Are supporters of excess heat & sweat in yoga class just full of hot air? ~ Dan Pitko

Via on Jul 29, 2011

Yoga-Sauna.

Many yogis love heat and sweat. Others do not.

The claim: “sweat” is good for you because it “purifies” the body of “toxins.” Some also say that extra heat “opens” the body more, allowing a practitioner to “go deeper” in a posture and their practice.

Is there any merit to these claims of detoxification? Or are some studios and practitioners merely teaching their own body’s preferences, to the detriment of others? In at least one well known Los Angeles studio, tempers have flared with the temperature, resulting in verbal outbursts and window-slamming.

As the yoga population ages, it’s imperative to properly understand how the body cools itself, so that studios and practitioners alike do not inadvertently cause harm—and perhaps death—in the pursuit of “going deeper,” “detoxifying,” “healing,” and “love.”

While the prospect of a yogi passing away during class sounds unlikely, each year many people die during exercise, including high school and college athletes. Causes of death vary, but often heat stroke causes death or triggers another event, like cardiac arrest, especially when teams return to practice fields in the fall with 90 to 100 degree heat. In the recent heat wave in the United States, as of this writing, over 33 people have died, including an 18-year-old, and most were not exercising.

In the “alternative healing” arena, deaths have already occurred: James Arthur Ray, a spiritual teacher featured on Oprah and elsewhere, was recently convicted of manslaughter for causing the heat-induced deaths of three aspirants in an Arizona sweat lodge. Could such an incident happen in a yoga room?

Body Temperature

Body temperature is automatically regulated through a process called thermoregulation. A person’s ideal body temperature is based on many factors, including genetics, body type, diet, athletic background, and metabolism.

Body temperature is measured by a person’s core body temperature, which is the temperature inside of the body, as opposed to orally or in the ears or anus. Some general findings:

—Body temperature falls in a general range between 96°F and 99°F. 98.6°F is only an average.
—Women have higher temperatures than men, on average, but women have more day-to-day variability in their normal temperature due to hormonal changes in their menstrual cycle.
—Age is a factor. Younger people have higher body temperatures than older people. Younger people can regulate their temperature better than older people.
—Body temperature is lower in the morning than later in the day.
—Faster metabolic rate (the rate of chemical processes in the body) translates into a higher body temperature.
—Body mass: In general, people with more fat and muscle mass heat up faster and produce more excess heat during exercise. The extra mass acts as insulation, and generates more byproduct heat in a chemical reaction due to exercise. It also reduces their body’s surface-to-mass ratio, meaning that a smaller skin surface has to cool a larger body, as I write about later. At least one study also suggests that the higher the body mass, the lower the body temperature.

Keeping it Cool—Humidity is Key

When heated, the body increases its air and blood flow to transport heat outside the body: the breath quickens and the skin can turn pink. This helps transport heat outside the body.

If heat continues to build, the body then produces sweat. But sweat itself does not cool the body—the body turns the sweat into water vapor to transport heat outside the body in a process called evaporative cooling, or evaporative sweat.

This means that humidity is the main factor in cooling the body. Why? In high ambient humidity, the air cannot absorb water vapor from the body’s evaporative sweat process. An example is walking into a sauna—the body quickly heats up because evaporative cooling is not effective, and sweat pools on the skin, causing the body to heat faster.

Heat Index

The heat index was created to gauge what air temperature and relative humidity “feel like” to the human body. As described above, the body has a harder time cooling itself when humidity levels increase because evaporative sweat is less efficient. A heat index of 105, for example, means that the environment “feels like” 105 degrees.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed a Heat Index Chart to provide guidance about exercising in the heat. “Caution” should be used when exercising in 80°F Heat Index and above; “extreme caution” when 91°F and above; it is “dangerous” when 104°F and above; and you put yourself in “extreme danger” when 124°F and above.

To understand what that means, let’s use an air temperature of 90°F: in 40% humidity, that’s a heat index (“feels like”) of 91°F (“caution”); 90°F and 70% humidity “feels like” 105°F (“dangerous”); and 90°F and 95% humidity “feels like” 127°F (“extreme danger”).

In Los Angeles, I have practiced in yoga rooms where room temperature, after a day of classes, is over 90°F. Even with particularly low relative humidity—40%—the room would still be in the “caution” part of the Heat Index.

The Cooling Response

The body starts the cooling process as it warms up either due to exposure to environmental conditions or because of exercise.

The body begins to sweat in response to the temperature gradient (difference) between the core temperature and the ambient (room or outside) temperature. Consider two ice cubes that have a core temperature of 32°F. “Cube A” is placed in a room that is 60°F, while “Cube B” is in a room that is 33°F. Cube A will experience a greater temperature gradient (difference) between its core and surface “skin,” melting sooner, and faster, than Cube B.

Now add an air conditioning system designed to keep the cubes at 32°F. Cube A’s air conditioner will turn on sooner, and work harder, than Cube B’s.

Recent research has shown there are gender differences: men sweat more than women. Researchers do not have a consensus to explain this difference. Some suggest hormonal differences, others say it’s because women have more surface skin area in relation to their mass, (so there is more surface area to cool via evaporative sweat and other methods), and yet others say that it’s evolutionary: men evolved as hunters so were more active and exposed, while women were primarily gatherers.

