Elephant:Classic

My Thoughts on Hot Yoga: the Pros & Cons. ~ Chris Pritchard

get elephant's newsletter

yoga pose

Hot yoga has definitely become a craze.

It’s exploded over the last handful of years as yoga has experienced a shift here in the West towards being a more physical exercise. I have no problem with people doing yoga for just the physical aspect, but I must say I do cringe a little when I hear someone say they do hot yoga in a manner that is obviously “Look at me, I’m cool.”

As an exercise regiment, yoga is great. It stretches while also strengthening and as long as it is done with a teacher who is knowledgeable on how the body moves, can be done with minimal risk of injury.

My main issue with hot yoga is that while the teachers of it move the practice towards something that contains little to no inner work, they continue to claim it provides the same benefits as the more traditional yoga practices do that works the mind and emotions as well as the body.

In terms of the number of years I’ve been practicing yoga, I’m a comparative pup. I lean personal practice towards the more meditative aspects of yoga and while I’ve enjoyed some fairly rigorous semi-heated yoga classes (mid 80s or low 90s due to it being summer in a place without AC), the hot yoga craze is something that doesn’t sit well with me. Some may call me a yoga snob and that’s fine. I myself will refrain from any name calling and will do my best to stick to rational thought with the understanding that this is my POV.

I’ve been to a Bikram class as well as a number of other heated classes and I’m sure there could be a  yoga class or style that retains an inner focus while pushing the temperature of the room and the posture practice. My personal experience though is the greater the intensity of physical practice, the less inner work there is (meditation, breath, exploration of thoughts and responses to practice).

I went to a number of classes at a particular studio because they offered a really cheap first-time pass and there was barely a savasana; we just moved from pose to pose.

At least at that studio they gave modifications, whereas Bikram just says to push through, uses words like “hurt” in their script, and passes off the fact that we don’t have time to do anything other than keep going, or pass out, as their meditation.

I have a friend who swears by Bikram and I think it’s great they have a practice they enjoy, but any time I see them after a Bikram class they don’t look like they’re getting in shape. Instead, they look like they’re trying hard to catch up with the massive dehydration caused by the very practice that’s supposed to be beneficial towards their health.

In my experience, the mental positive effects felt from hot yoga was no different than that received from any other form of physical exercise and is not the same as an inward practice. While hot yoga can certainly improve mental health, I would argue it does so at no deeper level than any form of regular physical exercise.

Here are some of the benefits generally propounded by hot yoga:

Greater cell turnover or generation

It makes sense that greater blood flow and oxygenation of tissues promotes this, but again, how is it different than any other form of exercise? It’s not. So to clarify, it is not a unique benefit of either yoga or hot yoga, but rather a benefit of exercising in general.

Greater flexibility, improved balance and posture

This is a benefit of yoga in general (also martial arts like Tai Chi), but being in a heated room fools us into thinking our body is warmed up and can cause us to push ourselves farther than may be right for our body, possibly leading to injury.

Boosted hormones, or endorphins, that promote happiness

This happens with any physical exercise practiced regularly and is not unique to either yoga or hot yoga. The difference with a yoga class that’s more rounded is that a teacher may guide us with questions or thoughts that cause us to examine our pre-existing ideas about ourselves, promoting a healthier mental attitude separate of any physical exercise we are doing.

Sweating detoxifies our body

This is probably the biggest thing I hear from hot yoga enthusiasts and it was the one thing I thought might be a unique benefit of the practice. It’s one of those ideas that makes sense on the surface until one thinks it through and does some research. I accepted this idea outright, but then one day decided to actually research whether or not sweating really does detoxify the body.

I came to learn that detoxification happens in the kidneys and liver in our bodies, but that sweating is a way our body regulates temperature. Think about it: if sweating was one of the ways our body detoxes we would regularly break out in a sweat whenever our body needed to release waste.

