Hot or Not?
I am a fan of warm yoga… I love the feeling of a good sweat and I always feel more flexible when the room is heated up but some classes just get too hot. Hot yoga makes me feel accomplished, like I just finished a great run… although, I have always wondered whether it is truly a better workout than your average yoga class.
If you have never been to a hot yoga class before, picture a room heated to about 104°F with no breeze, your hands sliding out from underneath you and your neighbors sweat dripping onto your mat.
The safety of hot yoga depends on your fitness level and health, but one of the greatest benefits is that hot yoga pushes me to focus on my breath more than usual. At times during the class, I find myself wondering why I decided to take the class as I try to sneak a peak at the clock while in downward facing dog. At this point, I am forced to clear my mind and come back to the present moment. It is that mental strength that I am trying to gain from my yoga practice and carry into my everyday life.
Hot yoga is also great for detoxification and clearing out toxins from your skin. I always love the feeling of a great sweat and believe that it leaves my skin looking and feeling clearer. Yoga also provides me with the opportunity to spend time completely at peace, without my cell phone or any of life’s many other distractions.
As mentioned earlier before, yoga in general is great for meditation purposes. Many people do not realize that it takes a great amount of practice to be able to clear your mind for an entire practice. Rather than creating a to-do list in your head during a yoga class, you should be entirely present and focused on your breath and your body. I usually try to set an intention at the beginning of my practice to always retreat back to deep breathing anytime I find myself worried or looking for a way out of a pose. It is my overall goal to apply this practice to my daily life. Any time I am faced with a stressful situation, I hope to be able to calm my mind and body using the same techniques.
There has not been much research done on hot yoga, until now. Dr. Brian Tracy, an exercise scientist at Colorado State University has recently completed two experiments on the physical effects of Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga involves completing a strict series of poses over a period of 90 minutes in a room heated to about 104°F.
In Dr. Tracy’s first experiment, with healthy but not sedentary young adults with no yoga experience, he found that after eight weeks and 24 Bikram sessions the study participants showed some modest increases in strength and muscle control, a big improvement in balance and a slight drop in body weight.
I think that the expectation to lose weight from a hot yoga class is one of the biggest misconceptions. When I am done with a hot yoga class, I feel like I just completed a very hard workout or long run, when in reality, I don’t think that it is truly burning that many calories. While yoga can be a great workout, it seems as though it is not the best alternative to exercise for weight loss purposes.
In Dr. Tracy’s second experiment, the heart rate, body temperatures and energy expenditures of the yogi’s were measured during a typical Bikram session. From this data, it was concluded that their heart rate and body temperature obviously increased significantly but the number of calories burned were similar to walking briskly.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the heat plays a big part in the perception of how intense the workout really is. There has not been any known research on the long-term effects of hot yoga practice or how individuals with heart defects or conditions may react to the conditions. From these results however, it appears that there is no known measurable danger associated with hot yoga.
Hot yoga does have potential dangers that go along with it, as well. From experience, I would avoid being right under the heater, as it can get very hot in the middle of the class. Hydration is extremely important beforehand, as well as during and after the class. If you ever feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseous, do not feel embarrassed to leave the room for a minute or two to cool down. Drinks with electrolytes may help to prevent dehydration during the class as your body is sweating out not only the water that you are taking in, but also sodium and potassium.
Hot yoga is not for everyone but I am an advocate myself! Always check with your physician or health care provider before taking a hot yoga class.
Overall, it does show benefits in increased flexibility, mental concentration, detoxification and increased strength but there are a few potential dangers including dehydration, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps and more.
“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.” -Buddha