Hot Yoga: Is It Really That Good For You?
How would you feel if they cranked up the heat in your gym to 117 degrees fahrenheit?
How would you feel if you had to pay more to go to a gym that boasted Sahara-like temps?
Chances are you’ve already done this. This is the basis behind hot yoga.
The practice of hot yoga has taken off in recent years. People swear by it, they become addicted. But what is hot yoga and is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
Hot yoga is a similar concept to traditional yoga. Matt rolled firmly under arm, you enter into a mirrored studio in overpriced lycra-blend attire with a number of other women and men, and begin a series of breathing and stretching exercises.
The difference? Hot yoga is practiced in a studio heated to a temperature range from about 90 to 117 degrees. The classes are typically 90 minutes in length, and consist of around 26 poses and a few breathing exercises depending on the form of yoga. Most hot yoga-doers practice the form of Bikram, or it’s less intense spin-off Moksha.
So why do people choose to leave the comfort of an air-conditioned studio for the sweltering heat? People participate in hot yoga for a wide variety of reasons. Most believe that the heat gives you a better stretch, improving flexibility. Many believe that the sweat works to remove the toxins from your body, and improve the look of your skin. Some even believe it can treat anything and everything from asthma, to digestive disorders, to depression.
In my experience, many women choose hot yoga due to the believed weight loss benefits, advertising a burn of 1,000 calories per session. Whatever the reason for practice, it’s important to look at some of the top myths surrounding hot yoga, and what dangerous truths lay behind them.
The heat is good for you. When we perform muscle contractions, we produce our own internal heat through the release of energy. When this internal heat increases, the body begins to sweat to try and cool down the temperature within. In this process, it’s not the sweat itself that cools the body down, but the evaporation of moisture off of the skin that works to cool. Because the external temperature in hot yoga studios is so high, the moisture fails to evaporate, giving you no actual way to cool down. As a result, you could end up feeling extremely weak, dizzy, and nauseous due to dehydration. This can lead to heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. Because of this, the heat is not in fact good for you. During a session, instructors may tell you that these uncomfortable and worrisome symptoms are to be expected, that they show the process is working. Only you can know what the limitations of your body are, and if you feel these symptoms it is important to leave the room to a cooler area.
Hot yoga helps you sweat out toxins. In truth, most of what you sweat out during hot yoga is water with other toxins naturally contained in sweat, such as salt and potassium. This does not mean hot yoga can help you sweat out the toxins of last nights cosmo, or the cigarette you snuck in after a stressful meeting. These types of toxins are eliminated in the kidneys, liver, and colon.
Improved flexibility. It is important to note that there are two types of flexibility; muscular and ligamentous. The type of flexibility that most athletes strive for is the former. The type that hot yoga provides is the latter. Typically ligaments and tendons don’t show much flexibility, or need it for that matter due to their role as stabilizers. Because they don’t need much flexibility, they don’t get much blood flow. In a heated yoga studio all blood flow increases, increasing the flexibility in these joints. In hot yoga, flexibility is an illusion. Unfortunately, the more you continue to stretch your ligaments in this way, the higher risk you could be for injuring a ligament or stretching a joint to the point where it can no longer perform its supportive duties. Furthermore, the illusion of muscular flexibility can cause you to stretch too deep and pull a muscle.
Hot yoga is a “cure all.” On the Bikram website, each pose in the art is outlined with a promise of what it’s specific purpose is, and what it can do for you. While the descriptions outline which muscles and joints are stimulated and improved upon, the site also promises other more obscure symptoms and disorders that can be remedied through practice. These include everything from obesity of the stomach, function of the central nervous system, sexual energies, balance of mood swings, depression and anxiety, constipation, digestive system diseases and issues, menstrual disorders, reproductive issues, diabetes, clearing of the arteries, and strengthening of the heart, lungs, kidneys, spleens, and many many more. While hot yoga truly seems like it could offer something for every ailment, doctors urge the contemplation of the risk involved. Doctors say hot yoga is especially risky for those with high or low blood pressure and heart conditions due to the high levels of heat. It is important to consider the fact that blood pressure and heart problems could be an underlying cause of many and most of these issues. While hot yoga may work to improve upon symptoms, it is important to remember that the heat may not be compatible with your health, and hot yoga should not be used as the sole method of treatment. Always ensure to consult your doctor before practicing hot yoga.
Hot yoga provides a more intense cardio workout than regular aerobic exercise. This idea is thought to be true due to the belief that the practice speeds up your heart rate. In truth, studies have shown that the average heart rate in a heated yoga environment wasn’t that different from a normal thermal environment in which yoga is practiced. The heat from hot yoga and the sweating simply provides the illusion that you are working harder.
Hot yoga is a mass calorie burner. Many forms of hot yoga claim to burn on average 1,000 calories in a single session. While this sounds amazing, most forms of hot yoga actually burn between 3 to 7 calories per minute on average, depending on the individual. This means that a session of hot yoga won’t make up for that McDonalds drive thru binge you made at lunchtime.
Despite these cold hard truths, hot yoga retains an undeniable die hard following. Maybe it’’s the improved levels of flexibility and energy participants report for days after class. Maybe it’s the glowing skin, or improvement after injury.
Yoga of any form can be a great way to continue physical activity for those who have faced injury in the past, or perhaps can no longer participate in joint-harsh activities like running due to the blows of time.
Should you decide to continue to join your weekly hot yoga session, or even try it out for the first time there are some things you should keep in mind.
If you feel weak, dizzy, or nauseous at all don’t be afraid to leave the studio to cool down. While many instructors will encourage you to stay in the room and fight through it, just remember that if you do not cool down it could lead to possible hospitalization.
Always remember to eat a meal 2-3 hours before class to give your body time to digest. Eat something small like a piece of fruit just prior to class to keep blood sugar levels up.
Always remember to bring lots of water into the studio to remain hydrated. Try adding a pinch of salt and lemon- natural electrolytes into your water bottle to maintain the levels that you sweat out.
Avoid caffeinated beverages that will dehydrate you on days that you practice.
Remember, yoga is still exercise which means that you can still hurt yourself. Don’t be fooled by its seemingly gentle form, and never push yourself beyond what you believe is your personal max.
Awesome article. I thought about trying hot yoga because of the great effects it is supposed to provide, but after reading this article it has really made me reconsider. I think everyone should do the extra research before starting a new health regimen. This was great!
Interesting points. I’ve gone many times to Bikram hot yoga. It is difficult to get used to at first, and if you eat too closely before the class, or not at all, or don’t hydrate you run into problems. I’ve also seen the problem of drinking too much water — with so much moving around in your system you feel gross. Hot yoga is one of those exercises that takes a few times before getting used to and doing right. Sometimes you need to nap afterwards. I personally really like hot yoga. I’ve improved my balance and flexibility, but more importantly my self-confidence and determination. When you seem to have so much against you in that room, by getting through it every time and being okay when you take breaks, you learn to be proud of everyday achievements and push yourself more than you usually would. No pain, no gain!
In general, it’s a good idea to investigate a trend for potential pitfalls which Avery has done an excellent job here. Let’s not be too eager in jumping on the bandwagon!