Monday, October 24, 2011

What's So Hot About Yoga?

The following article was written  by Christine Kwok, a colleague located in Santa Monica, CA.Christine is the founder of Balanced Strength, Inc.and has 15+ years of experience in the fitness & wellness industry, developing customized total fitness strategies for individuals, communities, and corporations. Visit for more information or to contact Christine for more information.

Over the last decade yoga has been adopted, not just by celebrities, but by professional athletes, weekend warriors, mothers, and soon-to-be moms. So, can it still be called trendy? Yoga with origins tracing back to second century B.C., in India, is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice. Over the last few centuries, practitioners and gurus have incorporated variations in methodology: breathing exercises, sequences of selected poses, flow from one pose to the next, sport-specific progressions, strength building, relaxation and recovery, and hot room practice.

( Breathe Sparky...)
In particular, hot yoga has been most controversial in athletic and social circles. Bikram, created by Bikram Choudhury and the most popular discipline of hot yoga, incorporates the repetition of 26 poses over 90 minutes, in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity.

Proponents of hot yoga claim since it is practiced in hotter temperatures, it assists in removing toxins from one’s bodies by accelerating perspiration, helps practitioners with mental focus and meditation by forcing performance under extreme conditions (mind over matter), and increases mobility by hastening warm up. Other benefits that hot yoga gurus boast are accelerated weight loss, relief of muscle and joint pain (with regular practice for more than 30 days), stress relief, increased immunity (by practicing in a room simulating a fevered body), and improved athletic performance.

What does science say? To date, there is no scientific evidence that proves whether or not practicing yoga in extreme temperatures can deliver the above results. However, there have been studies on hatha yoga, a practice that incorporates breathing exercises and repetitions of various poses similar to that of Bikram or other hot yoga, in more mild environments. Twenty-two participants in this six-week pilot study reported reduced low back pain, improved balance, and decreased feelings of depression. So, one might be able to infer hot yoga could yield similar results…but, does a hot room cancel it all out?

One study on heat training published by the American College of Sports Medicine recognizes that athletes of all levels have varying tolerance for heat training. However, consistent findings showed that all athletes displayed evidence of diminished performance and/or heat exhaustion by the time their core temperatures reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. On exertion, many athletes will exhibit core temperatures higher than the ambient temperature. Popular hot yoga classes are practiced in a studio heated between 92-106 degrees.

What does this mean for the hot yoga athlete? When heat training is “unavoidable”, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends, pre-cooling the body prior to exercise if possible, resting every 30 minutes or more frequently if necessary, and hydrating with cool water frequently.

Also, when exercising in a 85+ degree studio, practitioners must be mindful of several other dangers: the false sense that they have greater mobility than they are actually capable of; furthered unhygienic conditions that allow bacteria and other pathogens to breed and multiply (viruses and bacteria do not deactivate or die until at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit); and a greater physical stress induced by elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

There are several arguments on both sides of this coin. First, and most important, check with your personal physician to see if hot yoga is safe for you to try and ultimately, practice. Then, decide if it is something that you would benefit from and enjoy (if there is nothing else that will keep you physically active and your physician gives you approval.) And of course, be aware of how your body is reacting to the activity throughout the workout and be cautious with what you are doing—rest when you feel like you should and stay well hydrated—which is a good habit in daily living, anyway.