I am proposing a new theory to describe thermoregulation differences between individuals, and between genders, and have developed trial protocol to test its hypothesis:

Since men generally have a lower core temperature than women, and men generally have more body mass (fat plus muscle) in relation to their weight, the temperature gradient between a man’s core body temperature and the ambient (room) temperature as measured on the skin increases sooner, and faster, than a woman’s when exercising, especially in hot and humid environments. As a result, men start their cooling response sooner, and must work harder (sweat more) to cool themselves, than women.

And the converse: in cold temperatures, in general, a woman’s heating response will happen sooner, and work harder, than a man’s, because the temperature gradient is greater for women (higher core temperature exposed to colder ambient temperature).

There will be variations across individuals and environmental conditions. For example, most women do not build muscle effectively, but some do. Likewise, there are many men who do not build muscle effectively and excel as marathoners and gymnasts, whereas others build muscle very easily and compete in football, rowing or weight lifting. As a result, they will have individualized cooling responses, but I suggest those responses will follow the general theory here.

I have tracked my body temperature for several years, unscientifically. Generally, my body temperature is 97, and dips into the 96 range at various times. When I walk into a yoga room, usually it’s over 80 degrees and usually it’s humid. As a result, my cooling response starts immediately—I start sweating—without any physical exertion.

Toxins

The claim that sweat releases “toxins” is largely unsubstantiated. The reason: the main purpose of sweat is to cool the body. While sweat has been shown to contain trace amounts of lead and mercury, urine and feces are the most effective cleansing methods to rid the body of toxins. If you sweat for sweating’s sake and don’t drink enough water, you could actually hinder the body’s job of purifying and releasing toxins.

Sweat also contains over 30 nutrients, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Profuse sweating can deplete the body of these elements unless they are replenished.

The idea of “purification” stems from the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras were written about 2,500 years ago. The Sutras do not contain any reference to physical practices or asana. How, then, can “purification” mean “sweat”? Keep in mind that 2,500 years ago, there was no oil pollution, plastics, by-products from fossil fuels, and no food preservatives or additives like Red Dye No. 7 or Blue No. 4 that needed to be expelled from our bodies.

Instead, “purification” in the Sutras is a metaphor. It refers to eliminating the “maya” of the external world. That is the mistaken perception that external objects, i.e. people, places, things, money, fame, etc., can bring us contentment, happiness, or contact with God. These concrete objects seductively provide the false perception that, if we self-identify with them, they will define who we are, provide meaning to our existence, and otherwise fill our existential void.

It seems, then, that some practitioners unwittingly interpret the philosophical idea of “purification” as physical things—“impurities” and “toxins”—that can be removed via physical sensations—“heat” and “sweat”—thereby falling into the very trap of “maya” that the Sutras warn against!

The energetic buzz that many practitioners feel during and after practice is not necessarily related to anything intrinsic or unique to yoga. While it is caused in part by stimulating the nervous system through movement, it is also caused by the body producing endorphins. This is a part of the “fight” or flight” response we developed over thousands of years of evolution. Endorphins ‘numb’ the sensation of physical exertion so that our bodies push beyond its physical limits to defend itself in what may be deadly combat, or to provide the extra “oomph” needed to escape. While endorphins are helpful while fleeing an enemy, they are harmful when they mask pain that is trying to tell us to slow down.

Some Conclusions for Yoga

Yoga studios advertise and cater to a wide variety of participants: men, women, young and old. Many studios shut the windows and doors and advocate the benefits of sweat that results from high heat and humidity. Some artificially heat rooms, even in summer, causing room temperature to soar.

In closed rooms, practitioners’ bodies give off heat, humidity and other waste products, increasing temperature and humidity and decreasing oxygen, making it more difficult for the same people to refresh themselves by inhaling oxygen-rich air and to cool themselves through evaporative cooling. Individuals also vary in their biological ability to cool themselves: older people will have a harder time cooling themselves than younger people, and those with more body mass and muscle will heat up and sweat more quickly than those with less body mass.

Studios should take proactive steps to ensure accessibility for all practitioners. Studios should adopt the NOAA Heat Index Chart so that classes fall below the “caution” stage. A general rule is to limit air temperature to 75°F or less and install air treatment equipment to limit humidity. Another option is to adopt guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, which recommends indoor room temperature between 68°F to 71°F when exercising. Some exercise physiologists go further and recommend limiting indoor exercise room temperature to 65°F. One yoga studio uses “Fresh Air Inside,” as a marketing slogan, yet many classes feature closed windows and doors. They should make sure that their claim is actually true.

Yoga teachers and studio owners need to train their employees to watch for signs of hyperthermia, or heat stroke. The first signs are bright red faces and fast shallow breathing. The increased pulse and breath rates of yogis are not always due to aerobic exercise—instead, it could be from the body’s attempt to keep itself cool.

Studios and instructors should not force their personal preferences upon practitioners. Accurate information regarding thermoregulation should be disseminated so that heat-related deaths, like those in Arizona, are not repeated. The idea that “purification” is enhanced by “sweat” to rid the body of “toxins” should be avoided because it is without substantiation, and because too much sweat leads to an imbalance of the body’s nutrients.

Finally, yogis should be tolerant of their fellow practitioners. Unfortunately, too many yogis believe that what their teacher told them is “right,” or that what is right for them (based on their age, sex, body type, and experience) is universally “right” for all seven billion people on the planet. This is not only a false perception of reality, in yogic terms, but it is also egotistical and the exact opposite of a spiritual practice.


