Last Saturday, I attended my first hot yoga class.
With yoga mat, bath towel and open mind in tow, I entered the 100 degree room without knowing what to expect. But after an hour of sun salutations and warrior poses had gone by, I felt more flexible and centered – and not to mention sweaty. And it gave me a new appreciation for the practice as a whole.
But without really knowing what the benefits of hot yoga were, I was left wondering what the science behind the art was. DietInReview.com’s yoga expert, Jill Lawson, was here to answer my questions.
Q: What are the benefits of hot yoga?
When we are hot, our body works hard at cooling the body. This means our heart will beat faster, our pores will open, and we will feel flushed with fast flowing blood and oxygen, especially when we sweat for a long period of time, as in a hot yoga class.
Many people go to hot yoga to detoxify the body. Some health experts say sweating does not remove toxins from the body, but in many cultures, sweating is a way to not only purify the body, but it is a respected way to purify the mind as well.
Some people do hot yoga to lose weight. Even though we may lose up to 3 pounds after a hot yoga class, sweating does not contribute directly to fat loss. However, it does help to fire up the body’s systems, therefore enhancing health and vitality. When we feel detoxified and cleansed, we are less likely to eat foods that do not contribute to our overall health, ultimately leading to weight loss.
Muscles move better when they are warm and pliable, however, there is a fine line between stretching in heat and working out harder in heat. We may be able to lengthen our muscles, ie., stretch deeper in a hot yoga class. But because we are expending lots of energy trying to cool off, we may unconsciously conserve effort in each pose.
If the goal is to have more flexibility, hot yoga is great. If the goal is to do something that requires a tremendous amount of muscle strength, I recommend doing some other type of yoga such as vinyasa flow, or a different type of exercise, such as lifting weights.
Q: How does it differ from other forms of yoga?
It differs by about 25 degrees! Even though the heat makes it feel difficult, the muscle exertion factor is not as high as some other forms of yoga. For example, a vinyasa yoga routine flows in and out of poses utilizing the muscles of the arms and legs to generate heat inside the body.
In hot yoga, your body is already heated by the mere fact that it’s over 100 degrees in the room. So compared with vinyasa yoga, hot yoga classes do not require a vigorous warm up, therefore not requiring vigorous poses to heat the body.
Q: What types of people would you recommend hot yoga to?
Generally fit types. Anyone with heart problems should not attempt hot yoga without consulting their doctor first. Just as there are warning signs outside the sauna door, the same warnings apply in hot yoga.
Q: For a person looking to branch out of their everyday workout routine, what is the best type of yoga to try?
It depends on what comprises their everyday workout routine.
Regular weightlifters might benefit greatly from hot yoga because they most likely already have strong muscles, but need to increase their level of flexibility.
Runners, cyclists, and other aerobic type exercisers might like to add an Ashtanga or vinyasa yoga class, as they would still get the ‘runner’s high’ from the rhythmic breathing required, plus gain some muscle balance and symmetry that could help reduce their chances of overuse injury.
I appreciate Jill’s insight so much. One particular thing she mentioned was that in hot yoga our body is already hot from the temperature, so compared with vinyasa yoga, it doesn’t require as vigorous a warm up or poses to heat the body.
This made complete sense as I went in expecting incredibly challenging poses – like the flying cow followed by a crouching eagle held for 30 minutes – and came out thinking, “Hmm, that was nice. I could do that again.”
My overall feelings of hot yoga are positive. I like the sweat. I like the increased flexibility it gave me. I love how relaxed I felt afterwards. And I particularly liked that after a week of difficult workouts, running and weightlifting, it really stretched me out and prepared me for another week at the gym.
Hot yoga, you officially have a fan in me.
April 4th, 2012