No Hot Yoga for Me, Thanks.

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As we approach the season of New Year’s Resolutions and tons of people go out into the world to try yoga for the very first time, I feel it’s necessary to share my thoughts on hot yoga.

Outside of the fact that hot yoga can be a gateway to discovering other styles of yoga, I am honestly not a fan.

I would like to be clear that I’m discussing hot yoga, which is a little different from Bikram yoga.

Bikram is a sequence of 26 poses in 105° heat that has been around for almost 50 years. I’m not saying I like Bikram yoga, but I can’t deny it’s now a tried-and-true practice via the guaranteed consistency of each class. Though, the cueing that Bikram teachers are required to use in their word-for-word script does not always promote safe and proper alignment.

The instruction to “throw your head back,” and “lock your knees,” will do no favors for the body in the long run.

I am also uncomfortable supporting Bikram’s founder, Bikram Choudhury, who has tried to make yoga an Olympic sport and has been brought up on several alleged sexual assault charges.

But back to my point.

I see more injuries in hot yoga than any other style. In yoga, we’re supposed to heat the body from the inside-out, not from the outside-in. If the room is so hot that students are sweating in the first pose, it’s very hard to know how far a muscle can be stretched. For folks with minimal body awareness, pulling or tearing a tight muscle is common in hot yoga. And people usually don’t know that they’ve hurt themselves until they wake up the next morning.

A lot of new teachers will opt to teach hot yoga because it’s trendy. They know they’ll get asses on mats, but inexperienced teachers might be tempted to crank up the heat super high and then teach a super challenging sequence because they think that beating their students into submission will make them well-liked.

And that’s when students faint or go to the hospital for dehydration.

In one hot yoga class that I attended, I did a modification of side plank and the teacher, whom I had never met, loudly said in the middle of class, “I’m gonna let you get away with that today, but that’s not the way we do things here.”

This teacher chose to shame me for doing what was best for my body, without knowing the first thing about my body. She didn’t even ask if her students were dealing with injuries at the beginning of class.  In my experience, hot yoga places a huge emphasis on the physical benefits of yoga only, without spending any time incorporating the many other emotional/mental/spiritual aspects of the practice.

The benefits of increased strength and flexibility are inevitable with consistent practice. Body acceptance is only the first step in a long journey. When my students walk out of my yoga class, I don’t want them to just love their body, I want them to love their life. For that to happen, we have to reach way beyond the physical and get to the heart of yoga.

There are plenty of great classes out there held at room temperature that are challenging, dynamic, creative, sweaty and all-encompassing while emphasizing proper alignment, which is so important because that’s what allows a student to practice yoga safely for the rest of their life.

Finding a phenomenal teacher is not easy, but they do exist. And I don’t want to presume that your hot yoga teacher is not phenomenal. I just have yet to meet a hot yoga teacher that I could trust with my body.

And if I can’t trust a teacher with my body, how can I trust her with my soul?

 

*

Relephant Thoughts on Hot Yoga: 

My Thoughts on Hot Yoga: the Pros & Cons.

Hot or Not? Possible Benefits & Precautions of Hot Yoga.

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Author: Megan Ridge Morris
Apprentice Editor: Renee Jahnke/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Eddie Codel/Flickr

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Megan Morris

Megan Ridge Morris is a yoga teacher, writer, actor, foodie and master manifester! She teaches weekly classes, monthly workshops and teacher trainings in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She co-leads retreats worldwide. Learn more at her website, and follow Megan on your social media stream of choice: Facebook, Instagram (yogameg84) or Twitter (yogameg84).

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anonymous Dec 25, 2014 7:45am

In my perspective, heat is not the issue. I teach yoga, kettlebells, running in the heat. A long time Triatlete and runner. My success was based on being efficient in every sport, not putting in lots of miles. I avoided getting injuries by learning the most efficient way to swim, bike and run. In my experience, Modern Yoga poses are not very efficient as it relates to posture and alignment.The bio- mechanics of the poses need to change. That is my opinion. With that being said, when you go to a yoga studio, try to be open and cooperative. Try a lot of different styles of yoga. Your body will let you know immeaditly if this feels right for you. Unfortunately, the no pain , no gain, Nike mentality has crept in the yoga world. Bending over with straight legs and trying to touch your knees with your nose is not a sign of flexibility. You are straining your extensor muscles. Everyone gets old by folding forward and collapsing. Why speed it up by forcing your body forward and reversing your natural curves. So far, no one has ever given me a good answer. Try rounding your back and picking up a weighted barbell. So, If you are and adult, and that is what you want to do, do not blame yoga if you get hurt in class. Do not assume that it will not hurt you. Trust your own thinking. Listening to the guru is over. Be your own best teacher.

anonymous Dec 22, 2014 11:14am

Hi Megan,

I am going to take the opposite stance here. I am currently close to graduation of my 200 hour yoga teacher training program at a studio on Long Island that offers hot yoga classes. I have been going there for over 12 years and have been practicing all types of yoga for 25 years now. I am also an Ironman, triathlete, runner and gym rat. I have been injured and watched people get injured. Any fitness class out there can be a risk to anyone. Perhaps a person is out of shape and has medical conditions and they jump into a challenging hot class for the first time and discover it is just to intense for them. Or someone with a history of injuries continues to push the limits of their body, without really understanding the consequences of a body without rest. Anything is possible.

