Full disclosure: I have been a devoted hot yogi for some years, so that will probably filter the overall tone of this article. If you already despise hot yoga and are looking for reasons why it’s the worst, this won’t be the article for you. Hot yoga has made my life better in ways that reach beyond studio asana. BUT – there have been stages of my life when it has not been the best for my body, and there are certain people whose bodies it will not ever serve. Hot yoga can be incredibly beneficial, but it can also be dangerous. I’d like to take a quick look at some of the pros/cons of hot yoga and how we can make sure to use our practice to its best advantage.
Most forms of yoga have a wonderful detox effect due to the compression of vital organs and lymphatic stimulation. Combine that with a hot, humid room and you get a sweat unlike any other workout. What does all that sweat release with it? Toxins. Moreover, as you progress in your practice you’ll find that hydrating before and after is crucial. More water overall = more urination = even more toxic elimination. I’ve suffered from acne for most of my life, but a regular hot yoga practice keeps my skin clearer than any topical cream I’ve tried.
Pro: Strength and Flexibility
Yet again, most forms of yoga have a staggeringly positive effect on the body’s flexibility and strength. However, hot yoga in particular succeeds with the flexibility portion. According to Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise, “This is probably the biggest benefit we see… The heat certainly helps the individual warm up the muscles, joints and ligaments so that you’ll be more effective with any type of flexibility or stretching type exercises. Over time, you should see improvements in flexibility.” As for my personal observations? All I can say is that it takes a lot longer to make full hanumanasana happen in a 75-degree room than a 105-degree one.
Pro: Stress Management
Practicing in extreme heat typically sets off what we usually refer to as the “fight or flight” instinct. Continuing to practice even while your body’s stress signals are flaring trains you to use your breath and calm the response. This training, if we are mindful of it, can carry through to our everyday life and our dealings with anxiety, anger, or any other emotion that would typically take over when we are put into a stressful situation.
This one may seem like an obvious con, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to become dehydrated if you’re not watching your water intake SUPER carefully. Since drinking water during practice can actually hinder your concentration and make the sequence even more difficult, it is of the utmost importance that you are drinking higher than usual amounts of water before and after.
Con: Dizziness/Passing Out
It’s totally possible to get used to and even become comfortable in the sweltering humidity of a hot yoga studio, but until your body acclimates it is extremely important that you listen to your body and stop when it is telling you to stop during your practice. If you start to feel dizzy or faint, lie down in child’s pose or savasana.
Since, as we already discussed, our muscles and ligaments are warmer, they are easier to stretch. While this can be a good thing, it can be easier to overstretch and injure yourself if you’re not careful. It’s always important to be mindful of your movements in yoga class, but this can be especially true in a hot yoga class.
You should NOT practice hot yoga if you are pregnant or have high blood pressure, heart disease, or any other contraindications. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor. This practice can be intense, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. To give yourself the best experience, I recommend eating a light meal at least an hour beforehand; think along the lines of a plant-based protein powder blended with a banana and some greens. You also want to make sure you drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to and after your class, avoid practicing with a hangover (from experience… trust me), and most importantly, listen to your body and don’t push it too far too soon. You and this practice can have a lifetime together – there’s no need to rush!