Is Hot Yoga Healthy?
Hot yoga's popularity over the last few years has grown exponentially, but is it actually healthy?
Americans spend approximately $2.5 billion on hot yoga classes every year. People from all walks of life, from college students to housewives, all flock to hot yoga studios around the country to practice their downward dog in temperatures ranging from 95-105 degrees Fahrenheit. Recenter your prana while you sweat out toxins and tone your glutes. Companies like Lululemon, Athletica, and Gaiam are cashing in on the yoga craze, bringing in over $1 billion annually. The popularity of yoga isn't going anywhere, and neither are the millions that patrons are willing to spend on it. But how healthy is hot yoga actually? With crazes like CrossFit and Spinning pushing participants to their limit, it's hard to tell if you are helping or hurting your body. Hot yoga can hold many benefits for all levels of ability, including increased flexibility and a strong cardio workout. However, hot yoga could pose some health risks when not practiced properly.
When you first start practicing yoga in high temperatures, it is important to be careful. Having your muscles kept warm by the temperature in the room can give you a false sense of flexibility. This can be risky if you stretch too far and strain a muscle. You could be stretching beyond your end point because you’re losing the ability to know where your edge is, so you’re artificially stretching the muscle. Ligaments do have some stretch to them, but not as much as it may seem initially in class. When in doubt, play it safe. Stretch a little bit short of what you feel your limit is, and see how you feel after cooling down. If your muscles feel okay, then take it further next time. You don't become a Yogi overnight, and pulling a muscle can be more hurtful than helpful. Another great tool for beginnings is a yoga strap, which lessens the stress on your muscles by giving you a couple more inches. Take your time. When it comes to stretching, slow and steady.
One of the greatest things about hot yoga is that it makes you sweat. While you may be sweating out toxins, you are also sweating out water and electrolytes. Since you are sweating profusely during hot yoga, there is a chance you could become dehydrated. This can lead to dizziness and other ailments. It is extremely important to keep yourself hydrated before, during, and after each session. Take breaks and drink water when needed. Bring your own water bottle with you to class so that you can grab a quick sip whenever you want to and don't have to walk to a water fountain. Eating foods high in electrolytes, such as cucumbers and coconut water, can aid in hydration. Also, be careful to monitor your alcohol intake after a hot yoga session. Alcohol can further dehydrate the body, and you may become intoxicated quicker than normal. Drink water before, during, and after, no exceptions.
Avoid Heat Stroke
The rise of your internal body temperature and the rise of your external body temperature can create a dangerous environment, which can lead to heat stroke. If you have a history of being sensitive to heat, hot yoga is not for you. If you start to feel unwell during hot yoga, move to a cooler room and let your body temperature come down. The risk of heat stroke can also be reduced by monitoring your hydration. If you are worried about the temperature, bring an ice pack with you to help you cool down if you start to overheat. If you are new to hot yoga, try a moderate temperature room. Plenty of studios offer classes that range from 80-85 degrees for beginners to better acclimate themselves to the high temperature.
Monitor Heart Risks
People with any sort of cardiovascular problem, including high blood pressure, should avoid hot yoga, according to recommendations from ACE and Canadian health groups. Hot yoga causes our blood vessel to dilate. It also increases your heart rate. This can pose health risks for people who have a history of heart conditions. Therefore, if you have a history of heart problems, it is safest to find a different form of yoga to practice. Instead of a Vinyasa, which is a more cardio based class, try a restorative yoga class in a non-heated room.
What About Pregnancy?
There is an abundance of debate on whether it is safe to continue hot yoga during pregnancy. With exercise, the rule has always gone "you can continue to do what you did before becoming pregnant." However, with hot yoga, there is concern that your inner temperature is not easily controlled, and that the effects of high body temperatures on the unborn child could be dangerous. If you do practice hot yoga while pregnant, be sure to monitor your inner body temperature. Make sure that it does not rise above 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Regularly take your temperature to do this, and leave the room if your temperature exceeds this point. Also, be sure to check with your primary physician and obstetrician. Just because you can practice hot yoga doesn't mean you should. Every case is different, so get a medical opinion first.
Hot yoga has increased popularity over the last few years. It is important to know the dangers of the class going in so that you can protect yourself from them and yield maximum benefits from the class. Know your body and speak with your doctor to ask if hot yoga is healthy for you before starting.