Hot Yoga: Not for Everyone

Posted Mon, 03/05/2012 - 4:32pm by Camilla Cheung

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I've enjoyed practicing yoga as much as the next person &mdash ;I've taken yoga classes on and off for the last few years, much like many amateur practitioners. When I was living in Toronto, Canada, one of my favorite forms of yoga was "hot" yoga — yoga done in a hot and humid room, up to 105 degrees F in some yoga classes (Bikram and Moksha yoga are forms of hot yoga).

During the frigid Toronto winters, I loved the feeling of sweating, of being able to go deeper into poses because of increased flexibility due to the heat, and I looked forward to the refreshing shower after class. Every week, I noticed a significant improvement in my strength and flexibility. However, my practice of hot yoga was not without set-backs. After one class, I began to experience extreme pain in my upper back and shoulder; I had strained my back during a spinal twist, and it took a few days for my back to feel normal again.

Although hot yoga continues to be a hot trend, some doctors warn apprentice yogis that hot yoga should be practiced with caution, and that it may not be for everyone. In a recent Globe and Mail article, doctors question whether current practices in hot yoga are safe for everyone.

Dr. Neica Goldberg of New York University's Women's Heart Program, for example, cautioned that the extreme temperature and humidity of hot yoga could be dangerous to people with heart conditions, as well as people with low or high blood pressure. Even otherwise healthy people have been known to faint in hot yoga classes, as their blood vessels expand to allow greater circulation to the exercising muscles, taking blood away from the brain.

Dr. Stephen Cheung, the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, explained that in hot yoga, the body is less able to cool itself down by sweating because often the air is already saturated with humidity. He also noted that the idea that sweating helps to "detox" your body has limited value, as the body only releases a tiny amount of toxins in sweat.

In addition, because your tendons and muscles are more flexible in hot temperatures, there is the potential to hyperextend your body and injure yourself while doing the yoga poses.

If you're considering joining a hot yoga class, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • If you have a history of cardiovascular problems, avoid hot yoga altogether, or consult your doctor before trying it. If you are pregnant and in your first trimester, avoid doing hot yoga unless cleared with your doctor. Other yoga practices, done without elevated temperatures, can be just as rewarding.
     
  • Don't push yourself too far. If you're feeling nauseated or dizzy, rest and/or leave the room to cool down. Look for a yoga studio where a staff member is present outside the hot room, to keep an eye on you in case you faint.
     
  • Drink plenty of liquids before and during class. Stay hydrated with an electrolyte drink or coconut water.
     
  • If your heart rate stays elevated for several minutes and you are unable to get it down by resting, leave the room, and reconsider whether hot yoga is right for you.
     
  • Be careful about overextending your body — you may not be able to tell if you are straining your joints, back, and muscles because of the heat, so take it easy. Pain is your body's natural signal that you may be pushing too far. Look for a yoga instructor who not only teaches yoga poses, but also explains how to avoid injuries. Never push yourself to try potentially dangerous inversions (such as a headstand) if you are not ready, and don't let your instructor (or your ego) bully you into it.

 

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