Dan Pitkow is currently an entrepreneur in Santa Monica. His first company, Flipper, makes a simple remote control for seniors, and others seeking simplicity in their everyday life and is in the Top 10 on Amazon.com. He studied Classics and Ancient Greek at the University of New Hampshire, before the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Before ‘coming’ to yoga, he was a competitive athlete, winning a high school and collegiate national championship in rowing. He currenlty practices ashatanga, completing the second series, with Jorgen Christiansen, and Tim Miller and Rolf Naujokat. Other yoga influences are Vinnie Marino, Shiva Rhea, and anyone who is teaching a class at a convenient time and location, preferably close to the beach. After leaving law, he travelled through Asia, India, China, Australia, central Europe and Greece. An armchair student of Joseph Campbell, and other science / creation myths, he believes that cross cultural similarities far outweigh their differences.

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75 Responses to “Are supporters of excess heat & sweat in yoga class just full of hot air? ~ Dan Pitko”

  1. Danielle says:

    Personally, I believe practicing in an artificially heated environment goes against several of the yamas (based on my understanding of the yamas).

  2. Shallan says:

    Thanks for this article. I never felt comfortable in hot yoga, and this has helped me to understand why. The physical strain paired with the style of teaching (clapping of hands to indicate change of position, and kicking someone out of class because they were older, strained and following her body's needs and not the instructor) are the reasons I will not be attending hot yoga again. Ever.

  3. Louise Brooks says:

    Thank you for this informative essay. It's about time someone explained, in detail and with facts, that hot yoga/sweating will not lead to all kinds of magical detoxification. "Detoxify" has been a yoga and new age buzzword for several years now. It is junk science. Thanks again.

  4. Bruno Ragi says:

    Sounds like the “hot air” is really this blog itself. And then a couple people had a bad experience so let’s condemn the practice and criticize what you don’t understand. The real problem with ‘hot yoga’ is number of studios teaching who aren’t certified teachers in the style they teach. The danger is that anyone can open a school and do whatever they want, people go take class ,have a bad experience from a teacher who is not a teacher, then the misconceptions spread. Then you go and read something like this pretentious hot air and feel validated. Peter on the other hand makes some very good points..

  5. Gavin Rutherford says:

    I get really confused when I learn that Krishnamarcharya taught that the hart rate shouldnt go up when practising asana. All this talk about sweating and over exertion makes me wonder if people are actually practising YOGA any more?

    • Sandra says:

      one definition of "asana" that I heard from a teacher is "easy seat" – in the Yoga Sutras there is a verse about balancing effort with ease. The most difficult of asanas should be performed with a minimum of effort without creating excess tension in the body. I finally began understanding this when I experienced "Shadow Yoga" (Zhander Remete) for the first time and began applying that very concept to everything, including my Ashtanga practice.

      btw @Peter, First Series Ashtanga (Yoga Chikitsa, yoga therapy) was never meant to be a "balanced practice" but an introductory one for beginning students that builds strength, endurance, and mobility. Students are meant to progress in their practice and so move on to Second Series which includes more "backbending" postures (I prefer to call them "back strengtheners"), arm balances, and headstands to balance the nadis (energy channels). Then there are the Advanced Series which refine one's practice further.

      Finally, I used to practice Bikram and Hot Yoga (as well as practice Ashtanga); I loved the heat, especially in winter, but as it turns out I was energetically unbalanced. according to Ayurveda I am a Pitta/Vata with a longstanding Vata imbalance that I have been working on since I completely lost my vigorous practice in 2002. I loved the heat because Vata is cold. But a medication I was prescribed for severe and constant migraines (pre-Ayurveda) interfered with my ability to sweat, and one day in Bikram class I recognized the signs of heat illness (I always brought water in with me and drank liberally). I stumbled out of the room like I was drunk, practically collapsing in the hallway and wondering if I would pass out (no, not a single soul checked to see if I was okay, nor did they ask afterwards…).

      While I returned occasionally to hot classes (but not recently), I noticed that as I changed my diet and lifestyle to adhere more closely to Ayurvedic philosophy I became more tolerant of a wider range of ambient temperatures (both heat and cold). A friend of mine, a Bikram teacher who took the Ayurveda classes with me, also was suffering ill effects of constant exposure to the heat – she had burning digestive issues, craved chewing ice, and other signs of a raging Pitta disorder (she's a Pitta). She too has noticed that following Ayurvedic recommendations for calming excess Pitta in her system helped her.

      sorry to be so long-winded, but the practice of yoga is meant to balance the body and mind so as to make the spirit fit for the practice of meditation. the modern variations of "yoga" are having the beneficial effect of introducing the masses to the physical practice which then leads many into the deeper practices, especially if they are studying with experienced teachers. All teachers need to learn the arts of observation and adaptation; Krishnamacharya also said that one should fit the yoga to the student, not the student to the asana….

      • DanPitkow says:

        Sandra: Thanks for your comments. I fully agree that the practice needs to fit the student, not the other way around. Its important to learn and build foundations, but at the end of the day, we have to build self knowledge and make adjustments accordingly.

  6. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    I've tried Bikram where the room is artificially heated – personally, I did not enjoy this as I left feeling really puffy. However, I LOVE practicing yoga when it is hot and humid outside. I enjoy sweating and I feel my muscles become a bit more supple. Anyways, thank you for this information!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  7. Yogi Bo says:

    what's yoga though without a bunch of sweaty monkeys in a heated room exercising together? you don't think Patanjali went out into his back yard sauna and did his morning jumping jacks? hee hee, oh yoga

  8. I did hot yoga for years and they told me to "stay in the room" when having symptoms of heat stroke! Great article…its not toxins leaving the body when you get nausea and chills in hot yoga. One male instructor actually vomited during a difficult pose!
    I write a health blog also and wrote about heat releated illness due to my experience in hot yoga when living in CA. http://www.wichitahealth.com/summer-heat-fitness-

    Now I do warm yoga and it works just fine.
    Thank you for being one to go against the military style of these classes. It's against what yoga is about. They told me to stay in the room. What?