Now it may be the case that working our bodies and getting our blood flowing helps promote the flushing out and detoxification of our body, but that happens because of what we’re doing independent of a heated room. The massive sweating that happens with hot yoga may actually be detrimental to this process as it causes water needed for detoxification to be sweated out in an attempt to cool our overheated body.

Yoga is from India and it’s hot there

Do I even need to address this? I feel like I should since I’ve heard this regularly. This is just a defensive reaction. Yes, India is a warmer climate. As a teacher I talked to once said, “When it’s hot, we do yoga; when it’s cold, we do yoga.” A certain temperature is not needed to practice yoga and since we’re used to room temperature, maybe it would be best to do yoga in that setting.

Now if one actually enjoys hot yoga, then great!

I am by no means trying to cut down hot yoga, or say it’s a practice without benefits. I just believe there should be clarity and honesty in what it does instead of acting like it’s the cure-all of practices. I know my personal practice that I love doesn’t make for a great exercise class. It helps my flexibility in body and mind, but it doesn’t improve my cardio, or help me lose weight, whereas a more rigorous  yoga class, or exercise routine in general, would.

Concurrently, hot yoga is not the same as a more classic yoga practice. It is a practice that concentrates on yoga as a physical exercise. It may require heightened concentration to keep up with the teacher’s lesson that promotes a better state of mind, or an improvement of focus. I don’t think that’s very different from any other gym taught exercise class, personally. It is not the same as a more meditative practice that also touches on the mind itself.

I struggle trying to figure out where I fit in in the greater yoga scene as a teacher.

I know what my practice and teaching is like and use language that clearly defines what my intention and teaching is about. The problem is that same language is used by yoga teachers all across the spectrum.

I think too many teachers want to be everything to everyone, so they all regurgitate the same language indiscriminately because inside we all are coming from the same desire to share a gift that has benefited us. I do wish other teachers would bring more clarity into how they present and promote their classes.

I know I’m not a teacher for people who can do advanced poses. I’m a teacher who values a foundation to practice that is inner and meditative. A practice that’s grounding and sometimes flowing (I try to mix in some Tai Chi at times) and I try to be honest about the fact that if one wants to sweat buckets or put their legs behind their head, my classes are not for them.

Shanti.

References:

  1. http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/men/sweating-odor/does-sweating-cleanse-your-system.htm
  2. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/articles/2010/02/12/sweat-lodges-steam-rooms-arent-for-detox
  3. http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/does-sweating-release-toxins
  4. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
  5. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081118071144.htm

 

Like elephant yoga on Facebook.

Assistant Editor: Andrea Charpentier / Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Flickr}

Elephant:Now
is a new feature on Elephant Journal—enabling you to instantly share your mindful ideas, photos, art, YouTube videos/Instagram links & writings with our 5 million readers. Try it Now.

Write Now

About Chris Pritchard

Chris Pritchard enjoys digging deeper into this thing called life, deeply interested in how we effect one another and better carry each other through to a better tomorrow. He earned his RYT 200 at ShivaShakti Synthesis under the guidance of Janice George, E-RYT 500, and spent five years studying Tai Chi Chuan under Sifu Nathan Menaged. You can visit his website.

Comments

29 Responses to “My Thoughts on Hot Yoga: the Pros & Cons. ~ Chris Pritchard”

  1. Kayleigh says:

    Thank you! It’s aerobics using the names of yoga poses.

  2. Stan says:

    Originally the yoga practice is not done in heat. Indians practice in the morning or in the evening. Hot yoga is new western style which is a few years old.

  3. Josh says:

    Inner focus comes from within. You have formed a stereotype of people who practice hot yoga. Some of us get the most meditative benefit out of hot yoga and that’s why we choose to go, not because we think we are ‘cooler’, than you. Next time just enjoy it for what it is and if you don’t like it don’t go

  4. nancey says:

    The author is not forming a stereotype. He is speaking from his own experience and his writings are based on his opinions and research. One could easily say if you don't like his article, then don't read it.

