Is Yoga in Extreme Heat Dangerous?

Via on Apr 3, 2012

“You’re crawling through the desert in search of the oasis of a better body.”

Those are the words of Loren Bassett, a 41-year old yoga instructor in Manhattan who teaches yoga in a room so hot it might as well be a sauna. Bassett’s approach reflects a growing trend in the fitness industry to crank up the heat on traditional work-outs. Gone 75-degree gyms and large fans in aerobics classes. According to New York Times, fitness junkies in New York and Los Angeles increasingly want to do their yoga, pilates, cycling, and other types of work-out in extreme heat… no matter what the risk.

via the New York Times:

For these religious exercisers, based mostly in New York and Los Angeles, only sweltering temperatures produce adequate workouts: a jackhammering heart rate, pliable muscles and a psychologically satisfying sweat that devotees describe as “detoxing.” So gyms and studios are trying to lure them with ever hotter, harder yoga classes, in addition to roasted versions of Pilates, kettlebells, group cycling and more. (Cue Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” which seems to appear on every playlist.)

“You don’t waste three songs sitting around warming up – you can hit it hard from the start,” said Mimi Benz, 31, an owner of the Sweat Shoppe, a seven-month-old hot group cycling studio in North Hollywood, Calif. “I’m not going to lie, it’s intense.”

Alexandra Cohen, 42, the supervising producer of “The View,” said, “I don’t have time for hours in the gym doing cardio and weights and then sitting in the steam room to detox.”

Experts agree on the benefits, but only to a point. Douglas Casa, a kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut and an expert on athletic exertion in heat, said that while there’s no question that hot workouts are harder, any benefits peak at about 100 degrees. “Above that, you’re just jeopardizing safety,” said Dr. Casa, who is also the chief operating officer of the university’s Korey Stringer Institute, named for the Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman who died of heat stroke in 2001.

Many people tout the healing and detoxifying benefits of hot yoga, but according to the scientists cited in the article, “that’s a hoax.” Apparently, there simply isn’t any evidence to suggest that sweating more does anything to clear out toxins in your body. Based on the research that’s been done thus far, the clean feeling you get after good wringing out in yoga is “just psychological.”

I have to say, while I’m not a fan of adding extreme heat to my yoga (or any other type of physical activity for that matter), I do like to practice in a warm room. Regardless of whether I’m achieving any measurable level of detoxification, gentle heat seems to make my muscles more pliable and takes the intensity of whatever I’m doing up a notch.

This past week I was visiting my friends and family in Texas, where yoga classes tend to be 10-20 degrees warmer than classes I attend in LA. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more easeful my practice seemed to be with the heat. I could move deeper into postures, and it didn’t take me nearly as long to warm up my body for the more intense poses. That said, the room was only 85-90 degrees, significantly cooler than the 158-degree rooms talked about in the article. I think I’d probably pass out in one of those classes.

What do you think? Is this new extreme heat trend is dangerous, or are you all about hot yoga and work-outs?

This article was originally published at Intent.com, where I now serve as Managing Editor. Intent Blog features inspiring articles about healthy livingsciencerelationships,yogameditation, and more. You can see what I’ve been up to lately here.

photo by: Ron Sombilon Gallery

 

About Chelsea Roff

Chelsea Roff is a nationally-recognized author and speaker, and the Founder of Yoga for Eating Disorders. In September 2013, Chelsea raised $50,000 on the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo to kickstart her non-profit, Yoga for Eating Disorders. The program is currently being offered in treatment centers and yoga studios around the country at no charge, and she is working with researchers at UC San Diego to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in treatment. Chelsea is known for her intelligent, inspiring, and tell-it-like-it-is speaking style, and for weaving together profound personal experiences with her scientific background to deliver deeply moving insights. After nearly losing her life to anorexia and a subsequent stroke when she was 15, she has became a national advocate for community-based mental health interventions. Her work was recently showcased by Sanjay Gupta on CNN, and she’s been keynote speaker at 92nd Street Y, The Omega Institute, and at various universities and conferences around the country. Chelsea currently lives in Venice, California, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

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23 Responses to “Is Yoga in Extreme Heat Dangerous?”