    • catnipkiss says:

      I think it really depends on the teacher and the studio. Bikram yoga is one of my favorite styles to practice, but I have been put off by teachers who yell because you try to protect your body or do the pose a little differently. I have also practiced in "Bikram-esque" classes where you are encouraged to modify poses if you need to (traditional tree pose is ok, so is leg in lotus position, as in a Bikram class.) I quit going to my home studio because the owner made it a point to lecture me after class about how my practice wasn't strong enough, and when I explained how my job had changed and i had less energy, he yelled, "Bullshit! Excuses!" Are you freakin' KIDDING me; I pay you for this? So I found another studio for a while.
      I think the instructors are told to do things a certain way and then when they are employed by a studio, they also adopt the philosophy (out of necessity!) of the owner – if he/she is militant, then the teachers also are.
      Despite all this, I do love the classes! – Catnip

  9. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  10. dana mills says:

    IF you are practicing love and compassion in anything you do you are practicing the art of yoga. IF it is hot, cold, whatever style suits you. So in any class if you are not feeling well or it does not serve your inner peace then try something else, and if you feel love and compassion when you are gardening…..that is yoga as well. LOVE COMPASSION for who you are at all times and places. FInd your bliss in all facets of life…if it is hot its hot if it is something else than great too!

  11. Linda-Sama says:

    unless I missed it, I did not see anyone mention doshas — pitta, kapha, vata. does anyone really think that someone who mainly pitta (heat, fire) should be doing hot yoga?

    yoga is about balance, not about aggravating something that shouldn't be aggravated.

    I study in India, in the Krishnamacharya lineage, and many times the yoga is geared toward your dosha.

    • I agree….I have a generally Pitta constitution & hot yoga is not a good fit for me….but I could see it being a good fit for someone who is very kapha or w/ a kapha imbalance.

  12. drofchange says:

    Thanks for the sanity Dan. Safety in Yoga is my mission as I see many yoga related injuries as an expert witness. Thought you and the readers might enjoy the article I wrote earlier this summer for a local health paper in the Phx Valley on making a decision as to whether one should participate in Hot yoga. http://www.matthewjtaylorinstitute.com/hotyoga.pd

  13. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  14. Yoga is a spiritual path designed to lead the practitioner inward to attain knowledge/enlightenment. It is a way of life that encompasses how we treat ourselves + how we treat others while on our path. Yoga asanas use the physical body to access the central channel/shushumna nadi. If the asanas are done with a meditative focus on the central channel, with a slow and steady breath, then the room temperature should not be an issue. But if asanas are done with ego (i.e., the student’s goal is to achieve external form), then it becomes gymnastics and yes, room temperature is important. When the sutras talk about “purification”, they are referring to opening up energetic channels in your body – not about removing toxins. Asanas are one way to open those channels; pranayama is another way; and meditation is yet another. Over the years, I have tried Bikram + have practiced in very hot (80+ degrees) Ashtanga rooms. . As I get older, I appreciate a cooler, 75 degree room. Meditating all day would be a quicker route to enlightenment. However, my Type A western/Vata personality will not allow for that…so slow, yoga asana with low heat is the path I will take for now ;-).

  15. Son Nguyen says:

    Please note that Mr. Pitkow background is in Classic and Ancient Greek as well as Law not a medical background and that this articles is his own opinion and he makes many assumptions based on his own research. He also proposes his own theory on thermoregulation which is not scientifically tested or proven. Please read this article for what it s is one person's opinion and not an article printed in a recognized scientific medical journal. Mr. Pitkow uses the information he has found to benefit his essay but it is slightly bias and there a few flaws – one example, yes urine and feces is the a major way the body eliminates waste from our body but our sweat glands also assist in this process, that is why there is an odor to sweat and why it is good for you and also why it is better to use deodorant and not anti-perspirants. As a yoga instructor that is also in the medical health profession, I teach a hot yoga class and practice hot yoga and it agrees with my body. Do I recommend it all my patients? No. Because all bodtes are different and as you age your tolerance also changes and you are your own best judgment of what is good for you or not. We also have to be aware of hormonal changes in our body as we age and in different times of our life. For example, I am pregnant and my body temperature is higher than it normally is and therefore, I am not as comfortable as I use to be in the hot class therefore, I choose to stay in the regular yoga classes during my pregnancy. However, that might not be true to the next pregnant women, there are many I know that can continue with a hot class throughout their pregnancy with no ill side effects. Again, each student is ultimately their own best judge.
    Another misrepresentation, is Mr. Pitkow quoting the American College of Sports Medicine," which recommends indoor room temperature between 68°F to 71°F when exercising. Some exercise physiologists go further and recommend limiting indoor exercise room temperature to 65°F." He does not mention what type of indoor exercises these number pertain too. On the other hand, medical research also shows that stretching cold muscles is not beneficial to body and can increase the change of injuries. Prior to stretching it is recommended to warm up the muscles first. Therefore, if you are doing a gentle slow flow yoga class where the heart rate might not have increased and body temperature had not increase caution should be taken with deep sustain stretches in cooler rooms.