  5. Lacey says:

    I find your experience with it very sad. Whoever was your bikram instructor totally sucks! At my studio, we rest and meditate after every pose, the word “hurt” has never been mentioned, and we are told to take it easy and at our own pace. It’s also encouraged to stay and breathe in savasana longer than 2 minutes. I do believe it’s even made a fad, and most people are only using it as a form of physical exercise, but like Josh comments, inner focus comes within you. Only you personally can get the meditation and inner peace out of bikram, it isn’t given to you.

  6. Cymru says:

    I took up Bikram after the death of my wife, while suffering from severe depression and frequently contemplating suicide. Within 6 weeks I had flushed the last of my medication down the toilet. When I saw the Consultant Psychiatrist assigned to me by the hospice where my wife died, 4 weeks later he announced that I had cured myself, and that if ever a BY Studio opened nearby he would send his patients there – " it has to be better than giving them drugs".
    A single anecdote proves nothing, and maybe it was just the exercise that lifted my mood, but whenever I retutn to the gym and stop BY my mood definitely changes for the worse.
    Does BY work at the psychological level? Yes. Can BY be considered Yoga with it's lack of focus on the spiritual aspects? A question I will leave to those more experienced and qualified to answer.

    • Tao says:

      Your story is awesome. All Yoga can be good yoga – it is what the practitioner does with it that matters. one side note to all – please do not flush any meds down the toilet –
      it contaminates the water system. Look for proper disposal in your county or city services.

  7. Kristie says:

    YES! It’s like you read my thoughts… And thank you for citing your sources!

  8. Martha says:

    I teach hot yoga. I offer savasana as the foundation, setting this as the thread that is woven if students choose to add movement. Breath awareness and inner focus is primary and when posture and alignment becomes first focus students are encouraged to find savasana and move when breath leads. I offer classes that are entirely mediation and slow movement/stretching and this is a deep beautiful time especially when tempuratures plummet in Canada. I have chosen to take vigorous classes in the heat as well and just like outside the hot room some are exercise oriented. You have stereotyped, or you have chosen particular classes to reinforce an opinion that is slanted. Many classes I have taken outside the hot room are far less meditative than in. It is up to the teacher to set that foundation. The ‘craze’ is also because it feels wonderful to many and I prefer to practice in warmth and that adds to inner connection rather than distracts from.

    I’m surprised and disappointeded that elephant journal features this negative slant on hot yoga when the masses are not completely ‘sheep to the slaughter’ taking hot yoga. I teach doctors, heart specialists, chiropractors, therapists of all kinds, and on….

    It’s annoying reading the same ol slant, especially when it’s one teensy window into the hot yoga practice.

  9. Courtney says:

    It seems as if bad-mouthing hot yoga as non-yoga is just as popular as the practice itself! Perhaps I am biased – I am a Bikram yogi who practices 6-10 times a week – but my hot yoga practice has delivered me a fresh perspective on depression and anxiety that has changed my life. I consider myself as committed a yogi as even the most devout Ashtangi. I have developed my meditation and home practice concurrently with my hot yoga practice, and as a result have soared the ecstatic highs and the plummeting lows of unlocking years of suppressed emotional traumas. Isn’t that what yoga is? We are unfeeling the layers of the stories we tell ourselves about who or what we are to reveal our true selves. It’s experiential. In that experience, Bikram yoga has shown me the door but I chose to walk through it.

    Say what you will about the man – and people sure do speak their mind – but for me Bikram yoga is about what happens in the hot room.

    I understand that hot yoga isn’t for everyone, but YOGA is!! Perhaps all these blog posts and articles written to discern the “right” yoga for the reader are just manifestations that solidify the concept of separateness in our community, world, and universe… Because if something is right and another is wrong, how can we ever be one?

    I say, just make your way to your mat… If you keep showing up to your mat, and keep breathing – whether it’s in a Yin, Bikram, Vintasa, or kooky black-lit glow stick class – the experience is still yours. If you can tap into stillness, it’s yoga. It’s it’s a marriage of breath, body, and mind, it’s yoga.

    Namaste.

