Why Hot Yoga isn’t Cool.

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Every time I tell someone that I teach yoga, there are a few standard questions or comments I get right off the bat.

“Wow, you must be really flexible!” 

I’m flexible, but I’m not a contortionist, which is what they’re really asking. And because they seem disappointed when I clarify, I just feign modesty and don’t give a clear answer.

“Can you do all those crazy pretzel moves?!”

Well, some I can, and some I can’t, and does it really matter?

“Have you heard of ‘fill-in-the-blank-with-any-yoga-hybrid-you’ve-ever-heard-of?'” 

Breakti (breakdancing and yoga). Koga (kickboxing and yoga). Roga (running and yoga). Broga (yoga for bros). SUP yoga (standup paddleboard yoga). Acroyoga. Yogilates.

But the leading question I am asked is, “Do you do hot!?”

People ask this with a flicker of excitement in their eyes. My answer will be the deciding factor of whether or not this dialogue is worth continuing—as if yoga is only interesting if it is not the “mainstream.” Only if you add a body of water or maybe a bungee jump is it worth learning about.

It is at this point that I have to decide how to answer.

Should I be authentic (which I try really hard to be) and tell them exactly what I think of hot yoga and potentially educate them about yoga in the process? Or do I just avoid potential confrontation (which is what I’d rather do, because it’s easier) and smile and say no, in which case I have utterly disappointed them and robbed them of a pretty cool conversation?

So here’s the truth: I have never been a proponent of the hot yoga trend.

I could be really nice and say it’s just not for me, or I could be real and say that I think it’s stupid.

Yeah, that would be more accurate.

Hot yoga in its original form began as what we came to know of as Bikram yoga, a form of yoga involving 26 poses practiced in a 104-degree room. It was developed and commercialized by Bikram Choudhury, who began his yoga training at the age of four and won his first of many Indian national yoga championships at the age of 13.

He went on to develop and copyright his own “brand” of yoga, and for years, only those teachers trained specifically by Bikram himself could teach it (an appellate court has since ruled that a sequence of poses cannot be copyrighted).

Bikram has claimed that the 26 poses that comprise his practice, held in the 104-degree room, are appropriate for “any age group.”

I’m guessing Bikram hasn’t met the large number of people who would disagree with him, like my 70-year-old parents.

According to Bikram, “You will not get the intended benefits until it is done 100 percent correct,” and he is renowned for shouting at students to “lock the knee! lock the knee!” He even refers to his studios as “Bikram’s Torture Chambers.”

None of that sounds like yoga to me.

That was the birth of the hot yoga movement that everyone gets so excited about these days. Now, studios everywhere offer their own versions of hot or heated yoga—some 60-minute classes, some 90.

But I’m not really sure why the hype has grown the way it has. People have long loved the quick solution, the faster result, and I guess people equate more sweating with more benefit? Maybe sweating hard without working as hard still equates to the “kickass workout” everyone wants.

To form a fair opinion, I have taken a hot yoga class. Twice. I hated it. The teacher was great, and the assigned poses she put us through were reasonable.

What really sucked was the heat. Simply being in that heat made me feel sick—like my lungs were scorching and my stomach contents were on a slow simmer. Just lying on my mat before beginning the practice, I thought to myself, This is, without a doubt, the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

And that was before I started moving.

Watching myself in the wall of mirrors (which I also hate), I was mesmerized by the pace of the sweat dripping from my chin and elbows and fingertips. As a nurse, I thought, This is not okay. My sweat dripped faster than a leaky faucet, like an IV drip. And I wasn’t even fully exerting myself! My only exertion was in fighting my dizziness and nausea.

Coming out of the class, everyone was unhealthily red in the face, neck, and chest, and through the din, I could hear people talking about how great they felt and what an awesome workout they had. I wanted to yell over all of them, “I call bullsh*t! There is no way any of you feel great right now.”

And, maybe a couple of them did, but most of us, assuredly, did not.

Hot yoga is portrayed as a great way to detoxify by flushing out toxins through sweat. Well, although small amounts of toxins are released through sweat, sweating is the most inefficient way of detoxifying ever.

That is what our kidneys and livers do. Like, that is their sole job description.

