Confession: I used to be a hot yoga junkie. For over a year I only did hot classes, hooked on the post-sweat high and the satisfaction of moving with more ease into postures. After a couple of overstretching injuries, these days I tend to stick to more comfortable temperatures. So what’s the deal? Is hot yoga good for you? Let’s take a look.
Hot yoga benefits
Science says that hot yoga can improve general fitness, flexibility, muscle strength and cardio health. It’s also been shown to help with stress, anxiety and depression. Good news… but wait a sec, aren’t these just benefits of yoga, not just hot yoga? Yup. You’ll get all these benefits just as much from a regular class. While it may feel like you doing a tougher workout, there isn’t any compelling evidence to suggest that the usual mind-body benefits of yoga are enhanced by heat.
Overheating and dehydration dangers
In a hot yoga class your body is working hard cool down while the hot and humid environment makes this extremely difficult. Overheating and dehydration are real risks that should be on your radar. Lookout for signs that your body isn’t handling the heat well: feeling faint, nausea, dizziness or muscle cramps shouldn’t be part of your yoga practice. Take a break when you need, drink lots of water and if negative symptoms persist: don’t do hot yoga.
It goes without saying that if you have any pre-existing health conditions, hot yoga isn’t usually a good idea. Talk to your doctor first and start out with a regular class.
The weight loss myth
Claims that hot yoga is better for weight loss don’t appear to have scientific backing. You might temporarily lose some water weight – that’s called dehydration – but caloric burn isn’t increased by the heat. Any type of yoga can help you lose weight, but it’s not about the calories. No reason to sweat for the sake of it.
External heat does help you feel more mobile, so it’s likely you’ll be able to go deeper into poses. However, there are risks that come with this extra bendiness: heat reduces your perception of pain and makes it easier to overstretch and cause injuries. Same reason why pain killers and yoga don’t mix so well.
Does going deeper into poses or pulling off crazy moves make us better, happier yogis anyway?
Sweating toxins is not a thing
A theory you come across in the hot yoga world is that you can sweat out toxins – this isn’t true. You sweat trace amounts of toxins. Sweat is mainly full of good stuff like H20 and electrolytes which you don’t want to lose lots of. The majority of toxins are disposed of in ‘final clearance’ i.e. poop. If you want to drop some toxins, head to the bathroom my friends – being dehydrated will actually make you less good at this.
The hot yoga high
When you exercise, or put the body through any kind of physical stress, you release endorphins: lovely, happy chemicals that ease discomfort and trigger a positive feeling in the body. These are the same chemicals that create the so called ‘runner’s high’. It’s likely that the increased heat stress the body experiences ramps up the endorphin response in hot yoga, meaning that you get a bigger endorphin rush than regular yoga. This could explain why people get hooked on hot classes like I did; not necessarily a bad thing if it gets you to the mat and you’re mindful of the associated risks.
A favourite yogi mantra: listen to your body. If a hot session feels good and the sweaty high helps you get on the mat and practise, then go ahead. Just make sure you stay cautious of overstretching, overheating and dehydration.
If hot yoga feels like hell and doesn’t suit your body or you experience any adverse side effects, then stick to a regular practice. There is no reason to believe you’re missing out on any added benefits. And you won’t spend your life washing yoga towels.
If you fancy trying a hot class, you will need:
- Lots of water. Drink plenty before, during and after class.
- A post yoga snack. A banana or coconut water will help you replenish electrolytes lost in sweat.
- A Towel. Unless you want your mat to become a slip and slide, this is essential. Hot yoga towels* come with sticky bobbles on the bottom to minimize sliding.
You may notice there is one magical person who doesn’t sweat in hot class. There is always one. They will breeze out of the studio shine free, while you re-join the outside world looking like you’ve just been dragged from a pond – if anyone can explain this phenomenon, please let me know.
How to find a class
Hot yoga is super trendy. London and other cities are full of hot yoga centres and smaller studios are popping up all over the place. There’s probably one near you. Just stick a ‘hot yoga’ search into Google.
I wouldn’t recommend trying hot yoga as your first ever class. Do a normal class to start with and read this first.
Tried hot yoga? Love it or loathe it? Pop your thoughts in the comments below.
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