April 3, 2012

Is Yoga in Extreme Heat Dangerous?

“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


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Uccello Feb 13, 2014 11:48am

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.

Drupadi Apr 7, 2012 10:41am

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 🙂

Tim Illencik Apr 6, 2012 10:29am

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

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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.