Why The Benefits Of Doing Hot Yoga Is Full Of Hot Air

The temperature of a yoga room is always contentious among yoga students.  Some prefer it sweltering hot while others want it cooler.  Students will disagree with one another over this issue. Yogis complain to the instructor or management hoping to have their own preference on room temperature.  So, what are the alleged advantages and beliefs of hot yoga?

How hot does a yoga room need to be to receive the many benefits of yoga?

Despite all the brilliant marketing of Bikram to make hot yoga the best thing since sliced bread (and it truly was brilliant marketing), this is a personal choice.  The real benefits of yoga can occur at any temperature because its about mindful movement.  Doing Yoga in a room that has been heated to 100-degrees or more has very little to add to your physical and mental health but it does increase your risk of injury and dehydration.

” Will I burn more calories doing heated yoga?

Barely.  Your heart is pumping faster to keep the body cooler and supply more oxygen to the muscles in a very hot room. But if your goal is high caloric burn, consider something else like spinning, running, or any high intensity cardio training.  A lot of sweat does not equate a lot of caloric burn.

I’m sweating out toxins!”

False. You’re sweating out water, minute amounts of minerals, sugar, ammonia and urea. Ammonia and urea are the remnants after protein is broken down by the body. Sadly, you will not be sweating out the happy hour and tapas you overindulged on the night before.   If you’re looking for toxin release focus on your liver, kidneys and colon. If they are healthy and working that is all you need!  Go drink some water (add a little lemon to kick start bile production in the liver if you like) and relax. Listen to your body, it’s pretty damn smart!

I sweat so much more in a hot yoga room than any other exercise!”

Sure.  The heat causes the heart rate to increase. You could sit and not do yoga in a sauna or steam room and get the same excessive sweat. As the body temperature rises, the body has to make sure you don’t overheat and pass out. Sweating is a way our bodies regulate temperature so we do not suffer heat stroke.  The body sweats to try to cool you down, which is really difficult in a 105-degree yoga room. Sweat is about cooling  the body down not burning calories or releasing toxins.

“I gain way more flexibility when it’s really hot!

Sure.  The increased circulation does give you a bit more stretch for the muscle fibers and fascia.  But the heat can also make you “feel” like you’re more flexible than you are.  Too much heat starts to dull the senses reducing your ability to sense pain.  When the intense heat weakens our sensation of how far we should be stretching we increase our risk of injury.

Students often go too far in an overheated room. They cannot feel the stop point in their joints. They wind up stretching ligaments (which connect bone to bone). Ligaments are slightly malleable but they are not rubber bands.  Ligaments won’t bounce back when they are stretched too far.  Pushing too much into your ligaments, and not the muscles,  you create instability in the joints which causes pain.

“Hot yoga is good for my heart health!

The heat does make the heart pump harder. Increasing blood flow to the muscles and organs. So as long as you don’t have high blood pressure, go for it!  P.S. Any activity that makes the heart pump harder has the same benefit to your heart muscle. Heat isn’t the necessary ingredient for this statement, cardiovascular work is necessary.

My mood is always better after doing hot yoga.

Sure.  Any exercise will boost serotonin (the feel good hormone) in the brain. Sunlight, massage, happy thoughts and meditation do as well.  No need to sweat through 90 minutes of 105 degree yoga to get that effect!

If all this hot yoga is a just a fad, then why does it feel so good to me?”

The amount of fat on your body, the climate you were raised in, and hydration are major factors to consider before selecting to do hot yoga. Body fat is like the insulation in your home.  Keeps the heat in! The less you have the more you will prefer a warmer environment.  No wonder Bikram, who was raised in India, created the “hot yoga” fad, it felt just like home to him!  Hydrating is one of the best things you can do for your body!  We are made up of mostly water. You want to feel really good? Drink more water!

Practicing yoga in a room that’s as warm as a sauna isn’t any better than yoga done in a room that’s 70-80 degrees. If anything it’s riskier! This means if you are going to do yoga in very hot rooms, you need to pay very careful attention to yourself, especially if you are starting out dehydrated.  Unless you truly enjoy the heat, don’t be a masochist and do it because you “think” it’s better for your health. There is zero evidence to support that claim.

Yoga is good for you at any temperature therefore do what works best for you.

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