After the massive heat wave we had recently, I felt like it was an appropriate time to address this question. Did anyone go outside and do yoga while it was over 90 degrees? I definitely did not!
When I’m asked about the styles of yoga that I teach, I often get the question “do you teach hot yoga?” Ironically, I get asked this question a lot more in the summer months when it is already hot out. My answer is always the same, “Nope, I don’t teach hot yoga.” Here’s why.
What is Hot Yoga?
Hot Yoga means different things to different people. There’s Bikram Yoga, founded by Bikram Choudhury, which is often thought to be the original hot yoga. Bikram Yoga guides students through 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises over 90 minutes, while in a room that is around 105 degrees with 40% humidity. (Bikram yoga has lost much of its popularity after it’s creator was accused of sexual assault by multiple women and subsequently filed bankruptcy. Many Bikram studios dropped the Bikram name after the lawsuits were filed.) Then there’s the very broad term “hot yoga.” Usually this term means that the classroom is between 85-100 degrees, with high humidity. The definition of hot yoga will vary by studio, sometimes called “heated yoga.” Some hot yoga classes discourage drinking water during class.
People want to sweat
Many people seek out hot yoga because they believe they will get extra detoxing or fat-burning benefits from the heat. This isn’t quite true. Yes, heat and humidity will make you sweat more. However, sweating doesn’t equal detoxing or fat burning. We begin to sweat when out internal temperature rises above 98.6 degrees. Our bodies produce sweat, and when the sweat evaporates, we cool down. Sweating causes our bodies to lose water, salt, sugar, and a tiny amount of waste. Because sweat is 99% water, over-sweating can lead to dehydration.
People want to detox
Our bodies know how to detox themselves. Our liver and kidneys are our main detoxification organs. The liver and kidneys work together to remove toxins from our bodies and these toxins are released through our bodies as waste. Trying to force your body to release toxins through sweat doesn’t work nearly as well as our wonderfully designed organs. As I mentioned above, sweat is 99% water. The other 1% is salt, sugar, and a tiny amount of waste. So instead of trying to force your body to detox in a very ineffective way, let’s allow our organs to do the job they were specifically designed to do.
How do our bodies burn fat?
Our bodies don’t technically “burn” fat or sweat fat out. To release fat, the fat cells are broken down into 2 parts, fatty acids and glycerol,which our bodies can metabolize and use as energy. The more energy your body is requiring, the more fat cells will break down. This process of breaking down fat cells for energy is completely separate from the process of sweating to cool our body down. Sweat may indicate that you are working out hard, requiring lots of energy, and you may be burning lots of fat. You may sweat just as much laying on the beach, requiring little energy and not burning fat. The amount of sweat can be the same, but it is the energy expenditure that will determine if you are burning fat.
Doesn’t the heat make me more flexible?
Experts agree that it is better to stretch a warm muscle than a cold muscle. Usually this is done by “warming up” the muscles with gentle movements and then adding in gentle stretches. I believe this is the more natural way for the body to move, warming up from the inside. In “Hot Yoga” classes, many people claim to have increased flexibility because of the external heat. The problem I have with this, is that people already push themselves to the limit of their flexibility in yoga. I see it all the time, no matter what my cues are. I will tell people to find a stretch in their muscle (not their joints!) and hold the gentle stretch and breathe into it. After this instruction, I will still see people straining to reach further than their bodies want to go. I constantly remind people to find the stretch in their muscles and not in their joints. We want our joints to move freely, but too much flexibility in the joints can lead to instability and injury. I believe our bodies function best with natural warm ups and I don’t see the need to unnaturally warm up our bodies with outside heat.
How overheating can make us sick
Have you or someone you know ever suffered from heat exhaustion or heat stroke? Our body is designed to be at a temperature of 98.6 degrees. Heat exhaustion occurs when our bodies overheat, resulting in fatigue, headache, dizziness and nausea, among other symptoms. Rest and rehydrating can relieve heat exhaustion, but if relief is not felt within an hour, it is recommended to go to a doctor, as you may have heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when our body temperature rises to 104 degrees or higher. This can result is very serious bodily injury. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are more of a risk if you are very young, elderly, or obese. During very hot days, we are often told to stay inside and keep cool and hydrated for our wellbeing. Having suffered from heat exhaustion twice in my life, I prefer to not risk overheating myself or my students.
I have heard people say that after a hot yoga class they feel amazing...and I wonder if it’s because they stepped out of the 100 degree class and their bodies are cooling down... I have friends who swear by hot yoga...and we agree to disagree. I have come to my own conclusions about the benefits/risks of hot yoga and have decided that it is not something I feel comfortable teaching. I have yet to see another wellness/fitness class be labeled as “hot.” I haven’t seen “Hot Crossfit,” “Hot Kickboxing,” “Hot Bootcamp,” “Hot Aerobics,” or “Hot Pilates.” It’s kind of confusing to me as to why we would want to turn up the heat during yoga. I understand that some people love it, so please don’t be offended by my opinion. Please enjoy your hot yoga but listen to your body and take care of yourself.
As for me, I’ll be teaching at my studio where it’s always a comfortable 70 degrees.