Hot Yoga: A Steamy Rant

[Full disclosure: I am certifiably pitta. Fiery by nature, it just so happens that increasing heat (and sometimes even just talking about it) tends to exacerbate that already feisty disposition. Knowing that there are many different doshas out there, I understand that temperature tolerance (and even enjoyment) for some is hell for others.]

So, here is my beef with hot yoga.

I get it. As yogis, the ideal is that we practice acceptance and non-judgement, even with opinions that may differ from our own. And for the most part, I can jive with that. Honestly, I can: Diets. Exercise, even. Spirituality, religion, politics. Run the gamut of tolerance and for the most part, I am absolutely a live and let live kinda’ girl.

Where I can’t manage to agree is when the temperatures soar above 85 degrees in a room intended for a dynamic yoga practice. I can certainly get onboard with some gentle heat- gimme 80 degrees and I am going to get grumpy, but I can tolerate it. And at the end, the extra beads of sweat can be, refreshing? Like I picked up the pace on a run, perhaps.

However, what gets me steamy is to hear someone tell me that practicing yoga in a hot room is for greater “detox” or is a “better workout,” aka “harder.” (What the heck does that even mean?)

The Detox “Myth”
We have broached the topic before in an article we featured on Gather here. Essentially, Dr. Edzard Ernst is stating that the body is an incredible machine capable of self-cleansing. Excessive behaviors aside, when we are mindful about consumption of anything, the body has the intrinsic ability to balance itself.

“The healthy body has kidneys, a liver, skin, even lungs that are detoxifying as we speak,” he says. “There is no known way – certainly not through detox treatments – to make something that works perfectly well in a healthy body work better.”

-Edzard Ernst, PhD

Additionally, Seane Corn, a detox guru by her own right, definitely says it best in her discourse on the subject: it is often not what you are eating, but what is eating you. Get as sweaty as you like, the monsters under the bed are still going to be there unless you get down and dirty with sorting out the tax emotional toxins (aka STRESS) has on your body.

Sweat (and heat) can be cleansing, but let’s look at the “traditional” forms of sweating out toxins. Sauna, for one. Hot water soaks in tubs, for another. Sweat lodges. FEVER. All beneficial but with limited exposure and movement. Rather the body is in a resting state and can actually give attention to letting the heat have an effect on a system AT REST.

Heat Factor
Bikram has been taking a lot of heat lately when The American Council on Exercise (ACE) published a study in which participants wore monitors of core temperature and concluded most of the participants at the end of the 90 minute class had core temps ABOVE 103. Similar to a fever, there is concern at high temperature as it becomes associated with increased risk for heat related illnesses and heat stroke. What gets me is that the Hot Power Vinyasa classes are perhaps not as hot, but the physical movements are VERY dynamic and get the heart rate going even higher. Bodies + Movement = Higher Temperatures.

Internal vs. External Heat: Which is a Better Workout?
What could be better than actually moving yourself in a physical way that promotes and facilitates heating from the INSIDE-OUT? Sadie Nardini is very vocal on her own understanding of why this kind of heat is actually beneficial as opposed to stress-inducing. There reaches a point when we are defeating the purpose, in her opinion.

Heat + Yoga = Dangerous?
Okay, if the sweat pad atop your mat absorbs the gallons of sweat that you exude. However in most of these kinds of classes, NOT everyone has of the skid-proof mats, unfortunately. Handstands and forearm stands become a major hazard- heck, even Warrior 1 starts to feel a little grippy in my hips when sliding around on a mat! That I am in the middle of a workout which is already challenging and the greater challenge becomes not slipping and busting ass on my mat, THAT is an annoyance almost as great as the excessive heat itself.

Hot yoga isn’t better or more challenging yoga, it is more dangerous yoga. Combining overheat with overexertion in slippery conditions equals a recipe for injury. Take into consideration that yes, you are actually more flexible in the heat, but are you conscious enough to keep that flexibility from turning into hyperextension? I am not so sure. In that kind of heat most of us are holding on for dear life.

The Teacher: Responsibility
Here is what hits home with me every time. After a heated class when I ask the teacher if they practice in that kind of heat, the vast majority of the time the answer is a resounding, “HELL NO. I would never practice in that kind of heat!”

And while that does serve as personal validation that I am not somehow chickening out of a practice when I don’t embrace “slip and slide yoga,” it also makes me question WHY we are serving this to others when we inherently know the damage it can do?

My intention may seem accusatory, but I am simply trying to bring an element of ahimsa to the proverbial yoga table- that we not endanger our students by allowing them to practice vigorous vinyasa in an overly heated room.

And if this is your jam, requiring non-slip mats is one solution. Turning the thermostat down a hair is another.

Just my two cents, guys. And all said with love in my heart and a flicker of that sweet reflective light in my eye.



photo credit: Andrew Cebulka