Hot Yoga continues to be a popular exercise in the U.S and in many other parts of the world. The general category of Hot Yoga can be broken down into subsets such as Bikram Yoga, Hot Vinyasa, and Hot Power. Many studios that were previously “unheated” found that even for “regular” yoga classes it was acceptable to turn on a little heat since stretching a cold muscle is never a great idea. With that, here is my list of 5 Pros and Cons surrounding Hot Yoga. Please note that some elements that make it favorable quickly convert to unfavorable depending on the studio, temperature and overall approach:
Hot Yoga Pros:
1. Sweating! While there are quite a few people who enjoy exercising in air conditioning there is a strong contingent of folks who love a good sweat. It is tough for some to generate much sweat in a conventional exercise. Hot Yoga provides this with no problem.
2. Standardized Yoga Sequences. While some yoga practitioners enjoy a lot of variety it is important to note that asana practice is ideally a therapeutic process designed to maintain a balanced body. If a sequence is effective and covers all the main areas it does not need to be constantly changed. I compare it to the idea of brushing your teeth or washing your hair. There is a process that works and you’ve done it the same way for your entire life. Remember that not all hot yoga studios offer standardized sequences. Bikram Yoga, of course, is a standard sequence as is our own Samadhi Hot Yoga Sequence with small variations.
3. Muscles are safely stretched when heated. Often people are attracted to yoga due to tight muscles either due to an acute injury or a chronic tightness from lifestyle choices. Muscles are more likely to stretch and lengthen in the presence of heat. That said it is important to recognize that activating a muscle through movement will also generate heat. So the more active a yoga sequence is the less external heat is needed to create an ideal stretching environment. The Bikram sequence is very static and stops in between every posture so a higher level of heat is acceptable although that can quickly lead to extremes (see Cons).
4. Cardiovascular Benefits. There is much discussion about whether there are benefits to exercising in heat. On the plus side it will elevate your heart rate and create more blood flow through your body. Some of this blood flow is dedicated to the body’s mechanism of cooling itself through sweating. Endurance athletes often incorporate heat training to increase their VO2 capacity. The question of how much heat and how often ends up being an individual decision.
5. Endorphin Release. Due to the elevated heart rate from the heat combined with the muscular exercise there is a release of endorphins in the body. This can feel very good after a class but if exertion is excessive this “Hot Yoga High” can be accompanied by dehydration. Please note that generally any exercise will produce increased blood flow and a release of endorphins to some extent.
Hot Yoga Cons:
1. Dehydration. The ideal temperature of a hot yoga class will vary from person to person. Much of this depends on individual metabolism, body fat levels, and overall exertion during class. Bikram Yoga will often push the boundaries and run classes upwards of 110-115 degrees with high humidity. Unless someone is exerting very little in class this can be excessive. Bikram students will sometimes experience light headedness, dizziness, nausea, and weakness. If the heat is getting in the way of the actual yoga practice then this can indicate a problem. Ideally the heat supports the yoga practice and doesn’t dominate it. Even Hot Vinyasa classes can be excessive if it is a very fast moving sequence where even a lighter level of heat can feel overwhelming. The idea is that you want some of the sweat you are generating to be a result of muscle action or else the hot yoga class can simply result in water loss with little calorie burn. I have seen Bikram practitioners complain about gaining weight although they do a lot of hot yoga. This can be largely attributed to the false idea that sweating always equals calorie burn.
2. Sequencing: Often yoga teachers will insert their own ego or their own ability to do complex postures into their teaching. Unfortunately this can result in improper sequencing as well as risky postures offered up to an often diverse group of yoga students. On the far end of the spectrum is the Bikram Sequence which offers little, if any, modifications and is usually taught in “command form” which raises stress levels for many students. Increase stress raises cortisol which then causes the body to hold onto fat reserves. Bikram is also taught via a “dialogue” which tends to emphasize a “yoga goal” in each posture which is not helpful and can be dangerous. This results in students pushing, comparing, and self-evaluating which does not lend itself to a therapeutic practice.
3. Over Stretching: This is an extreme resulting from students pushing themselves towards a “full expression of a posture” which is also a dangerous and misguided idea. What tends to happen is the muscles themselves can become strained especially areas that are typically tight such as the hamstrings, hips and lower back. Ligaments can also become overstretched by working into the joints excessively. Finally shoulder tendonitis is a common complaint from either over stretching or overuse during a yoga class.
4. Over-elevated heart rate. If a student is inadequately hydrated prior to and during a hot yoga class it is possible that the heart rate can become excessively high as the body seeks to cool itself. As I mentioned before the heat in a hot yoga class is an individual preference but realize that just because the heart rate is high does not means there is a massive calorie burn occurring. Calorie burn will occur at rest but is best done through muscle activity. Also, heat during hot yoga can cause cardiac drift which is basically just an elevated heart rate and water loss with little or no calorie burn.
5. Is it “Yoga”? It is very important to put hot yoga and other yoga asana(posture) practice into perspective, What we now do in the West as far as physical yoga practice was created and promoted in the early 1900’s as part of India’s desire to improve the physical fitness of its male population. Prior to that point yoga postures related to specific practices to clean out the body and prepare to sit in meditation. Hot yoga, when designed and taught properly, can lead to a healthier body and increased focus and mindfulness. However, when the practice becomes an addiction or an ego boost it moves further and further away from the realm of true Yoga.
We have designed the Samadhi Hot Yoga Practice which brings all the best elements of hot yoga into a standardized sequence with small variations. It is done via a slow flow without sun salutations and ensures a balanced body through manageable postures combined with some core exercises. All postures can be modified and we use blocks and straps if desired. The room is heated over 100 degrees but is a gentle heat and the room is infused with fresh, purified air. For more information please visit our website: Soma Samadhi Yoga & Dance. We look forward to seeing you!
Soma Samadhi Yoga & Dance