And, ironically, in order to do their jobs well, they need hydration. We sweat for one main reason: to cool off. Sweating is our built-in air conditioning system. And we are cooled through the process of evaporating. Once we are dripping sweat at that rate, evaporation stops and we are simply dehydrating and overheating.

And not detoxifying.

What I find interesting is that every Independence Day, communities hold day-long picnics, concerts, and celebrations outside in temperatures that often aren’t even as high as a hot yoga room. And at those events, ambulances, fire trucks, EMTs, and all sorts of medical personnel are on stand-by in case people get…what?

Overheated.

Every summer down South, news stations warn people to stay indoors during high temperature days, reminding them to stay hydrated. Outdoor dogs are kept indoors and kids don’t go out to play. Heat stroke is a real risk.

But, all that logic goes out the window in the frenzied rush of the trend that is hot yoga.

I wonder, if sweating is that important to the “workout,” why isn’t the gym or any other exercise facility heated to 104 degrees? Or barre class? Or your kids’ gymnastics class? Why just yoga?

Somebody tell me that, and I might just shut up.

So, what is my point?

I understand the need to market yoga in a way that is new and exciting—I really do.

Go running with a group to a quiet spot with a great view to do your practice; throw in some amazing stunts with a partner; practice on a stand up paddleboard on the water—it’s all good. If that’s your scene, do it. Have fun with it.

Honestly, I would love to try the flying yoga where you’re suspended in all those fabric thingies. Maybe someday I will.

All those types of yoga are safe and can make your practice more enjoyable, if your personality needs something different and daring.

But these forms of yoga are the exception, not the norm—and hot yoga should always be considered the exception, too.

When considering hot yoga, use common sense. In both fitness and enlightenment, there are no shortcuts. Sweating faster and more doesn’t equal better exercise or deeper relaxation, and potentially could be dangerous. Think about what high temperatures make you feel like in every other situation besides the yoga room, and make your decision accordingly.

And, remember: just because it’s trendy, doesn’t mean it’s better or even safe.

~

~

Author: Amy Bradley
Image: Max Charping/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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2 Do you love this article? Show the author your support by hearting.
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Carlee Lynn Apr 5, 2018 7:57am

Just tried my first class and felt like I had heat stroke afterwards. It was too hot, I left cold and shakey with s headache. I felt like I liked the yoga but the heat wasn’t necessary. Think I’ll stick to regular yoga.

Eileen Violet Jan 18, 2018 1:15am

It would seem to me using the teachings of Ayurveda that one would practice in an environment that mimics where they live. If you are to eat foods while in season and sleep with the moon, then doing yoga in 104 heat if you don’t live in a hot climate seems off. I can’t find a close studio that does normal yoga. All hot in my little city. I’ll practice at home alone for now.

Rebecca West Jan 17, 2018 5:04am

I think that any practice of exercise should be considered in terms of one's health, but completely villanizing yoga in a heated room seems unreasonable. Normally I hate being hot but when it comes to yoga it helps me to slow down and pay attention to the practice, since I can't do anything fast in a heated environment. A good teacher should keep the pace appropriate to the situation, and a smart student will go in hydrated and drink lots after practice, if not during. Yes, it should be approached with care, but so should all yoga.

Melanie Caines Sep 2, 2017 12:04pm

THANK YOU for this - you've articulated wonderfully so many concerns I have about hot yoga, most of all the danger (my mom is a retired nurse and was horrified when I explained to her what hot yoga is). And I've had the exact same thought: why not hot Pilates, hot cycling, hot swimming? ;)

Amy Bradley Jul 30, 2017 8:59pm

Amy Bradley Jul 28, 2017 4:30pm

Yes, Dawn, exactly! Thank you so much for your wise words. May everyone of us continue to mature and grow in our practices. Amy xo

Dawn Reed-Slaten Jul 27, 2017 7:58pm

I actually had a long discussion with my yoga teacher about this. This need to be part of the next new, cool thing. And why some are attracted to Ashtanga or Iyengar or Bikrim or Kundalini. It's a maturation thing. When I first started learning yoga, it was important to me to learn the poses correctly so as to not hurt my body. Then as I gained proficiency in the poses, I wanted the flow or the power or the core or whatever. As we mature in our yoga practice, we come back to do the poses and holding them and really feeling them. The flow or the power or whatever isn't as attractive as deepening my understanding of each pose. I don't mind those who are young in yoga to be attracted to all the shiny yoga things. My hope is that they also grow old in yoga and return to the poses, in and of themselves, as a teacher. In fact, if you look at many of the people who's practice is mature, you'll likely see a slower, more thoughtful practice. A little less trendy.

