Hot Yoga: The Pros and Cons

By Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500 – My “yoga background” started out exclusively in Hot Yoga.  Specifically, I was trained in a Baptiste Certified Yoga School, by a teacher that was certified by Baron Baptiste himself many many many moons ago. –which, now that I say that, I bet Bill wouldn’t appreciate me saying quite that many moons. haha  

I got into yoga because of Hot Yoga.  Prior to practicing yoga, I had only been to the, what I call “softer” yoga classes, like a gentle or Hatha class, and, well, to be honest, those bored the beegeebees out of me.  

Before yoga, I was a very active runner and I dabbled with weights.  I loved all things “challenging” so It was the dabbling and running that caused me to hurt myself… (insert big eye roll here)  So, to me, it wasn’t a work out unless I finished it needing to (1) nap, (2) eat, (3) maybe take a couple of tylenol because I was so sore the next day.

Before my first hot yoga class, I had herniated a disc in my L5 (lower back for those of you that don’t have your handy skeleton around).  I had 8 rounds of 4 epidural shots in my back and after the last one (because I kept running and being crazy between shots) I was told I couldn’t have anymore steroid shots and would need surgery.  I was 30 at the time. 30 seemed way to young to be getting surgery on my back. My dad has 3 fused discs in his low back (L3,L4, L5) I knew how well -meaning how NOT well, he was doing because of that surgery, and I just didn’t want to go through with it.

My boyfriend (now husband) suggested I try yoga.  This was back in the we were still on our best behavior stage, so he was willing to go to hot yoga for me, and I was willing to do it for him-even though I told him, “yoga was for sissies.” (insert big eye roll here)  When we got to the studio, I hurt so bad and had such limited mobility, I had to use the little handles above the door to pull myself up and out of the car.

At the end of my first hour of hot power yoga, I was completely drenched in sweat (what a great sell right there, right?), I could bend over and touch my toes, and the single best thing?  I didn’t hurt. Not even a little. I was absolutely in love.

Something happened between the heat to relax the muscles all around the injury, and the movement to help fire up the core, I kid you not, I did not hurt anymore.  I was HOOKED. That was the last class of the day, otherwise, we would’ve stayed for another class.

The next day I woke up and it felt like I’d been sucker punched.  All the pain that was magically gone the night before was back. Plus, because I’d had that brief window of painlessness, it was like the pain that came back was even worse!  It was horrible! I was back in the 10am power class, like it was my special pill and yup, just like before, my back stopped hurting in that deliciously hot and sorta humid room.

From that day on, I practiced hot yoga.  I LOVED hot yoga. I craved the heat. Where I was living at the time, only had a Bikram studio near me, so instead of each class being different –the sort of hot power yoga I had originally been introduced to– I was going to a type of class that was probably a little hotter (bikram studios heat it to 104 degrees), and only practiced the same 26 postures.  The heat was the common element, and it was the heat that kept me coming back because it really helped to open up the tight areas in my back and I swear it’s what helped make the pain go away.

So what about the science behind Hot Yoga.

Well, there isn’t much science out there about the benefits, although if you go to old school Bikram studios, they’ll tell you that you are detoxing…which everyone knows is not really a thing because sweat isn’t bad…BUT, this one study out of Australia did find that –at least with Bikram classes, students increased mobility, strength (in the lower body), increased glucose tolerance, increased bone density, blood lipid levels, and arterial stiffness.

Since I can’t find any studies on a good heated power yoga class, and since I’ve practiced both, I can only believe that the heated power classes can and do have the same benefits.  Anecdotally, at least with a good Power class, you’re getting your upper body worked out (because in Bikram, there is no upper body building pose, except maybe floor bow, but that is definitely pushing it.)  –and I feel the arrows from all you die-hard Bikram people for that statement.

No, the heat doesn’t really make you burn more calories necessarily, but in a good power yoga class (heated or not) you can burn some pretty hefty calories.  The heat helps to loosen your muscles. The heat, when you generate it internally, and it is matched externally, helps you to really get present, because you HAVE to work at keeping calm, and keeping your breath, and frnakly, keeping up with the work.

The Dangers of Hot Yoga.

The first one is going to be a no-brainer.  No water = dehydration = problems. (that’s super scientific).  I have an even bigger no brainer No Water + heat + work = Dehydration x like 1 million = even bigger problems.  