  1. Shamma Lamma says:

    Personally I absolutely love it. Not -wicked- hot, but whatever Corepower heats their rooms to for their C2 classes. Perfecto! I love the feeling of sweat ::raining:: off of me. LOVE it. Whether there is any phsyiological evidence or it's somehow all in your head, you DO get a sort of amplified sense of renewal after breathing, moving, stretching and sweating like that. It's like a Hard Refresh for your entire being.

  2. Yogateacher says:

    I dig on the corepower heat and just right intensity myself. Plus they have great sequences and music typically. Makes for a nice overall yoga buzz.

    In my Power classes I can only heat to a max of 78 or my perimenopausal gals will go mutinous.

  3. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  4. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

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

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  5. Janice Betts Janice says:

    I'd like to read more about these studies that say sweating doesn't release toxins. It is a known fact that using anti-perspirants is unhealthy because toxins build up in the lymph system when a body doesn't sweat, and this can lead to cancer. Do you have more info on the studies you talk about in this article?

    I enjoy hot yoga (not extreme heat) because it allows me to move deeper into poses without hurting myself, and I find that I have amazing visions and revelations during meditative moments in hot yoga classes that I have never experienced during regular classes. I guess it's the same idea as sweat lodge ceremonies. It's very spiritually cleansing.

    • __MikeG__ says:

      Same question to you. Where is the documentation that says sweating does release the amounts of "toxins" claimed by heat enthusiasts? Use real science, not web sites by apologists. What exactly are toxins?. Learn the main function of the liver. The sweat glands release salts and some amino acids, are these what you are calling "toxins"? You may find what you believe to be a known fact is an urban legend.

    • Louise Brooks says:

      You are right about the comparison with sweat lodges and how it is spiritually cleansing. However, as far as physically detoxifying, no sweating in hot yoga is not giving you a detox. It is your kidneys and liver that detox the body. All the talk by yoga instructors about detox yoga is nothing more than pseudo-scientific who-haw.

  6. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Chelsea, I just posted this to the main EJ fb page with this intro:

    "Personally I think that this type of 'yoga' isn't really yoga at all. It's an exercise form borrowed from Yoga asana. Yoga is a spiritual practice, and the only benefit I've ever heard anyone mention with regard to heat is physical. Can you relax, and go deeper into the breath when it's 158 degrees? I reallllly doubt it! And isn't extreme *anything* dangerous? But hey, who am I to say – read the article and make up your own mind."

    Ben

    • Isn't yoga supposed to be about finding balance? Nothing about extreme heat and extreme stretching is yogic at all. MOF, I think it's yet another way to appease the young and self professed extremely fit demographic. Fit people die all the tine from heat stroke while participating in an array of sports and fitness activities. It's a matter of time before that happens here and the pendulum swings back towards sanity.

  7. JoeC2K says:

    The Hatha Yoga Prapidika warns against practicing yoga in extreme heat. I feel that heat should be internally generated through breath control and not externally applied. The external heat becomes like a crutch that one is unlikely to give up for internal breath control…

    • Swami bruce says:

      Joe, I agree! Breath and bandhas give me my heat. Plus generate a lot fewer greenhouse gasses.

    • YogiCrystal says:

      I agree Joe! Natural heat generation is much better imo. I'm not a fan of hot yoga, it just isn't for me but I don't stop others from trying it. I would probably question my friends going to classes that are 158 degrees though, that is just a bit much. Take care of yourself people, that kind of heat when not managed properly can be dangerous.

  8. mara says:

    even the 105 of the Bikram room is dangerous when you add the 20 extra degrees that exertion and humidity add to your body's experience of heat. 158 degrees is not sane. i have a feeling this trend will not last for long until people start to die. seems a shame to die for the idea of a perfect body. i thought yoga was all about discovering the body's inherent intelligence love handles and all.

  9. jonathan says:

    I'm not sure how being able to go deeper into a posture or sweating one's butt off accelerates the realization of Self/Atman and unity of mind, body and spirit – which is supposed to be the true purpose of Yoga. I'll pass on 158 degrees. A little warm, yes, but any warmer than 80 degrees and it begins to affect the ability to take a big breath while in a pose. At least for me.

    Going too deep into a pose that is aided by heat is only asking for pain and damage to one's body.

    To each his own I suppose.

  10. Shamma Lamma says:

    Where are people getting this notion of "158" degrees? That is ludicrous. Sounds like a bunch of internet nerds speculating and acting like know it all/spiritual0-than-thou. There are hundreds of hot yoga classes going on right now and every day. when have you ever heard of someone dying?