  10. Howard says:

    Thank you Chris, for a thoughtful article. I understand you are writing from your point of view and that happens to agree with my own, viz., that bikram "yoga" just doesn't make sense from my understanding of yoga. Others may disagree, and that's fine; I don't claim to understand yoga in all its permutations and you don't claim this either. But the claims bikram makes for the benefits it confers just seem like marketing hype to me, and your article digs a bit deeper to come up with the same view.

  11. Elizabeth Palumbo says:

    Many people are drawn to yoga to improvve their physical physic. In time practioners deepen at their own pace where poses become more secondary than their inner work. People do real yoga (union) according to how they are ready. There is no judgement how or why a person got there, how they "perform " or indeed any room for a teacher imposing their own view of how they preceive another is spiritually. There can be a lot of benefit in loosening up,allow people choices. Trust students are their own guru. In many ways ,in all our lives, we see we often teach best what we most need to learn. Yoga, yes is not the pose it is our capacity to through movement to feel from the heart, open it and Surrender. For some the intensity of heat provides that door into surrender.

  12. Discovery says:

    THANK YOU Chris!! As a fresh YTT 200 graduate, and conteplating whether I'm ready to teach yet or now, your last paragraphs reminded me that I just need to show up on the mat just like any of my future students and that we'll keep unfolding the layers together. I guess my comment is not directly related to hot yoga, but to the style of yoga. I made peace with the fact that some (maybe most) students may be physically more advanced in poses than me, and that is ok. Like you said, we can't be everything to everyone… so thank you again for your encouraging words!

  13. kris says:

    Hey Chris, of course everyone is entitled to their POV, but i didn't quite get why would you write an article about something you don't like, and from what i can assume, you don't have much experience with. I'd rather read about something about your class for instance, otherwise it looks just an excuse to slag some other practice off. I'm not here to take sides or defend anything, thers's no need for it, but i can surely tell you that in my Bikram experience (more than 5 years) i've seen maybe two or three people getting injuried, and that was because of sudden movements coming out of a posture, not because the heat "tricked" them into thinking they could push more than they could. I think that's a misconception people that don't practise "hot" yoga regularly have. I've had many students coming to me to tell me how the practice miraculously healed their bad backs/knees/shoulders. People that were supposed to have spine surgery, that fixed the problem by practising for one month. Also, there a BIG difference between Bikram yoga and other forms copied from it. Bikram's class is perfect in terms of sequencing, and comes from huge knowledge and experience, other derivative classes, may not be as effective as they are being put together without the same understanding, just "mixing it up". I also believe Bikram yoga is Very meditative once your practice starts to deepen. Of course, it has it's limits, but no way it's "fitness in a hot room", like someone is suggesting. You must constantly focus on the breathing, you must focus on one point, you must find complete stillness in the postures, you must come out of it with composure, you must learn self-discipline, etc. How is that not yoga? It's just a different flavour. Of course, you could find a not so good teacher, but that could be the case with any other class. With a good teacher, it is a very tough, dynamic and meditative practice, no doubt about it. Cheers, kris

  14. David K. says:

    Asana practice is a physical. Hot yoga is as valid as a form of exercise as any other school of asana practice. It is no less authentic.

  15. duncan says:

    i have done many yoga classes all over the world and many bikram classes. Many bikram classes are run like boot camps i found the best bikram classes were the ones that incorporating savanasa and promoting stillness even while pushing the body. one of the best was a silent class.Personally i found balance doing a few bikram class a week and one or two yin classes too.

  16. Jen~ says:

    This article was entitled ‘My Thoughts on Hot Yoga, them pros and cons’

    Perhaps I read too fast, but it seems I missed the ‘pros’ ?

  17. If extreme ambient heat were not medically contraindicated for me, I would have given Bikram a try by now. As it is, I do need some ambient heat (low 80s preferably) to do my inversion-free core-intensive yoga practice. The heat makes you have to work harder. Any yoga practice that could still the mind without one's going upside down, merits some notice.