So, DRINK YOUR WATER!  I can’t stress this enough.  People have passed out, had heat-related issues, etc in hot yoga classes, simply because they didn’t practice basic self care and drink…a LOT.  If you’re going to be in a 60-minute hot class, drink a MINIMUM of 12 oz. (I drink around 32oz). If you’re going to be in a 90-minute hot class drink 20 -30 oz of water….(again, I drink a minimum of 32 oz before, some probably during and definitely 32 after…I tend to over hydrate though.)

Another thing to watch out for in a hot yoga class is that you can actually stretch further than you normally may be able to, which could lead to over stretching injuries.  This is purely anecdotal because I couldn’t find any studies to this fact, but yoga teachers talk and we all talk about pulled hamstrings, (oh those pesky hammies!) especially towards the end of a particularly challenging hot yoga session.  Your muscles just may be perfectly positioned between the heat for stretch and fatigue that you move a little deeper than you should and BAM, you’re down for 4-6 weeks nursing an over stretch injury.

Finally, a less talked about danger of hot yoga is…the stress of the practice, and how it can actually impact your body.

Now, this may sound sacrilege, especially if you’re a true hot yoga fan, but i personally do think there can be a time to back off the heat.  I recently experienced it myself–about 6 months postpartum with my second child. Heat is challenging for your body which equals stress. I am a small business owner, and at the time, I was a mom of two very young kids…well, they are still both very young, but when i had the worst side effects, my son was 6 months, and my daughter was 2.5 yrs old.  It was very odd, but I basically started having symptom of some pretty severe stress ie twitchy eyes, irritability, problems sleeping, you name it.. Some of this could definitely be contributed to postpartum depression, for sure, but I am convinced my regular attendance in hot yoga classes taxed my system even more, causing my body to be unable to effectively deal with my life’s daily stress levels.  

I started dealing with the postpartum depression with some Traditional Chinese Medicine and medicinal mushrooms, and then took look at supporting my adrenal glands.  (these guys are super important for helping us deal with stress.) I laid off the hot yoga until things got back in order, and BAM, in less than a week I started feeling better, but I took about 1 month away from the heat to be sure.

Hot yoga is wonderful, I LOVE the practice, and regularly at home practice with a heater (or 2 since it’s currently cold outside) right beside me, and as long as you monitor your water intake, and manage your stress, I think it’s an awesome compliment to your yoga practice, or just plain great way to practice your yoga.  However, the most important thing I want you to think about when you do go into a hot yoga class is that you must be hydrated before you go in and continue to hydrate while and after you practice, don’t push yourself too hard that you can get hurt, and if you’re feeling completely exhausted, listen to your body. Maybe it needs a nice restorative class to help balance out your life’s demands and before you know it, you’ll be back in those 90 degree temps!

Do you like to practice hot yoga?  What’s your favorite practice? Leave me a comment below and maybe we will talk about it in an upcoming post!  If you’re looking for a great way to add yoga into your life from the comfort of your home, we have a couple of great ways to do that through our THRIVE ONLINE Program and we have tons of free resources on our YOUTUBE channel.  Be sure to like and subscribe!

3 thoughts on “Hot Yoga: The Pros and Cons”

  1. I practiced hot yoga for 20 years then started having symptoms that suggested my adrenals were fried. Haven’t practiced for 2 years and really miss it, but don’t dare go back. It got me through those 20 years. Don’t know if I would have made it otherwise.

  2. I love Hot yoga! But yes, it can be very taxing on the adrenals. One thing you could try is an adrenal supplement-I have one that I cycle on and off again based on my body’s needs Let me know if you want more information. Another thing you could try is getting into another physical practice that’s not practiced HOT. I love Ashtanga too, and that’s typically not in a super hot room, but it’s challenging enough to get the endorphins from a good exertion.

  3. Hi Loois! I TOTALLY get what you’re saying! I know the Hot yoga kept me sane! Have you tried any of the high intensity yoga inspired workouts we have posted in youtube? It’s the intensity of a hot yoga class, but you can practice it in a room temp environment. It’s been my go to since having to back off some of the heated classes.

    Here’s a link to the Thrive Yoga and Wellness Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMOuxZneKXsKiC-CtU4Qp2Q

    Let me know what you think!

Comments are closed.