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Not Hot, Just Gently Toasted

As a former Bikram Yoga teacher, there is no doubt that I sweat more than was safe for my health. I spent years suffering from the slow burning symptoms of dehydration, mineral deficiency and adrenal fatigue, all from dropping WAY too many beads of sweat on the yoga room floor. There was a time when I felt freaking AMAZING from doing a hot yoga practice. My skin was glowing, my body felt fluid, I was clear, concentrated and empowered! However, too much of a good thing is no good at all and through the years of sweating my balls off my health eventually began to suffer from doing hot yoga.

Now, let me just say that I never used to be a sweaty person until I started doing Bikram Yoga. My body became so out of balance due to excessively sweating that it took nothing for me to start perspiring. This aspect of my endocrine system (and nervous system) was so out of whack and so traumatised by having to work overtime that it was triggered by ANYTHING! Just writing about this is making my upper lip slightly moist. Clearly, my body is still healing from all those years.

Does this mean that hot yoga is bad for you? As a Bikram Yoga kool-aider from 2006 to 2015 I would haven't even allowed anyone to ask me this god-forsaken question, however given the experiences I have had over the last 15 years of teaching and practicing various styles, I truly don't think there is a black and white answer. I have realised that in order to truthfully discern this question we must consider these main aspects of a hot yoga practice:

  • How hot does it need to be to benefit from the heat?

  • How often are you practicing?

  • What is the climate like where you live?

It goes without saying that sweating is obviously an incredible tool of the body for many reasons. There are several ancient healing practices that induce sweating as a way of therapy. There is nothing wrong with sweating, however we have to consider the fact that for varying reasons people handle heat differently. This then brings us back to considering the aspect of just HOW hot should a hot yoga class be?

There are many studies proving the benefits of a hot yoga practice such as weight loss and detoxification. I myself have come to realise that I enjoy a warmer temperature for practicing yoga versus a colder one as it encourages me to focus, I feel cleansed from the inside out, my body moves with more ease and I enjoy the cardiovascular challenge. However, I don't need it HOT to achieve any of those things.

When I stopped practicing in a HOT class and transitioned to a warm one, I no longer felt like I had been run over by a truck after my yoga practice. I actually felt nourished and full. I was no longer finishing my practice feeling depleted by the extremes of super high heat. I was able to receive all the benefits of a practice done in a really HOT room without the negative side effects.

When we look at the use of heat induced sweating for therapeutic reasons, we also need to consider the frequency of this therapy. There is generally a recommended dosage. This dosage can then be tailored even further to suit the needs of a specific individual. The culture in many original hot yoga (Bikram Yoga) practices was to do a class every single day, if not multiple times per day! These practices were typically 90 minutes long however many people spend a good hour AFTER the practice still sweating. If you add up the hours of sweating for an average practitioner (1 practice/day @ 3 classes/week) you're looking at a good dosage of up to 7.5 hours of sweat therapy per week, and that is on the very low end of most people doing this type of practice. Is this right for everyone? Absolutely not. Would it be okay for some people. Definitely yes.

In my opinion, if you want to use an intensely hot (not warm) yoga practice medicinally and micro dose those classes at an infrequent occurrence, this would act much more like a therapy. Many supporters of this practice would argue that an infrequent practice doesn't give you a chance to build up your tolerance to the heat, but honestly after 10 years of trying to build up a tolerance I can honestly say (along with many others) that I was still just trying to survive each class I took all while dreaming of guzzling an ice-cold gallon of water.

The final aspect of this that needs addressing is climate and seasons. Frequently practicing a hot yoga class during an incredibly humid, tropical summer season might very well put your body out of balance. Just like certain vegetables, fruits and animals are suited to a particular time of the year, we too are aligned with nature and the seasons. Therefore, the available benefits of a hot yoga practice might not outweigh the risks when it's done during a certain time of year.

Given my first hand experience alongside the countless reports of others who felt the exact same way, I can say with confidence that doing HOT yoga as your regular go-to practice isn't sustainable for most people but there are some who handle it very well. However, practicing regularly in a warm environment during a time of the year that yields colder weather, can be a very sustainable and therapeutic approach to your health and well-being.

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