Why Hot Yoga Doesn’t Do It for Me. ~ Insiya Rasiwala-Finn

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This is the year I turn 40.

It’s a big one for me.

And I’ve been casting a lens at various aspects of my life to see where I am stuck and where I can challenge myself by switching things up, especially if I feel I am in a rut.

So, in an “expand my yoga horizons” experiment, I tested out how I would feel going to a hot yoga studio over this past month.

I did this for a few different reasons: 

I wanted to understand this practice that I get my “yoga snob” on about.

I wanted to see if it was really what die-hard devotees make it out to be—as in, “It changed my life!”

I wanted to understand how the heat informs my physical asana practice.

I wanted to see what was out there on different ends of the yoga spectrum in this California coastal town where I have been living for the last few years.

Mostly, however, after returning from a few months of practicing lots of yoga and living in Bali, I was looking for the discipline of attending regular classes versus just doing my practice at home.

I also thought that the heat might be a gentle reminder of the tropical warmth of Bali, and figured classes would be small—after all, isn’t summer the last time one would think of going to hot yoga?

I was wrong on both counts.

Apparently, summer is as popular a time at this particular hot power yoga studio as any other. And the heat was a lot more intense than Bali. There was no early morning or cool evening breeze wafting in from the studio’s windows to cool you off. In fact, there were no windows at all. The temperature in the studio was always at 104 degrees and teachers were told not to leave the doors open, even during Savasana, as the studio wanted a consistent heat. (I asked.)

The classes at this studio were all over the place, ranging from something resembling yoga but really more fitness-oriented—where we did mountain climbers and multiple side planks in the midst of flow practices—to teachers who taught what I would consider a more Vinyasa-style class with alignment and breath cues. 

The students also ranged in shape and size, but they all seemed determined, strong, and focused. In Ayurvedic terms, it was all really pitta in nature, and, interestingly, the hot yoga practice exacerbates this pitta nature (like increases like). 

This past Friday, I walked into a class that happened to be mostly Ashtanga Vinyasa. I have always loved the Ashtanga primary series and the teacher was focused and clear about her Ashtanga roots. Despite the heat, I could feel myself relax. After all, I thought to myself, this would be a “real” yoga class, not just a fitness experiment masquerading as yoga.

But, while breathing in with the cued ujjayi breath halfway through the class, whenever the teacher said, “breathe deeper,” I began to feel the consistent intensity of the heat. At the same time, I began to watch my mind as I, on the one hand, questioned the validity of this practice in this setting. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder why a teacher who seemed to have such a pure Ashtanga practice would consider teaching it in such a hot studio. But, on the other hand, I could also observe the mind-over-body part of my brain kicking in with dialogue that urged me to overcome the discomfort—cues you hear so often in the heated power yoga setting. Breathe, I kept telling myself. You can do it.

And it’s a dialogue that, in our fitness obsessed, overcoming pain obsessed culture, we celebrate.

It was a wild experience. I could watch both parts of me trying to battle it out on the yoga mat in that hot yoga studio, following as exactly as I could each cue the teacher offered.

Clearly, I was not crazy to feel what I was feeling.

Let’s get even more specific.

Ashtanga Vinyasa, like most Vinyasa yogais an intense, heating/warming practice in a normal temperature room. And, as our traditional yoga teachers taught us, in a Vinyasa practice, you can use the breath, especially the ujjayi—or victorious breath technique—to warm the body up inside out.

When you couple that with external heat, it creates an even more intense situation.

Intensity in Ayurvedic terms is a characteristic of the fire element in us, or the pitta dosha. Too much pitta can create hormonal imbalances, irritability, and excess heat in the body.

Yes, the heat lets you stretch deeper, but is that really the point of yoga?

Yes, you may sweat buckets, but is that really the point of yoga?

And, honestly, you could probably sweat that much if you just went into a sauna or a steam room. At least by doing that, you are not intensifying the sweat by increasing the intensity of your activity in the heat.

I survived that class, as I had survived so many others over the past month.

The warm California evening seemed freezing when I emerged into the light; and I rushed home to get out of my sweat-soaked yoga wear. This was the only reprieve. The shower after. The euphoria that I had survived.

This is how it becomes a habit, I thought to myself. This is what you end up wanting, again and again. Perhaps this is why people keep returning.

But, how do I feel, after my “experiment?”

My big take away is simply this: more is not always a good thing.

This is such a recurring theme in our culture. If we discover that chia seeds are good for us, all of a sudden, we notice 50 different health food products with chia seeds available. If running 30 minutes is good for us, we decide we must run ultra-marathons, potentially in the desert. If a little bit of sweat is detoxifying, of course, we conjecture, a lot of sweat is probably an even better thing.

While Vinyasa yoga in a normal temperature might offer a balanced intensity, amping it up in a super heated room does not offer any benefits, save that of ridding us of most of our water weight and allowing our already intense minds to become even more focused, determined, and fiery. Or, it may simply wipe us out.

Hot yoga may be okay for some peopleperhaps in extremely frigid climates—I’m thinking the north of Canada in the winter, maybe?

But, I’m putting this out there as someone who has been studying yoga for more than half my life now and has had the benefit of observing the disconnects and mass marketing of yoga in our wider culture, both in the West and East from different spots in the equation.

My prescription as a yoga teacher and a student of Ayurveda is always to consider the effects of the practice on your body and mind. Do not simply do something because you hear it is healthy or good for you, or because it serves someone else you know.

Rather, practice yoga with Ayurvedic insights by asking yourself:

Is this practice serving me—this unique individual inhabiting this body at this moment in cosmic time?