  11. gratefulyogi says:

    All of the classes where I practice are in a heated room. They're not any where near 158 degrees, but the Vinyasa classes are heated to 90-100 and the Hot classes are 100-110. I love the feeling of the heat. But, I don't think it's all about the physical benefits. We are challenged by the heat and it becomes a teacher. Can I just be still while the sweat drips down my face and body? Can I the ego go and rest when I need to? Can I "do" less?

  12. kristen rae says:

    Wow 150+ degrees!!! Thats even dangerous to walk out of to cool down from if the next room over is blasting ac!
    I think the public that doesnt partake in hot yoga is getting a really bad taste in their mouth right now from all the articles talking of extreme heat.
    The number one complaint i hear is “i would die” and if this trend continues w extreme heat, no doubt, people will start dying. With extreme trends comes extreme people and extreme egos. Nothing extreme is yoga.

    While its not unhealthy to practice in heat, (i practice regularly in a room ab 110. Ive been doing it for years and i feel great!) I’ve been in classes that hit upper 130s but they were packed hot vinyasa classes in arizona, with a very special guest guides. The heat was eventually turned off in a class i took one time bc we were all creating enough heat to keep the room around that temp by ourselves!! (Which i think is amazing, humans, we are hot!!)

    Personally, i would do it again. No way would i step into 150+++!!!!! Good luck to those hearts, bodies and minds that do!

  13. Rose says:

    I am a yoga instructor, but have avoided the "hot yoga" fad for several reasons. Firstly, the practice of yoga has many components, only one of which is the physical asana. The focus of many "hot yoga" classes is on sculpting a perfect body, this is not the aim of yoga. Secondly, people say they are drawn to "hot yoga" because it benefits their practice by allowing them to move more quickly into advanced posters. This is true, but again undermines the beauty of yoga as a process. A key component of yoga is dedication to a practice, this takes time, and will power. One will receive greater benefits from yoga when they allow their experience with yoga to evolve naturally, moving into postures when their body and mind is ready, not by heating their body then forcing it into posture that it is not yet ready to do. All exercise is good, and if "hot yoga" works for you then stick with it…but just don't call it yoga.

    • Shamma Lamma says:

      Believe me Rose, achieving certain asanas in a heated room still takes time. And they don't make "sculpting the perfect body" of any sort of focus in promoting their classes.

      I understand where you're coming from. I'm becoming more of a purist myself.

      But let's not get too carried away with the attachment of incorrect points about heated yoga classes. They're not that evil.

  14. Nathan says:

    I have been practicing only a few years but much prefer some heat. As I pasted the age of 60, I found that the heat helped break down barriers that allowed me to more quickly clear my mind and get into my body. It was not about doing the postures better, it was about getting my body working and my mind not. I was fortunate to practice next to Chelsea last week and would not have been able to get into the flow especially at the beginning. I do agree with the importance of breath and found that extreme heat takes that away and do not practice at those studios.

  15. Tim Illencik says:

    Tried it once and was not a fan. It is not a good idea for people who have panic attacks.

  16. Drupadi says:

    I tried the Bikram yoga (the 41degrees Celcius – I don't know the Farrenheit equivalent) and I didn't like the heat. It didn't give me the peace of mind I needed to concentrate on the practice…
    But even so, I still practice in a heated room these days, though not as hot as 41degrees Celcius. I still do it because I like the "after" feeling like you've been purefied (even if it's just psychological – but I believe that "if you believe it hard enough to be true, then it's true" LOL) and it turns out, some heat does help me concentrate better but too much heat doesn't.
    hey, whatever works for you, right? we just have to know our own limits. and i guess, that's also the same advice with practicing yoga in general :)

  17. Uccello says:

    Tolerance to hot yoga may depend on where one lives. I live in New Orleans where in the summer, the heat and humidity outside exceed that inside the Bikram studio. Even at night when I run, it's still in the 90's with very high humidity. WITH PROPER HYDRATION, the body can become accustomed to exercising in this type of environment. The problem I see in my classes is that people do not take hydration seriously. I was always told that hydration for a Bikram class startes the day BEFORE. Lots and lots of water before and after class would take care of much of the unnecessary suffering I see.

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