting, no special preparation is needed. The studios are equipped with mats and mat towels for rent or purchase, as well as a retail section with activewear and yoga supplies.

At the end of the day, yoga has many physical and mental benefits, whether you choose to simply warm up your workout or truly turn up the heat.

Anyone with a chronic health condition, cardiovascular or neurological disease, joint disorders or a history of fainting or heatstroke should check with a doctor before practicing hot yoga.

5724 Oakland Ave., St. Louis | 314-802-7447 | yogasix.com

Connie, a native of St. Charles and graduate of the MU School of Journalism, is a freelance writer and editor who contributes to print and online publications for clients throughout the country. She has one husband, two teenage sons and three cats.