Blog post by Lukman Awad
Have you ever wondered why Current Wellness doesn’t offer hot yoga? We strive to offer a variety of yoga classes: from movement-based Flow classes, to slower, meditative Restore classes, and this summer’s Yin series!
At the Current, we hope everyone will choose a practice that feels good in their body and we keep that in mind when creating our programs. It is a deliberate choice that we hold all of our yoga classes in a neutral temperature environment. Read on to find out why we prefer non-heated yoga.
Hot yoga has become increasingly popular in the US, to the point where over half of yoga studios and fitness centers that offer yoga classes in Raleigh offer hot yoga.* In the midst of advertising campaigns that intend to draw consumers to hot yoga classes, many of us are left wondering: What are the benefits of non-heated yoga?
Practicing yoga regularly offers widely studied benefits. These include reduced stress, improved physical health, and elevated mental wellbeing. Yogis and students around the world experience benefits from Vinyasa flows, Yin classes, and more. There are many types of yoga classes! It is worth noting that “hot yoga” is not a type of yoga practice so much as it is the practice of any type of yoga in a heated room, usually heated to somewhere between 90 and 108 degrees.
*We surveyed 20 yoga and fitness studios based on the top Google search results for “yoga studios Raleigh.”
Warming up from the inside out!
Non-heated yoga classes rely on warming up as a part of the class flow to heat the body. Taking the time to warm up before engaging in strenuous movement reduces the risk of injury. To determine if you are ready for more intense movement, you can tune into your body and ask yourself if your muscles feel looser, if you feel warm all over your body, and if you are breaking a light sweat. While hot yoga instructors should also stress the importance of warming up at the beginning of class, it is harder for teachers and students alike to feel that their muscles are stretched and prepared when they have likely been sweating and feeling warm since entering the room. For this reason, non-heated yoga may be safer, especially for less experienced students.
Yoga has the power to reduce anxiety...unless it does the opposite.
Do mental health effects differ between hot and non-heated practices? Heat can trigger a spike in levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) as the body works to maintain a steady internal temperature. Even though many people begin a regular yoga practice to reduce their anxiety, cortisol spikes actually contribute to anxiety. Every body reacts differently, but some folks will have an easier time regulating their headspace in a non-heated yoga studio, which aids in a more fulfilling practice.
Non-heated yoga is more accessible.
Hot yoga is challenging and puts more stress on the body as it works to keep you cool. The added strain on the lungs and heart makes hot yoga a no-go for many people, including older adults and pregnant people, who may be more heat-sensitive. Additionally, high temperatures can interact negatively with some psychiatric medications. As always, questions about medications should be directed to your doctor.
The benefits are in the poses, not the temperature.
A 2018 physiology study shows that while practicing yoga does improve vascular health, practicing in a heated room does not change these outcomes (when compared to a thermoneutral, or room-temperature, practice). The study’s conclusion that hot yoga is not any better for heart health “highlight[s] the efficacy of the yoga postures alone in producing vascular adaptations.”
Since non-heated yoga is more accessible and feels less strenuous, participants are more likely to commit to a regular practice. As the study describes, it is more important to perform the poses than to feel exhausted or to sweat. The benefits of pranayama (breathing) and meditation also exist irrespective of temperature.
MYTH: Hot yoga “detoxifies” your body.
Some yoga studios claim that sweating during a hot yoga session detoxifies the body, but that’s an overstatement. A 2019 comprehensive literature review concludes that the “role of the sweat glands in eliminating waste products and toxicants from the body seems to be minor compared with other avenues of breakdown (liver) and excretion (kidneys and gastrointestinal tract).”
Ultimately, the primary function of sweating is to regulate body temperature - not to remove toxins. Sweating can also lead to dehydration as you lose not only water, but also minerals like sodium. Staying hydrated is important to yoga practices at all temperatures!
Hot yoga is not rooted in historical yogic tradition.
Whether you study the historical traditions of yoga or you just show up for a movement class, it may interest you to learn that hot yoga is not a part of yoga tradition. The invention of hot yoga is largely attributed to Bikram Choudary (who is no longer considered a pillar of the yoga community due to his harmful behavior). He introduced hot yoga in the US with the intention of mimicking the climate of an outdoor yoga practice in India, where yoga itself was born. However, yoga does not originate solely from hot areas of India - it can get quite cold in the Himalayas - and some traditional yoga flows, such as sun salutations, are meant to be performed at sunrise when the outdoor temperature is still cool.
Many students of yoga practice for the spiritual aspect, and heated rooms also have no part in yoga spiritual origins. The temperature increases sweat production but does not add to the spiritual side of the practice. So why do people choose hot yoga? One of the main advertisements of hot yoga is its role in the pursuit of intentional weight loss (which is out of alignment with values held by Current Wellness) though experts say this purported weight loss is likely due to water lost through sweat.
So should I choose hot yoga or non-heated yoga?
The simple answer is this: choose what feels best for your body on each day! The purpose of this blog post is to highlight that non-heated yoga provides benefits that are at least as good as those provided by hot yoga, if not greater. Non-heated yoga is safer and more accessible to more bodies. Hot yoga is a relatively new trend, not a part of a traditional spiritual yoga practice or yoga’s historical origins. Non-heated yoga has the potential to greatly reduce anxiety, improve vascular and aerobic health, and help you feel more in touch with your body.
Current Wellness offers many non-heated yoga classes that are suited for all experience levels! If you want to build internal heat through movement, you might enjoy a Flow class. If you’re looking to focus on your mind-body connection, Restore might be a great fit for you.