Hot or Not: What is the best way to practice?

I am asked this question all the time… is hot yoga good for you?  With the prevalence of hot yoga studios popping up all over the place, it really is a great question to ask.  The last thing I want is for any of my students to walk out of a class in which they have stretched beyond where they are comfortable and cause themselves lasting injury.  The result is detrimental, not only for your body at the moment (and until you recover), but it may turn you off on yoga entirely.  I like to say there are two ways of practicing yoga… safe and not safe. We want you to practice safely, whether that means taking a step back or adapting a pose to your own individual ability.  

So… Is hot yoga good for you?  Yes… and no. Like all answers having to do with exercise and mind/body techniques, the answer is not so simple.  First, let’s look at the benefits.

Hot yoga definitely has its advantages.  

  • Hot yoga classes allow you to get into the deeper muscles that may not be accessible in a non-warmed class.  In the Vinyasa Style practice (the tradition in which I was trained) you naturally warm the body up with a series of sun salutations designed to create heat within the body.  This heat allows you to find deeper stretches and release in the deeper areas of the muscles. This is why you will usually start off with Sun Salutations in a Vinyasa Style class and then move into longer holds or more difficult poses.  This type of heat is essential to deepening your yoga practice.

 

  • In a hot yoga class, you can start with warmed muscles and experience a longer period of heated stretches designed to give your body more release instead of flowing through a series of vinyasa sequences to naturally warm up the body in a non-warmed studio.  This allows you to be more in that sweet period of release for a longer period of time – perfect if you only have forty-five minutes to practice rather than an hour and a half.

 

  • WINTER CLASSES!!! There is nothing better for my yoga practice than stepping out of the snowy weather to a warmed yoga room.  It’s like summertime in a bottle. I feel lighter and any seasonal affective disorder melts away as I settle onto my mat.

 

There are also several things to be cautious about when attending hot yoga classes.  

  • Hot yoga classes have the potential to cause lasting injury.  In order to get the most out of a hot yoga practice you need to already know where your natural edge is (the extent of your muscles in a non-hot stretch).  Hot yoga allows you to go the extra 10% that you couldn’t if your muscles were not already warm. If you aren’t aware of where that natural edge is, you could end up going an extra 30% over that limit and cause lasting injury to yourself.  

 

  • Certain conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, pregnancy, and the intake of certain medicines may cause you to feel light-headed during a hot yoga practice.  For each of the circumstances above, I strongly recommend staying away from hot yoga classes until you get a doctor’s ok. Unheated yoga classes can still build heat, but in a safer and more supportive way for a variety of conditions.  

 

  • Hot yoga temperatures can vary greatly.  While I like to step into a good heated room (around 80 degrees) in the winter, I can’t breathe in a class where the temperature is set to 100 degrees or more.  I barely enjoy non-heated yoga when the temperature gets to be 100 degrees plus humidity. Add in the humidity of a heated yoga studio with lots of people sweating and the temperature feels more like 120 degrees.  I personally have a history of asthma and attending this type of yoga class doesn’t support my practice.

 

Ultimately, your practice is your own.  Whether hot yoga supports your practice is something you will want to discover for yourself.  My advice has always been to establish a non-hot yoga practice to find a good baseline of where your natural stretch exists.  That way if you do want to find yourself in a hot yoga class, you aren’t going too far over that natural edge. Safe is always the best way to practice.  

 

What do you think of hot yoga?  Let me know in the comments.

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