But trying to make smart decisions and knowing your body is key. I am also fortunate to study under two studio owners who have traveled the world, learned from the best and are happy to pass on their great knowledge and expertise. Passing on the great meaning of yoga with the asanas or poses as the last understanding of yoga.

I ask the readers to be more open minded, don't generalize and don't fear. If they just understood the meaning of the word yoga, then going to the right class with the right instructor would be right for them. This may be a journey, it may take time to find, but the possibilities of becoming a better person with the adoption of hot yoga are endless. It's not about worrying if they will overuse a muscle, it would be a self-realization like no other.

anonymous Dec 22, 2014 7:37am

I've found excellent teachers who bring breathing, chanting and awareness at several levels into hot yoga. I love the heat and find I encounter my limits at each session.

anonymous Dec 22, 2014 7:35am

I totally agree and much liked this article, on all fronts. Hot yoga is excessive and over the top and as the author ends misses the point of restful mindfullnes

anonymous Dec 22, 2014 7:27am

I am sorry you had a bad experience, especially with a lesser-trained teacher. I have taken hot vinyasa yoga for almost three years and can think of no other experience that has been so rewarding. The owner only hires certified 200 hour teachers and spends weekly time on training them to teach to the quality she expects. We focus on alignment in every pose and we work with how our bodies are that day, sometimes pushing sometimes not. It is up to us to listen to ourselves and tune in to what is happening that day. I have had injuries heal and found great strength gains in my entire body, and truly feel this is the best method for me. The heat is at a constant and allows for warming inside and out. It is gentler than working out cold. I hope you can try a different studio and hope you find a better experience before you write off something that has been so beneficial to so many.

anonymous Dec 22, 2014 6:50am

I live in the Deep South, and hot yoga is absolutely miserable in the middle of the summer. Typically, when I do a vinyasa flow in the comfort of my home, I am going to sweat without any extra heat. When the heat is cranked up, it makes me dizzy and nauseated, and takes away the yoga experience for me. The classes I've attended locally make every style of yoga into hot yoga, and like you mentioned, it is more about the workout aspect of it rather than the mental. I'm sure there are great hot yoga classes out there, especially in bigger cities where yoga is more popular, but yoga isn't a one size fits all. Everyone doesn't have to like the same thing. 🙂

anonymous Dec 22, 2014 3:22am

Dear Megan,
Im an ex- Bikram teacher (i teach vinyasa now) who still loves the practice. I firstly wanted to comment that no where in the teachers dialogue does it say "throw you head back". Maybe you heard that from a teacher who made it up themselves. Also, while the allegations made against Bikram were upsetting…. he wasnt charged… and he is only one of many style of yoga that has seen similar problems amongst their gurujis or masters (anusara for one and here in Australia the Satchinanda ashram has all sorts of problems with simlar allegations, apst and present).
There are so many variables when it comes to ones own personal practice and the heat is one of them. I discovered Birkam when living in London – the thought of practicing in the cold, or even how long it took my body to warm up from being in the cold… really challenged me so I began to crave the wonerful experiences of being immersed in heat. I had practiced many styles of yoga before then for many years but it was Bikram that helped me over a serious eating disorder. I have found it is often the hot yoga studios that encourage students to practice at the studio regularly, often buidling stronger community and dedication to the practice. We could go down the line of discussing the pros and cons of saunas too as the effects can be compared. But I still know that I never feel quite as light as when I have practiced a hot yoga class, especially on a cold day.

Thanks so much, Nadine

anonymous Dec 21, 2014 9:41pm

I think you have simply had poor experiences with hot yoga teachers. The studio that I attend every teacher asks about injuries and offers modifications and never chastises students for taking a modification or uncued child’s pose. They encourage all students to listen to what their body needs. They also emphasize meditation and setting an intention and/or dedication at the beginning of class not just the physical benefits but the spiritual and mental. I think you should look for better trained and less pretentious hot yoga studios and teachers. A yoga teacher should understand that all students have different levels of ability regardless of whether you are in a heated studio or not. Your blanket statement that all hot yoga classes are basically dangerous is inaccurate and inappropriate and could unintentionally bias people against it who were considering giving it a try for the first time. I love hot yoga and will never go back to a non-heated class!