    I do agree with Mr. Pitkow main point in the essay that more care should be taken and more training is need in some studios where extreme heat is used and students should be made aware of these dangers so they can make their own educated decision on which class they choose to take. I also tell my students to drink lots of water before, during and after class to replenish the water they are losing and take breaks when they need to. No teacher should assume his or her own philosophy is the end all and be all and yes teachers do need be more tolerant of different students. But students also have the choice of signing up for a regular class or a hot class this is ultimately their choice based on their own body type and preference.

    • DanPitkow says:

      Thanks for your note. I do not see medical research in your bio. All the information here is researched and I can provide citations, including a professor at UC Santa Cruz who specializes in the elimination of toxins from the body. I am a bit amazed – you discredit me, then apply your own unscientific observations related to your own body and experience, and reach the same conclusions as I. What am I missing? This is not an attack on Bikram or "Hot Style" yoga….please read my reply to Peter (#1)

  16. chemist says:

    There are two principal benefits claimed for hot yoga: detoxification and injury prevention (through vasodilation) (which is related to the the ability to "go deeper"). You debunk the first, but never address the second (other than to mention the claim exists), which I find unfortunate, since while the first claim is questionable, there's certainly substantial anecdotal evidence to support the second one. You also should have looked at the existing sports medicine literature on this subject, such as: http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Efficacy%20of%20

    Clearly, a fairer approach would have been to treat both claims — i.e., to cover not just that which argues against hot yoga, but also that which supports it. Your approach gives the strong impression that you were only interested in the former.

    I agree with the posters who said each body is different, and that we each have to learn to listen to ours, carefully, and figure out what works for us. I find a hot environment works for me — I am best able to avoid injury in a hot environment, and my body (though other athletic activities) is well-trained to handle the heat. I thus disagree, strongly, with your blanket conclusion that "Studios should adopt the NOAA Heat Index Chart so that classes fall below the “caution” [Heat Index = 80F] stage." It is also, alas, hypocritical to make this statement and then also write the following: "Unfortunately, too many yogis believe that what their teacher told them is “right,” or that what is right for them (based on their age, sex, body type, and experience) is universally “right” for all seven billion people on the planet. This is not only a false perception of reality, in yogic terms, but it is also egotistical and the exact opposite of a spiritual practice."

    Finally, as to your statement that "there are many men who do not build muscle effectively and excel as marathoners and gymnasts"—when was the last time you looked at a male gymnast?: http://images.t-nation.com/forum_images/2/d/2dbe3

    • DanPitkow says:

      Chemist: Thanks for your article. The work here was researched. You are correct, I did not address the second, because it is unrelated to the issue: thermoregulation and toxins. The issue is not "Hot Style" yoga, or Bikram. Please see my reply to Peter (#1).

      I do not believe that suggesting NOAA is hypocritical. The issue is accessibility for a wide range of practioners, and this may be the best way to ensure accessibility. Most people are not like you. Are you suggesting that yoga classes be limited to only well conditioned young athletes?

      Thank you for the study on heat in stretching. This is not applicable to thermoregulation. In addition, the proposition of the article – heat packs to assist stretching – is not equivalent to practicing is a hot and humid room with limited air. Last, the study did not address whether recovery time was increased as a result of the increased range of motion achieved by reliance upon external sources.

      I am also glad that you agree with the other posters, as that was a conclusion in the article…

      • This morning in class I was fortunate enough to teach a woman well over 60 (I guessing cuz I don't ask older women their age) who suffered a broken hip at least 10 years ago (horse riding accident). She has a plum-shaped physique & probably won't be modeling for Yoga Journal. To me, this woman puts forth a heroic effort every time she steps on her yoga mat in my hot steamy room. Today she returned from 3 weeks of vacation where she did NOT practice yoga. And she was feeling particularly stiff & lots of PAIN! She did take more breaks (savasana) than others. But she persisted & after class thanked me for creating a safe haven for her to reclaim range of motion. So hot yoga is NOT restricted to well-conditioned young athletes!

    • Erin says:

      I blew a calf muscle in hot yoga .. While being pushed by a teacher who was of very high rank and training.. Then another teacher assisted me in a twist in a hot room and tore the muscle near clavicle .. Also my lymph nodes became so swollen during my 18 months (4x'sa week') in biker am yoga that a doctor thought I had cancer… I do not practice hit yoga any longer and feel that too often ..no matter how high up their training this style of yoga pushes students beyond where they could normally go ..because while in the hog room they are able to..only to find later after cooling done.. INJURY. I HAVE BEEN PRACTICING YOGA FOR 15 years ..I no longer do in artificial heat.

  17. jjc says:

    I went to hot yoga today. I go multiple times per week. Still not dead or even sick. My cycling endurance has improved since doing hot yoga and I also started running and can keep pretty good pace. I am at the point where I really dislike unheated yoga (in the colder months). but I should be living in a tropical climate because I hate winter. Maybe you should do yoga in an igloo or on an ice rink since your opinion is cold.

    • DanPitkow says:

      Please see Jenifer's comments. A student had a heart attack in her class. Please also see my reply to Peter. Your lack of tolerance or openness to other people's experience or opinion does not reflect well on your "practice."

  18. Andy says:

    Let's remember that not all Hot Yoga = Bikram Yoga. There are studios that heat their rooms that do not shame people into staying in the room when they are about to pass out.

  19. Ari says:

    I have three things to say about hot yoga:
    1) Hot yoga saved my spine sooner rather then later.

    2) I have brain damage from hot yoga. My neurologist is one of the top ten in the country.

