August 17, 2012

Are You Hot, or Not? ~ Christine Chen

Healthy is hot, that’s for sure. But is hot yoga healthy for you, your body and your mind?

Short answer: it depends. To be clear, this is not an anti-hot yoga article, but some advice for those considering it and wondering if it’s a fit.

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.

Recently a friend of mine, a smart, driven and high performing executive at NBC.com, who’s also a mom of four kids, asked me what I thought of hot yoga as she’s beginning to try yoga in general. Via Facebook, she sent me a query and a brief explanation of her first hot class experience.

She said she wanted to come out of it relaxed and happy, but after that first class she felt anxious, tired and confused. Her desire to try yoga came from wanting to improve her focus, concentration and flexibility. She only had a specific amount of time per week because of her hectic schedule, yet she wanted to get the most out of her emerging practice.

My intent was to guide her through self-observation based on safety and her natural constitution, an Ayurvedic approach.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote to her via Facebook message. I encouraged her to consider a few key things:

1. Is it a match for you?

Go-getters are often a certain physical and mental constitution, according to holistic healing principles that have been around for thousands of years. Knowing you, I suspect you and I are the same constitution, the pitta. If that is the case, hot yoga has the potential to be an aggravator. Pittas are drawn to fire naturally, but often, we need the more quiet spaces and practices to balance out our fire.

2. Concentration and stretching is a part of all types of yoga.

If your yoga goal is focus and flexibility, and you like to move, try a moderate vinyasa class that’s not heated. You will still sweat and get the stretching, especially as you progress to more vigorous classes. A good class and teacher will always speak to the breath practice, they may refer to it as pranayama.

3. Physical effects of hot yoga and potential injury.

The heat in those hot yoga classes has the potential to make you think your body is more flexible than it really is, and to inspire you to go too deeply in the moment because it feels great. After coming out of the classes, you might find that your muscles and joints are not responding well. If you go hot, please pay careful attention to your actual edge rather than what your body thinks it can do in the heat. Also, make sure not to hyper-extend the joints—knees, elbows and shoulders in particular. Heat makes you think you can go deeper and injuries can be common in that situation, especially rotator cuffs and strained knees. With that said, you need to be careful in any type of yoga.

So, what happened? She took the Ayurveda test and confirmed she’s a pitta. She took herself out of the fire and looked for a more peaceful, quiet class focused on meditation and stretching combined with strength-building asana.

She’s much, much happier.

If you’re wondering if hot yoga is for you, maybe it’s time to turn to one of the oldest medical systems in the world, Ayurveda, and find out what your body naturally wants versus needs before throwing yourself into the fire.

Lastly, a word about Ayurveda:

I integrate Ayurveda into my daily routines of eating, sleeping and skin care. However, there is also a way to integrate the concept of balancing out your natural constitution—your “dosha“—in an asana practice.

After discovering your dosha consider these suggestions for modifying your physical practice. In an Ayurvedic approach, it’s more about the way you do the poses and the environment, rather than the poses themselves.

Vata can focus on:

  • >>Warmth. While too much heat will be aggravating, vatas tend to get cold very quickly, which can also cause aggravation.
  • >>Calmness. Too much activity will be overly-exciting, so focus on steady breath and grounding in postures, holding them longer to calm a dancing mind.

Pitta can focus on:

  • >>Working at reduced capacity by not being competitive with self or others. Pittas will balance out fire and temper tendencies of aggression and frustration.
  • >>Not overheating, especially in the summer, with steady chanting to help cool and calm.

 Kapha can focus on:

  • >>Staying active and stimulated to counter sedentary tendencies by flowing and sweating.
  • >>Energizing breath, such as kapalbhati


Christine Chen is a two-time Emmy winning, 10-time nominated broadcast journalist, turned small business owner, turned yoga teacher in New York at community-focused NY Loves Yoga and at nationally-recognized fitness provider, David Barton Gym.

Christine writes about yoga and wellness and is an example of the realistic application of yoga in daily life as a path to transformation.  Soon, she will release a yoga guidebook for busy people, based on the personal yoga practice she developed during her own healing and transformation (represented by Zachary, Schuster & Harmsworth).  Off the mat, Christine is a wife, golden retriever mom, and Microsoft’s corporate web caster on tech topics. She can be contacted at christinechenyoga.com, Twitter and Facebook.

Editor: Maja Despot

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