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The Hot Yoga Debate

Mar 31st, 2011
Heidi Schubert
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Taught in 105-110 degree rooms, people are drawn to hot yoga because of its ability to make you sweat and feel like you've really gotten a workout. In the west, this is how the general population becomes drawn to yoga: for the strength forming asana practices we call “yoga.” Its easy to feel like your working really hard when pools of sweat are dripping off your face and you need a beach towel to mop up the area around your mat after class, but is this really all what its made up to be? Is hot yoga the new super yoga method to produce weight loss, strength, and flexibility?

It's true, you will definitely sweat a lot and feel more flexible in a room that is heated to over 105 degrees. When immersed in such a hot environment, you would feel that way whether you were doing yoga or just sitting still. So is it the yoga that is making you get such a good “workout,” or the extreme conditions you are placing your body in?

Although I will probably be going against the grain with a lot of people, I have to say that the success of “hot yoga” is simply cosmetic. People get very excited when they see a lot of sweat produced from their bodies, thinking they are burning tons of calories and fat. The problem here is that this sweat is only created from shocking your body into an extreme condition of very high heat. Anything you sweat out is simply water weight, not fat, although you will probably burn the same calories as you would in any dynamic yoga practice. I also feel that this isn't a very safe way to practice yoga at all. When you sweat out so much water, most people don't realize their new level of dehydration and don't refuel their bodies with more water. This can create extreme levels of dehydration, dizziness, and exhaustion. We also tend to feel more flexible in a hot environment. Why? Because our muscles are artificially warmed up, creating a sense of flexibility and freedom of movement. However, the muscles aren't actually warm here, and it's extremely easy to hurt yourself by pulling or straining muscles.

Don't get me wrong, I think that any type of yoga can be practiced in the proper way and for all the same benefits of any other style. If you are a die hard hot yoga practitioner, don't fear! I would simply recommend drinking at least 16-24 ounces of water right after your class and making sure to properly warm up your body by arriving 5-10 minutes early to stretch, do some sun salutations, and extra downward dogs.

When practicing strong, dynamic yoga sequences such as the ones taught in hot yoga, I like to always try and return to my general intention. Something that I think is forgotten in the hot yoga atmosphere is the mind, body, spirit connection that yoga brings to us in a way that many other types of exercise do not. We are not simply in this asana class to sweat as much as possible, burn calories, and fit into our skinny jeans. We practice yoga to connect with our breath, to our true selves, and to live in the present moment, drinking it all in. As yogis, sometimes we need to step out of the box and look at the bigger picture. I like to see hot yoga as the introductory course that brings new people to yoga. It is the course that lights the spark for that deeper knowledge of the self. This is the gift that hot yoga has brought to the western world: discovery. From here, however, we must remember to move forward, try new practices, and constantly set new intentions so that we can grow and evolve as yogis. This is what makes our lives exciting and new and keeps them from becoming stagnant and repetitive. With the new comes growth and that growth, is the true purpose of yoga.

Heidi Schubert, RYT-200, is a yogaworkout.com contributor.