The practice of yoga serves to connect the mind, body, and spirit through psychological intention, open heart, and stillness of the body. The millions of people who practice yoga poses do so for many different reasons. The eleven common yoga practices cover a variety of interests including, prenatal, relaxation, athleticism, heart centering and even sleep.
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What Is Hot Yoga?
The styles vary according to the difficulty, duration, and frequency of the poses within the class segment. An additional twist on yoga is the temperature of the room.
Preheating the room to excessive temperatures of 100 to 105 degrees and 40% humidity is known as “hot yoga.”
It is not for the faint of heart, literally.
One school of thought is that hot yoga is for experienced practitioners. However, having had experiences with a variety of yoga classes, I find that there is no hierarchy. People should choose the yoga style that is consistent with their intentions and make sure they understand the limitations of the class as well as the benefits. Hot yoga, however, does deserve some special consideration.
Is Hot Yoga Good for You? The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of Hot Yoga
I attend hot yoga with a small group of friends. My friend, Lauren, refers to one class as “death yoga” and another class as “coma yoga.” Not all hot yoga classes are alike. Instructors vary in their level of challenge and poses as well as preferred room temperature. However, there is one rule that all hot yoga classes have in common.
“Do Not Leave the Room.”
At the beginning of each class, the instructor goes over the rules and the most emphasized rule is that participants should not leave the class if they feel discomfort. As long as they feel nauseous, light-headed, or dizzy, they should lie flat on their back, even if for the remaining of the class.
The encouragement to not participate in the poses is what I found most comfortable compared to regular yoga. I have always felt pressure to make my body perform in regular yoga classes which have been the greatest deterrent for me. I have often ended up in pain instead of a state of relaxation.
In my first hot yoga class, I laid down for the last 20 minutes of class due to dizziness. When the door opened, I stumbled out and sat just outside of the classroom to cool down. To my surprise, I felt like I had run 10 miles. I felt the familiarity of my runner’s high, and that’s what sent me back the next week.
The emotional high is under-emphasized in many articles about yoga. It is similar to the runner’s euphoria, the roller coaster ride adrenalin, the haunted house exhilaration. Hot yoga offers an endorphin rush, which may be the only benefit that peeks interest in yoga at all for people who prefer intense workouts.
The best part is that the benefit comes without muscle discomfort and strain. There is plenty to not like about regular yoga for high-intensity athletes. We tend not to stretch or warm up because we find it boring. Our minds fight with our bodies when we slow down that much. Being in a cool room doesn’t help either.
Hot yoga delivers a more suitable environment for stretching. The poses tend to be more about balance and mindfulness. The challenge of the poses focuses on duration rather than difficulty, which may also make us less prone to injury.
While overstretching is one of the warnings of hot yoga, that may be less likely for high-intensity junkies. Stretching is not what we are there for. Generally speaking, we know stretching is not our niche. We’re there for the heart racing. I know I’m likely to let up on a stretch to remain standing for one more second.
Health Benefits May Be All in the Mind
While hot yoga will definitely get your heart racing, benefits of weight loss and toxin release are unfounded. Even some of the known benefits may not be noticed by many practitioners. Benefits from hot yoga occur over time and are not exclusive to hot yoga practice. The same benefits can be achieved with other (safer) activities.
Over time, the extreme heat may support endurance and muscle growth, but whether or not a yogi notices these changes depends on other conditions. Endurance has to be tested. If practitioners prefer only low to moderate activity, they may not notice a benefit of endurance.
Since fat hides muscle, a practitioner who carries excess weight may never see their muscle growth. A practitioner who is lean may notice a change in their muscular appearance. But, hot yoga attracts all body types because it requires minimal physical activity.
There may be social benefits to hot yoga depending on where you attend. The classes tend to take place in a small room since it has to be heated. Smaller class size may allow the instructor more availability to assist each participant at least once during class. After class, participants often hang around while they wait for their bodies to return to homeostasis.
I’ve hung around after class for as long as 30 minutes and notice that participants often check-in with one another, take turns cleaning mats, and look for affirmation that “the room felt hotter than last time.” Someone always complains that the room felt hotter than last time. The group recovery always takes place outside of the classroom and it’s a great way to meet people. No conversation starter is required, it’s inherent.
Surviving Hot Yoga
There are some ways to make hot yoga more comfortable so that you can relax into the experience. Let the heat and poses do the work for you by being prepared with proper hydration, clothing, and mindset.
Arrive with a bottle of water, a yoga mat, and a towel if these are not available at the facility. Do not lotion your feet before class, no matter how shy they may be. You will slide too much on your mat once it gets sweaty. However, applying an extra layer of deodorant may be helpful. Place your hair off your neck and face if it is long. It will get wet and sticky and become a distraction if it is not properly placed out of the way.
Hydrate well the day before and up to a couple of hours before your class. Remember, you can’t leave the room, so you don’t want to get stuck trying to hold your bladder. Avoid large quantities of water the hour before your class.
During class, limit your hydration to small sips. Your body has too much to regulate to add digestion to it. Nausea is likely to follow if you drink too much water, and water is the preferred hydration. Some hydrating drinks are sugary and even small amounts may cause nausea.
Don’t be afraid to modify, not just your poses, but your breathing. Deep breathes do not always result in positive effects. It can cause dizziness. Breathing through the mouth can also be troublesome if you have asthma. So, if you are feeling extreme discomfort early on, pay attention to the effects of your breathing regardless of the instruction being given.
Wear light clothing for greater comfort, although, really, there is no gear that will tolerate the extreme heat. Your clothing will be soaked. Most participants are at least sleeveless. Some men practice topless and some women leave their midsection exposed. Size does not dictate what participants wear. Wear what is comfortable on your body, and, by all means, do not judge what others wear.
Your mental energy should focus on yourself. Make sure your breathing is fluid and your vision is clear. It may help to have a mantra in your mind to repeat to yourself as often as you need. Yoga began as a spiritual practice. You may get more out of it if you set a spiritual intention.
You may achieve your spiritual intention lying down just as easily as holding a pose. Do not be shy about skipping poses or leaving a pose early. You should also use the available foam blocks to assist you to avoid pain. Yoga should not cause pain. Slight discomfort is OK, pain is not OK.
Remember, yoga is a practice, not a perfection. It is a discipline. Discipline your mind to listen to your body.
Fetters, A. (2019). How to Achieve a Runner’s High. https://www.runnersworld.com/training/a20851505/how-to-achieve-a-runners-high/. Runner’s World. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
Kramer, V. (2019). Hot Yoga Can Get Ugly: Unproven Benefits and Risk of the Heated Practice. https://unhype.com/yoga/hot-yoga-can-get-ugly-unproven-benefits-risks-of-heated-practice/. Unhype. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
Lefave, S. (2016). Better Muscle Definition Will Take This Long
Lineage History. http://byca.yoga/bikram-yoga/lineage-history/. Bikram Yoga. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
Spry Living. (2014). 6 Hot Yoga Myths, Debunked
https://www.care2.com/greenliving/6-hot-yoga-myths-debunked.html. Care2. Retrieved June 1, 2019.