    3) Ask a nueroligist. A lab tech. Everything he is saying is true and not of his own research.

    Hot yoga is the fast food of yoga. It gives you quick easy satisfaction with long term consequences.

  20. Sandy Gross says:

    Dan, thanks for your info here and for your chat offline. I found it interesting and timely, your piece, as I am putting the finishing touches on my 500 hour teacher training project: Sensible Sweat ~ Redefining Hot Yoga. People can go back & forth about how it is good or bad for them, one of my points is that too high heat is simply not necessary. Sweat is vital fluid often lost on the mat when most of it is best left inside of you for your systems to function at their optimum. Can we find a middle path within our own personal heated yoga practice and make sure we are not sticking our head in the sand on any valid & researched point? I'd love respectful & constructive feedback & questions on my work, before it gets published beyond my web site. Thank You & Namaste~ http://www.evoyoga.com/page/sensible-sweat

  21. Anil Ranjit says:

    According to Hatha Yoga, sweating is not needed to clean human body. Without sweating practitioner can clean their whole physical body by practicing "Khasta Karma" which is basically ignored by many types of yoga in the Western countries. There are also other different types of practices about cleansing which are not even familiar among many advance yoga teachers in the USA.

  22. Sarah says:

    I have read this article, and all of the comments, with great interest. I have long believed that “sweating out toxins” is pseudo-science. Take a look at the lymph system and what it does with wastes.

    What I find most surprising about this discussion is that no one has brought up the environmental angle of this argument. What about the carbon footprint of hot yoga?

    At a time when polar bears have little ice to climb on and new shipping lanes are opening up through the arctic ocean, do we not have some responsibility as to how much fossil-fuel energy we are using in our practice?

    I live and teach in northern Minnesota, where we use lots and lots of coal and nuclear and natural gas to make our climate livable. Heating a studio to 100 degrees strikes me as a wasteful and egregious use of resources.

    Can we not warm our bodies with a few rounds of sun salutes?

  23. air heater says:

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  24. Undeniably consider that which you stated. Your favourite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to understand of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed even as folks think about issues that they plainly do not recognise about. You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and also outlined out the whole thing without having side-effects , other people can take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thanks

  25. [...] there are some serious concerns. Chief among them, heat stroke. Heat stroke can occur at a heat index far lower than the one in 105-degree Bikram yoga studios. One of the early symptoms of oncoming [...]

  26. romyann says:

    Wow Dan, I was really impressed by this article. Your research on the topic highlights some compelling risks. Hopefully we can get more people on board to support an open window policy during class.

    Romy

  27. Awesome. Thank you for the information. My classes are never over 80 degrees, in summer 75ish, winter 70ish.
    I’ve learned that heat is better from the inside out, in other words, do the yoga, make the changes inside.

  28. [...] I have taught and taken hot yoga (defined for the purposes of this article as challenging yoga with power postures involved, in a room intentionally heated to 97-100+ degrees). While many people love and benefit from hot yoga, hot is not necessarily for everyone. [...]

  29. Mary Miller says:

    So what makes The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) an authority on exercising in heat? Seems a strange place to gather such information.

  30. kirstan says:

    If you like 'hot' yoga, then do hot yoga. If you don't like hot yoga, then don't go to hot yoga. Simple.

  31. tsukaira says:

    I practice hot yoga, and I LOVE it. My teachers are constantly telling us to sit out poses, take savasana, and that every flow is optional based on how we feel. We also get water breaks 3-4 times during class plus whenever you want to drink water on your own. No one is told to push themselves beyond what they are capable of.

    Also, no one also claims that sweat is a magical detoxifier. Does it expel uric acid and other bad things in our body? Sure. Does that dramatically change how "pure" we are? Not really. The amount expelled is not significant enough to completely flush out our system of toxins, but it does help.

    Hot yoga is not for everyone. Yoga is hard enough as it is, and some people don't like the idea of adding difficulty and intensity to their practice, and that's perfectly okay. But all yoga has its benefits, and hot yoga is included in that. Respect all forms of yoga even if they don't "adhere" to your definition of what yoga is, because the world doesn't revolve around your opinion. After all, from any practice of yoga, you should learn to be open and accepting.

  32. tsukaira says:

    I practice hot yoga, and I LOVE it. My teachers are constantly telling us to sit out poses, take savasana, and that every flow is optional based on how we feel. We also get water breaks 3-4 times during class plus whenever you want to drink water on your own. No one is told to push themselves beyond what they are capable of.

  33. Ok, I read half way through the article, then I wondered what are his credentials to have and opinion on something that is scientific. I read his bio. None.

  34. blackyogis says:

    I've been practicing Bkiram for about 2 years and I enjoy it. However, I do think his conclusions and recommendations are helpful. Bikram classes don't need to be 100+ degrees and there should be "fresh air." I closed door class for 1 and half hours is not healthy especially in a packed class. I few times I felt like I couldn't breath. The practice does not need to be extreme to produce results.

  35. hayogaha says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I'm a redhead and seem to react to heat more so than some of friends. So much so, that I have what I call response of nausea, dizziness and extreme heat caused by the "perfect storm" of smells, heat and motion (sound like a hot stinky yoga class?). It feels like maybe heat stroke, although I've never been diagnosed, and the only thing that helps is to stop and put ice cubes on my pulse points–neck, inside elbows, anything to cool down. Anyone else have this experience? Is this maybe a pre-heat stroke condition?