  18. Catherine says:

    I teach hot yoga and while I understand that the writer’s viewpoint is exactly that, it’s his, I am still really rather offended at the unfounded bias. While the studio in which I teach is sometimes hot, I teach a VERY traditional and classical style of a slow Vinyasa which is deeply contemplative and meditative. While I am not a big supporter of the workout style of yoga, I think it serves a purpose in that it frequently brings individuals to a a more traditional yoga setting whom otherwise may not have found the way so readily. To make these gross generalizations creates the exact sense of separateness which Yoga aims to heal. My two cents for what it’s worth.

  19. Bryan says:

    We're missing the fact that Ayurveda which has traditionally been practiced alongside hatha yoga and more intensive physical regimes in the yoga world for hundreds of years distinctly says that if you are sweating you are losing PRANA, which is missing the whole point of a yoga practice. You should only come to the point of sweating and then STOP your practice. Otherwise you are hurting yourself whether you know it or not. This goes for Bikram or any other practice for that matter. That high feeling you get and the elation you feel is likely you jacking up your nervous system and thinking it is something positive. It creates an addictive cycle to the practice, in which we depend on physical movement to bring up our moods or give us our get up and go as one person commented that let go of drugs. This is a drug too and can hurt you, but will take a lot longer to see the side effects. Western medicine cannot be adapted to this stuff, it is a different paradigm even though most research is trying to cram yoga into a bio-medical frame which is one again pissing the point entirely. Be careful folks, lots of bad information out there in all camps.

  20. Jes says:

    I cured myself from a 13 year clinical depression by just doing Bikram yoga.

  21. Ti says:

    I LUV what you wrote. I tried hot exercise and it’s quite simply not my cup of tea. I don’t like being hot and sweaty, and definitely not that hot and sweaty. Give me meditation in movement with Hatha any day. Mind benefits, body benefits. Well written and thank you for the sources.

  22. Johnny Axelsson says:

    Ever been to Rishikesk in the winter time? It´s freezing cold at times, and allways at nights and early mornings. A dip in the Ganga before practice is for the brave ones. And thats a very yogic (also for asanas) place all year round. Also for ayurvedic pitta type people hot yoga could be increasing the heat in body and mind.
    An insighful and honest article about modern yoga gone…lost somewhere.
    The Swede

  23. Full disclosure: I'm a Bikram fan. As well as more traditional Hatha and less traditional AcroYoga. Whatever floats your boat! As long as you are practicing! It's all good! 🙂

  24. Kristi says:

    I practice heated vinyasa and I love it, my studio, and intructors. Inner work, breath, being present has been the main focus in every class I have taken there since I started 9 months ago. I think that you're unfairly judging and stereotyping hot yoga and those who choose to practice it.

    To each their own. I say any path to peace is the right path, as long as it works for you. Namaste.

  25. sps says:

    Not to nitpick, but it's "regimen" not "regiment".

  26. Allison says:

    I'd been a hot vinyasa practioner for over four years, when suddenly, I found the heat making me angry. And anger is definitely not a feeling yoga should invoke. I had a teacher tell me "just think of the heat as an obstacle you need to work through". I think most people have enough obstacles in their life that they probably don't need to add doing yoga in a 100 degree room to find the strength to move forward. Anger aside, I continued to practice hot yoga until I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure and told not to do hot yoga. It's been very liberating! My body feels so much better with my non-heated home practice in conjunction with my regular non-heated ashtanga studio practice. Maybe the anger I was feeling was just my body trying to tell me something. And to me, that is one of yoga's most important lessons – quiet the mind and listen to your body.

  27. Kaity says:

    While I agree that the bikram classes I have attended contain limited inner work.. I have also attended many many hot yoga classes that do very much incorporate the mind. I have also been to classes without heat that did very little meditativly. I love hot yoga, it feels wonderful and I am sorry you have had such a bad experience with it. But I don't think it is fair to somehow imply that your particular style is somehow better or more yoga like then yoga with heat.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.