If you want to take a 45 minute drive out to NJ you should check out the studio I attend. It may just change your mind about hot yoga…

anonymous Dec 20, 2014 7:34pm

I believe that we have to look at WHO is practicing, their present physical state, and the weather. Hot yoga is certainly not for everyone! From an Ayurvedic perspective, it's not solely the potential for injury but the potential to create excess internal heat that we need to be concerned about. This can be detrimental for some students– especially those who are naturally firey by nature (pitta) or have a condition of excess heat. I think it's safe to say that we should all be weary of hot yoga during hot weather when we should instead be practicing yoga that cools the body.
Someone who's trying to lose weight in winter or spring might benefit from hot yoga, but I believe that all others should exercise caution.

    anonymous Dec 22, 2014 8:13pm

    i agree! i've been practicing hot yoga for about 5 years and teaching for a little over two. as an extremely vata individual (about 70 pct) i love, love, love the heat, especially in the winter months when i feel like i cannot do anything to heat up my body and feel chilled to the bone. i back away in the summer, especially if i am teaching a lot to avoid dehydration, but i think there's really something to be said for constitution. not everyone is set up to handle the heat and that's ok!

anonymous Dec 20, 2014 7:02pm

This was an uncomfortable read.
This article has the feel of an expose. How does citing negatives and bringing up Bikram's founder's criminal record open any kind of meaningful or helpful discourse? Someone teaching Bikram is entirely removed from the criminal activity of the person who created the practice.
An editorial is certainly justified in using this kind of tone, but this isn't typically the kind of "article" I'm used to seeing on Elephant Journal. Some sort of disclaimer would be desirable in future pieces if they excoriate a practice or philosophy.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my opinion.

    anonymous Dec 20, 2014 7:43pm

    Thanks for your mindful comment! You are correct in that disclaimers are important—we've updated. – Ed.

    anonymous Dec 22, 2014 11:44pm

    If you choose to continue to teach under that name you are not entirely removed from the person who created that practice. I know many teachers who understood that and left that practice because they couldn't endorse in any way that man. The right choice isn't always the easy choice.

anonymous Dec 20, 2014 4:13pm

It sounds like you disliked your experience with a teacher rather than your experience with hot yoga itself. The title of the article made me read but it’s not really an accurate title based on your text here. I have been doing hot yoga, both Bikram and vinyasa, for nearly 10 years. I actually have not seen, heard or read about more injuries in a heated class. It comes down to listening to your body. Nothing should ever hurt. Every single form of yoga should be treated this way. If teachers explain this, it really doesn’t matter if the room is heated or not. Sounds like you had a bad experience with the teacher, but hot yoga makes you feel extremely different than any other type of yoga. I’ll be doing it for many more decades!

anonymous Dec 20, 2014 2:02pm

I agree completely!!!!! — a fellow hot yoga hating yoga teacher

anonymous Dec 20, 2014 12:28pm

Very well said Angela! I think Megan could learn s great deal from you.

anonymous Dec 20, 2014 6:28am

I think it the teacher really speaks to safety, it is one of the most healing practices out there. And I do vinyasa too. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/06/a-shamanic
I wrote an article about it here. I love Hot Yoga and think it's helped lots of humans.

    anonymous Dec 20, 2014 9:37am

    Thank you for reading, Keith! I am currently running the "Elephant Yoga" page on facebook and have shared your article with our readers before. I really like when you say, "There are profound blessings to all styles of yoga." I totally agree. I know there are humans out there that will only practice hot yoga in this lifetime and it's made their outlook more positive.

anonymous Dec 19, 2014 10:04pm

I was under the impression that some teachers, Bikram being one of them, like to teach in warm/hot environments in order to mimic the weather in parts of India. I know the area in which I live in the middle of Summer can easily have days up to 46 degrees C / 115 degrees F – considerably hotter than any temperature I've endured in a studio. I've never felt the need to put anything more than a fan on low setting for some air flow in Summer and am yet to endure any injuries. I've heard that in some parts of the world hot yoga can be quite dogmatic and taken very seriously, however my experience has been anything but – even with Bikram. The teachers have been very thoughtful, nurturing, understanding, and happy to assist injured or larger yogis with modifying their postures.

I can understand your experiences have been different, and I completely agree that there's a lot of challenging and rewarding styles of yoga in classes which aren't heated. Ashtanga is a favourite of mine. I think if people get a bad vibe from a teacher or feel the teacher isn't responding to their needs then the class probably isn't for them, hot or not.

    anonymous Dec 20, 2014 9:31am

    Hi Angela! Thank you for reading and for your comment. I have heard that the point is to mimick the heat in India. Though, most people practicing yoga in the US are not accustomed to daily living in that kind of heat, and on very hot days, we are cautioned against engaging in intense physical exercise.

    I am pleased to know that you have had some positive experiences with hot yoga teachers!

    Xo
    Megan