  36. Aaron warren says:

    I own a Hot Power Vinyasa studio (disclaimer) I opened this studio with the intention of providing an environment of healing. What does that mean? We al have scars and damage from some part of the environment we live in, whether is be physical or emotional. Much of what we perceive as pain and suffering is often self created such as the fear that hot yoga or cold yoga is good or bad this or that. I believe time and history will speak volumes to the benefits of hot yoga or cold yoga. What I disagree with is the condemnation that it is bad. If we start listing everything in the world that is bad and avoided it all what would be the sense in fully experiencing this life? If we are really honest where you are on your path and where I am is totally different; is it my role in the universe to tell you your path is wrong and misguided? I am at my lowest weight and am in the best of health, no because of what I am doing today but what I did 6 months ago. Yes this involves hot yoga. Let go of fear and instead offer your audience hope; the hope that in this competitive world of yoga business that you will bring compassion to your writing instead of war.

  37. S Else says:

    A number of stereotyping comments about Bikram Yoga here which are based upon one, or two claimed examples.

    I am a BY Teacher, and yes, I have attended classes with the military style teacher ( I simply avoid these teachers), yes I have taught in studios where the owner likes extreme heat/humidity and imposes that preference on classes. Understand, these examples are not Bikram Yoga, but ego driven amendments, imposed by individuals who didn’t understand what they were told in Teacher Training, or falsely believed that the studio conditions in TT are suitable for a public class.

    In nearly 8 years of regular practise/teaching I have witnessed only 2 students faint during a class, one did back-to-back classes and failed to rehydrate thoroughly between classes, the second had been suffering from food poisoning and had barely eaten/drunk anything for two days.

    My argument with heat crazy BY teachers is that while they loudly criticise any class that falls below the prescribed 40/40 as not being BY, they refuse to apply the same logic to classes that exceed these target values, in some cases by enough to be potentially harmful.

    Let me end by saying that Bikram Yoga works. I have witnessed so many students achieving life changing benefits from their practise that it cannot be put down to anything but the 26+2 of Bikram Yoga.

  38. Donovan says:

    Make your own heat.

  39. Emily says:

    You do not have to be a scientist to access valid research. Teachers should educate themselves about this issue as well as anatomy. The do it if you feel good is a strange perspective to me if one truly studies the yogic path. As a rehabilitation counselor and teacher it seems not using modern science in our teaching is a slippery slope.

  40. Vicki says:

    Thank you for this piece. I am a practitioner of Chinese medicine, a holistic nutritionist, and a student of Ayurveda. Hot yoga is NOT right for everyone and I have seen “miracles” happen to patients (especially women) once they transition from hot yoga to other forms of yoga (menstruation returns, fertility improves, digestion regulates itself, etc.) Hot yoga tends to deplete people’s body fluids very quickly – and though this may be fine for some (those with strong constitutions and an abundance of fluids/yin), it is harmful for many (those who are on the dryer/more deficient side – which is most of us!) It is important for Yogis to really pay attention to how their body feels not just immediately after a hot yoga session, but a few hours or days later. If there is a constant feeling of exhaustion, lethargy, depression, hair loss, vision problems, night sweats, dry skin, digestion issues, and late or lack of menstruation, then the hot yoga practice should be stopped – the body/mind is literally drying up and “running on empty” which is never, ever a good thing.

  41. LDavis says:

    I had a heart attack at 40 after a month of hot yoga.

  42. MelSha says:

    Finally! Great article.
    With your permission, I intended to use some of your argument (quoting you) to share with people in need to be well informed. I believe this is a smart, important paper.
    To the haters: shouldn't you know how to take the heat??!
    If your are smart -towards yourself and your students- about the hot room, keep at it. Just remember some come up with false claims. THAT can be dangerous. Not every person (Yoga beginners for example) is well aware of their body. The Yogis are (mostly) a unique bunch in that regards.
    I think we have the responsibility to know some facts and to share them wisely with students.
    I believe there as some very big egos in this "business" and lots have forgotten some basic things, here:
    Ahimsa/ Satya/ Asteya/ Brahmacharya/ Aparigraha.
    You are also welcome to apply the Niyamas (and maybe explore your Ayurvedic Dosha)
    Namasté

  43. dawne says:

    It is a preferential practice. I find myself easily bored in a class that is not heated. Isn't it all about what's going to bring you to the mat and keep you there. This article implies it's all the teachers fault. Really? What about the accountability of the student? Isn't it ultimately their responsibility to know their own body? If a person really dislikes a hot practice, why are they practicing in that environment? We all have to take responsibility for our own practice, likes, dislikes, etc. If you come across a militant instructor, leave. No one is chaining you to the studio…..

  44. Trushar Patel says:

    Rub the sweat back into the body. Don’t wipe it. Retain the Prana – Stewartji Gilchrist

  45. You say that the claim that sweat releases "toxins" is unsubstantiated. That is simply not true. In the last four years, there has been research that indicates that sweat does release toxins.

    1. Blood, Sweat and Urine Study (University of Alberta) – The study found that Bisphenol A is released in the sweat. They even go on the say – "Induced sweating appears to be a clinically useful tool to facilitate the release of BPA through the skin in order to eliminate this toxicant from the human body."
    http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/185731/

    2. Human Elimination of Phthalate Compounds: Blood, Urine, and Sweat (BUS) Study – Since the first study on BPA was successful, they did the study on phthalate compounds as well. "Induced perspiration may be useful to facilitate elimination of some potentially toxic phthalate compounds including DEHP and MEHP. Sweat analysis may be helpful in establishing the existence of accrued DEHP in the human body."
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC35044

    So, please keep up with the latest research before you go on make claims that sweating doesn't release toxins. The research is limited, but it is promising.

