Hot Yoga: Is It For You?

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.

Pro: Detoxification

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.

Con: Dehydration

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.

Con: Overstretching

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!

My Full Moon To Do List

Maybe it seems a bit contrary to compose something as mundane as a to do list in conjunction with an event as energetically meaningful as a full moon, but I’m a Capricorn and lists are kind of what we do. Honestly, I’m taking this down as much for myself as for a public blog, because the full moon is an incredibly powerful time, and I always kick myself the day after when I realize I’ve forgotten to observe this day purposefully! I’m not suggesting you sacrifice any chickens – in fact I actively advise against doing that – but I do know of a few relatively simple ways to harness the ancient energy of the full moon, release things that are holding you back, and manifest a richer life in the month ahead.

1. Think Happy Thoughts

See? I did say these things were simple. Energies and thoughts are multiplied like you wouldn’t believe during the full moon, so your positive vibes during this time are getting a big dose of full moon magic and growing exponentially. Take 5 minutes when you wake up and before you go to bed to reflect on your blessings. Spend time considering the good things the Universe holds in your future, maybe even writing them down. Look in the mirror and go over what you like about yourself. One thing I do not recommend doing is using this time to tell your partner about that thing they do that’s been bugging you for ages – magnified emotions means negativity is magnified too, so stick to the lovey-dovey sh-stuff for now if you can.

2. Meditate

With the extra spiritual energy flowing, meditating with the full moon is a must. I personally notice quite an observable difference in the ease with which I slip into my peaceful, calm “meditation headspace” during this time. As a bonus, many yoga studios and spiritual centers host full moon group meditations, so it can be a wonderful opportunity to get out in your community, meet like-minded people, and combine the powerful energy of a full moon with the powerful energy of a room full of meditating individuals.

3. Sage Burning/Mindful Release

While new moons represent new beginnings, full moons represent completion and celebration – time to release the old to make room for the new! Burning sage has been used for centuries as a means of cleansing and releasing negative or stagnant energies. To perform a sage smudging ritual, simply light your sage bundle and let it burn for a moment before blowing it out and blowing the ember to life. Hold it over a fireproof dish (I use an abalone shell, but your ex-roommate’s old chipped dinner plate works just as well) and use your hand or a feather to waft the smoke all the way around your body from the bottoms of your feet over the top of your head. Repeat a statement of release that feels right to you – I often use, “I release all that no longer serves me”, but you do you! You can also use the sage smoke to cleanse your mala/crystals before laying them out under the full moon to charge, but more on that later.

4. Cleanse Your Body

By this, I mean something slightly more than “take a shower” and slightly less than “starve yourself with green juices for 7 days”. Cleansing my body is just about doing something with the mindful intention of helping my body physically release some of the toxins from the previous month. Maybe I’ll do an extra long hike or extra hot power yoga class – though many yogis prefer to leave the full moon as a time of rest. Perhaps I’ll take a long, hot detox bath and follow up with a nice, gunk-pulling clay mask (because duh, I’ll take any excuse for a self-care skincare spa day… more on that here). Maybe I’ll even go on a quick, 24-hour raw food/hot tea cleanse, if I’m feeling especially bombastic!

5. Recharge Your Mala

If you don’t use a mala, you can skip this one (but seriously, look into getting a mala for your meditation practice).  Leaving your mala or crystals out in the full moonlight will recharge their energies and amplify once more the quality that initially drew you to them. Simply leave them outside under the full moon overnight and return in the morning. If you live somewhere known for its burglars or its raccoons, consider securing your mala/crystals up high or leaving them in a windowsill that will receive plenty of moonlight.

Your “to do list” for the full moon will change each month, depending on what that moon has held for you. Often you may need less, and sometimes you may even need more in the form of a retreat or a bra-burning bonfire. What you do to mindfully release the negativity of the past during the full moon is not necessarily important, it’s just that you do something that feels right to you. Feel free to use my list as a starting point and use your own intuition to let your practices evolve!

Free Yoga Phoenix: Free-Flow Nights at Mountain Shadows

Because I believe that everyone should and more importantly can make yoga a consistent part of their life, I’m a sucker for a free yoga class. Because I currently live in one of the most beautiful places in the country – with some of the best weather that autumn has to offer – I’m an even bigger sucker for an outdoor yoga class. But you offer me a free, outdoor yoga class presided over by Camelback Mountain at a newly remodeled and oft-discussed resort in Paradise Valley, AZ? Clear my calendar! I had high hopes for the Thursday night “Free-Flow” at Mountain Shadows resort, and though a few things were shaky, will definitely be giving it another shot as soon as possible.

What: a complimentary outdoor yoga class with gorgeous mountain views, with $5 drinks and appetizers at The Living Room for post-savasana socialization

Where: Mountain Shadows. 5445 E. Lincoln Dr, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253. While the class was advertised as being on a large lawn with views of Camelback and Mummy Mountains, our class was held by the pool with a great view of Camelback.

When: Thursday nights at 6:00 pm for the rest of November. Our class started a few minutes late due to some parking issues.

Why: Practicing yoga outdoors with views of nature has been shown to heighten breath awareness (thanks, fresh air!), release endorphins through visual stimulation, build confidence by practicing in a new environment, replenish depleted energy by allowing your body to “recalibrate” in its natural environment, and help calm the “fight or flight” response that prevents so many of us from being fully present in our practice. Plus, its free yoga – when the Universe gives you a gift like free yoga, it may be considered downright rude not to accept. Just saying.

Of note: parking. While the event advertised free and convenient parking at the resort, I have to say that I did not find that to be the case. Evidently, there were simply too many events taking place on the evening I was there, as evidenced by the moving practice space and the fact that we were directed to park in a neighboring lot which turned out to be full. Yogis then had to attempt to find parking along the street and a nearby construction area. When you arrive, drive straight up to the valet and he/she will direct you to wherever you need to go. I recommend arriving 5-10 minutes early, in case you end up having to trek from your car.

In summary… While the view and the waterfall sounds at the pool were lovely, I was bit disappointed in the decision to move the practice from the grassy lawn I had seen in photos. For one thing, we were practicing on concrete, and I had brought my thinnest mat in anticipation of a practice on grass. For another, we were right outside the patio of one of the resort’s restaurants, which made for a practice with a bit more background discussion than I typically prefer. Honestly, I just love a practice with a more direct connection to the earth, so I was a little let down when I discovered that wasn’t what I was getting. That coupled with the lack of parking for yogis (and subsequent late class start to allow for the extra headache time) left me feeling a bit like the yoga class was in the backseat compared to everything else the resort had going on – though I suppose that actually was the case, considering the “free” price tag! Overall, I would definitely visit this practice again to flow on the grass, but the concrete yoga experience probably isn’t for me.