How do I feel after this particular way of practicing?

Am I wiped out, or can I return to my life feeling stronger and more balanced and more at peace?

Practice yoga because it can help you to balance out the other aspects of your life. If you are an intense, fiery person, don’t choose an intense, fiery practice—choose something that helps you to cool and calm down. On the other hand, if you are super watery in your life, maybe do choose that fiery practice. And always remember that “no pain, no gain” is not always the goal in yoga.

In Blissology, the style of yoga I teach, we are trying to do something a lot more subtle, yet deeper.

We are trying to use our breath in an intelligent manner to open up the body, release stress, and create more peace. And, interestingly enough, when we are less stressed, we don’t hold on to excess weight, excess thoughts, or negativity as readily. 

This is where the magic of yoga happens: in the space between.

I know I often love a good, intense physical asana practice, but I’ll practice that way in a normal temperature room again, using my breath as my own personal heater from now on.

Yet, I am always grateful to be able to test out what I see in our wider world, as I never want to comment on anything without experiencing it first.  

~

Relephant read:

My Litmus Test for a Good Yoga Class: One Not-So-Simple Question.

Touching the Stove: Yes, Yoga can Hurt!

~

Author: Insiya Rasiwala-Finn
Image: Olivia Nachle 
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen

 

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Insiya Rasiwala-Finn

Insiya Rasiwala-Finn is a writer, a yogi, and a mama exploring the modern eco yoga lifestyle. She has written on holistic health and travel for magazines such as Asia Spa, Conde Nast Traveler, LA Yoga, The Tyee, My Yoga Online, Elephant Journal, and Luxury Latin America. She is passionate about creating balanced relationships with our body-mind, our communities and our planet, ideas that are the core of Blissology, a movement she helped co-create with her husband, yogi Eoin Finn. Connect with her on her blog.

Jane Howell Aug 5, 2017 6:33am

I don't think 'Hot Yoga' is a style at all. Bikram is a style, Moksha is a style, Vinyasa a style. 'Hot' referees to the conditions. Not all 'Hot Yoga' is created equal!! Haha. It varies a lot. Especially in the USA I have noticed. The Canadians are bit more relaxed and I have had amazing and extensive experience with the Moksha community and studios. Very well thought out series, conditions (temp + air + humidity) and approach. Your mention of our culture and it's relationship go pain is intereting. As an Aussie I could not make it though a Canadian winter without my hot yoga practice. I do agree it's not for everyone. You are rocking it to 40 no worries Insia x

Insiya Rasiwala-Finn Aug 1, 2017 8:53pm

love your comment as i often think that one of hot yoga's gifts is that it eventually encourages people to try other types of yoga. thank you!

Insiya Rasiwala-Finn Aug 1, 2017 8:53pm

yes... i agree, it is so hard to be at peace with the ever running brain in our pitta applauding society... thank you!!!

Insiya Rasiwala-Finn Aug 1, 2017 8:52pm

love your insight about 40 being the hardest... will keep it in mind. :-) thank you for reading!!!

Insiya Rasiwala-Finn Aug 1, 2017 8:50pm

so true, the swinging from grasping to aversion... thank you for your comments!!!

Charly Sanate Aug 1, 2017 7:01pm

hot yoga is the commercializacion of ancient practices without any spiritual basis they make the studios hot so people take off a lot of clothes and sweat but it is an abnormal way to excessive hormones...yoga is the way of peace and health not trademarks made in the estados hundidos

Thomas Brown Aug 1, 2017 3:12pm

As a novice I found that the early morning hot yoga classes were a great way to start my day and they introduced me to yoga. With the insanity of my schedule, I needed that morning ritual. I moved on to other forms such as Iyengar and found them even more rewarding. The knowledge about the proper forms (not to say hot yoga isn't "proper" but it's hard to teach form in a 26 form, 90 minute class) helped me do hot yoga even better. Just like with many things in life, moderation is the key and your comments regarding "more is better" are spot on!

Ida Lindström Aug 1, 2017 3:06pm

Insightful and important. Balance is key to living a life in harmony in mind, body and soul. I have practiced yoga for 15 years or so and it is not until quite recently that I really can hear my body (not only my brain) speaking to me. It takes consistent practice, specially in our pitta society where we applaud extremes, to shut down all competitive thoughts and emotions. I love to nurture my vata dosha. I do like a physical and sweaty vinyasa, but I want it to be mindful and soul deep. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts.

Valerie Jabin Alon Aug 1, 2017 2:58pm

Hi Insiya, I enjoyed your article. I tried hot yoga once and decided it was a cult. My own practice is about gathering strength, not flexibility--most of us drawn to yoga are inherently flexible to begin with. Also, now that I've hit 40, 50 and 60 (!) I found that 40 was the hardest (mainly facing the fact that youth was in the rear view mirror) 50 was Great (still looking good but can flirt with abandon) and 60 might be interesting (how Ecentric can I be today?)

Alina Prax Aug 1, 2017 7:38am

Dear Insiya, I loved your article on hot yoga. Your insights into our "more is better" culture are insightful and reflect my own. I often find myself struggling with the same inner dialog you described having. I see this attitude of extremes celebrated in the yoga community and wonder, where is this value coming from? I think it's a reflection of our greater Western culture. From a Buddhist perspective it's a mix of grasping strongly to ego, "I must be the most limber yogini in my studio," and aversion, "If I don't eat copious amounts of chia seeds my gut flora will collapse.". LOL I hope more yogis will become aware of these extremes and choose a more balanced approach to yoga practice and life. Thank you for sharing your insights! Warmly, Alina Prax