  46. Nicole G says:

    I completely 100% agree with you, Peter. This article delivers a bias and negative opinion. Every yogi has the capacity to decided to practice in a heated room or not. Dan, are you aware that the practice of yoga in a heated space was created as a restorative approach for injured practitioners? Maybe hot classes aren't for everyone, but for those who enjoy it and benefit from the practice can be sure that there is no risk involved.

  47. DanPitkow says:

    Thank you for your comments – I will try to take each one by one: First, this is not an attack on “Hot” style or Bikram yoga – Bikram was one of the first I tried (I have no opinion on the "Hot" vs "Bikram" debate). The issue is "Humidity" because high humidity impairs the body's ability to cool itself. Some "Hot" style and "Bikram" classes are more comfortable than flow because they use fresh, low humidity air in their heating system, resulting in “dry” heat, while others do not. Just about every class I take these days is hot (again, this does not refer to Bikram or “Hot” style). I barely sweat in a 90 degree room with open doors and low humidity; whereas I created a puddle this morning in 78 degrees with high humidity. So to reiterate, the point is "Humidity" not heat. (2) I fully agree that people can and should make decisions regarding their preferences – let’s make sure those decisions are fully informed. Merely adopting other people’s explanations is dogmatic: what works for a 25 year old lean man or woman, may not work for a 40 year old 190 pound man or woman. (3) I understand your frustration at normative arguments that make suggestions ("should"), be honest – I’m willing to bet that you are guilty of that as well. I offered two options for this very reason. In particular, the Heat Index is a sliding scale – it’s not one size fits all. (4) In terms of deaths, perhaps James Ray said, "the sweat lodge ritual is safe because its ancient wisdom and people have been doing it for thousands of years." The argument, “because it hasn't happened” does not mean it will not. And an interesting fact: Discover Magazine reports in its July edition, that 1 in 12,517 deaths in 2011 will be due to Heat Exposure – this according to the National Safety Council.

  48. athayoganusasanam says:

    hi peter.
    in regards to your comment about primary series not being "a balanced approach to the human body", what exactly do you mean by that? i've heard other people express similar sentiments (often times practitioners who either have had very little ashtanga experience, or some but without good proper instruction or guidance in the mysore style) and it always puzzles me.
    primary series consists of sun salutations, forward bends, hip openers, twists, backbends, vinyasas, inversions, and conscious breathing.
    what is unbalanced about that in your opinion/experience?

  49. JenniferO says:

    oh my typos galore…. **"For that I'm thankful. " & "…super hot yoga is NOT a one-size-fits-all"

  50. DanPitkow says:

    Thanks for the careful read Jennifer!

  51. DanPitkow says:

    Thank Iragnead for your comments. I do not see any disagreement – I fully support the idea that people need to make adjustments according to their physical and mental bodies.

  52. DanPitkow says:

    Thanks Chrystos; I appreciate your comments and experience. Please see my reply to Peter for some specifics. I agree that "Toxins" can be metaphorical. Regarding heat related deaths, I relied on available statistics for heat deaths, as many students and at least one pro football player dies of heat exhaustion in the last decade. Two 18 year olds have died in the last three weeks alone (one at West Point). While I agree with not pushing the 'fear' button, heat exhaustion is an issue and can trigger other underlying causes – a particular concern as yogi population ages..

  53. Sing it, Sister! Can we create a yoga climate where excellence is discovered anew every day on our yoga mats? Regardless of style … can we as yogis be so hungry to discover how energy moves through our bodies? what body mechanics work best? Not just cuz the teacher told us … but because we are hungry to know for ourselves?
    Too many cert teachers over-estimate their knowledge-of-self just cuz they got a cert.

  54. Jois' "Ashtanga" is unbalanced primarily because he introduces Yantras (warriors and triangles) before completion of the Chandrasana Krama or moon sequences. This is energetically and physiologically jarring.

  55. Yogini5 says:

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

  56. David T says:

    (A little off topic) I don't know how you practice, so this might be off base, but if your lower back feels lousy after forward bends, maybe more focus should be placed on mula bandha and uddhiyana bandha to keep proper alignment in the lumbar spine. Forward folds are from the hips not the lower back.

  57. DanPitkow says:

    I completely disagree with you that everyone reads philosophical literature with an eye towards metaphorical meaning. Have you been paying attention to the Middle East? Or the Muslin – Hindu issues? They have been fighting over a literal interpretation of a philosophical book since the beginning of human recorded history. What I find offensive is your arrogance (and hypocrisy) that you are entitled (as a yoga teacher) to offer interpretations, but no one else can. And you hide behind initials. Why don't you leave comments with your true identity?

  58. betoma says:

    This article didn't seem to be attacking Bikram yoga, or even primarily about it. It focuses more on other styles of yoga that habitually heat their rooms, without letting students know what to expect. Pitko is saying studio owners shouldn't force their preference on everyone, not that no one should do hot yoga.

  59. DanPitkow says:

    This article is about thermoregulation, and how the body cools itself, not Bikram or Hot yoga. Humidity is the key factor, not heat. That's why there is a heat index. I sweat more in 80 degrees with high humidity, then in 100 degrees with low humidity. I started with Bikram, and sometimes still do it. At the first place I went, back east, the teacher scolded me for leaving.

  60. DanPitkow says:

    Cheers to that! Thanks Dax!

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