Donna Parsons Jul 27, 2017 12:31am

Is that like those saunas that used to be the thing?

Amy Bradley Jul 27, 2017 12:30am

Thank you, Andy, that was my whole point. It's not for everybody. I appreciate you response. Take care, Amy

Amy Bradley Jul 27, 2017 12:29am

Lyana, as a person who came into yoga looking for help for my own anxiety, I'm so glad you found something that has brought you some relief. You're right, doing hot yoga twice does not make me an authority on it. However, being a registered nurse for twenty nine years gives me a great understanding of the dangers of overheating, as I have seen in my patients. My point was that it is definitely not for everyone and can be dangerous to some. I'm glad it was an answer for you. All the best, Amy

Amy Bradley Jul 27, 2017 12:24am

Shawna, I'm glad that you have found such passion in your yoga practice, that's awesome! I'm not angry at all. I am concerned. As a registered nurse of twenty nine years, I know first hand the dangers of overheating and heatstroke. As an experienced yoga teacher who teaches a high number of seniors and chronically ill clients, I encourage people to listen to their bodies and make an informed choice. Many of them have been told by their physicians they need yoga, but they went to hot yoga thinking it was all the same and got hurt or sick as a result. That's all. Not everyone can or should do it. Thanks for reading and opening such important dialogue. All the best to you, Amy P.S. I'm very familiar with Aerial Yoga...my wording was an attempt at humor lol. Sorry it didn't land with you.

Amy Bradley Jul 26, 2017 11:50pm

Dana, I'm so glad you found a good yoga experience that you can stick with and that is so helpful to you. That's the most important thing! All the best on your continued journey, Amy

Andy Bowker Jul 26, 2017 7:12pm

As I am pretty sensitive to heat, I would never, ever do hot yoga. It might be good for some people but sounds a little unsafe for me.

Lyana Castaldo Jul 26, 2017 4:41pm

Hot yoga has helped my anxiety. I can breathe my way through it so much easier. I've taken non-hot yoga and no, doesn't have the same effect. I enjoy it just the same, and I take different benefits from it. I'd say two times trying it doesn't make you the authority. Part of yoga is getting uncomfortable to help you through the hardest parts of life.

Shawna Jill Jul 26, 2017 1:21pm

I love hot yoga, I've been practicing in the heated room for at least 7 years now. Of course you're entitled to your opinion, and it's great to encourage yogis to try and not get caught up in mainstream stuff, but I think your quite premature in jumping to conclusions- if you've only done 2 classes of hot yoga. You are clearly angry and calling the rest of us liars for announcing that we feel "great" after a class. I'm sorry you feel that way, but you can't presume that everyone feels the same way you do. Maybe the temperature in your 2 classes was particularly higher than others? Maybe those 2 teachers were tough? Maybe you did a Bikram class- which is significantly harder than a hatha class, in the heat. I dare you to try it again, and again, and again- there's a learning curve. Or not- it's up to you. But some of us don't consider it "just a trend", and would appreciate it if you didn't flippantly label it so. Reading your article, with zero references to scientific research to support your health concerns, has just made me quite disgruntled. I hope that if you write any more EJ articles, you come from a place of less judgement and anger. PS- I love mirrors. Great tool for self correction of alignment. PPS- "flying yoga in hanging thingys" is called Aerial Yoga. Also really fun.

Dana Bath Jul 26, 2017 12:12am

I do hot yoga, not because it's trendy or because of bogus claims about toxins, but because it's safer for my stiff, middle-aged body. I frequently injure myself doing yoga, but I have NEVER injured myself doing hot yoga, even doing the same sequences. I have a repetitive strain issue in my neck/shoulder/back that is often triggered by yoga, but for whatever reason, I can do hot yoga without a problem. I have been going to a Moksha studio for around 10 years now, and the only time my injury has been aggravated is when I decide to change things up and go to a different, unheated class. I have no scientific data to support this, just my personal experience, but for this reason, I love hot yoga - without it, I might have had to ditch hatha yoga altogether.