Yoga started becoming popular mainly because of hot yoga and this refers to countries like USA, Australia, Hong Kong and also Singapore. In the past, yoga was seen as something very slow, very zen and not something people would associate with being a killer session.
When hot yoga gained popularity, more people were willing to try because it looked challenging and what’s not challenging is not appealing. The sheer amount of sweat made people feel like they did a lot and felt as though their time was well spent because of the perceived effort, judging from the sweat.
Even though most of these hot yoga classes aren’t sticking to traditions and most of the time are modern spin-offs from real yoga (yes, I’m saying some of these classes are non-authentic yoga, especially in competitive countries like USA), hot yoga has indeed brought more people into the world of yoga which they would never have tried if it wasn’t hot. This is a good thing because these people could find more meaning and benefits of yoga from that point onwards and this happens to a number of people. However, the experienced yoga teachers I practice with do not advocate hot yoga at all. In fact, they don’t even attend hot classes themselves. They prefer to have yoga done in a natural environment and they have their reasons.
Personally, I am not a person who handles heat very well. Or shall I say, I am intolerant to humidity changes. I can feel all dried up in an air-conditioned room but sweat like pigs by just sitting in a hot yoga room even when I’m moving. I tend to sweat a lot in humidity. This reason makes me dread being in hot classes. I will always reach super early just to get the coolest mat in the room which is near the door.
Since I hate the hot room, why do I still go for hot yoga? I do it for the yoga, not so much about the heat. I do know of people who go for ONLY hot yoga and they don’t really care what the yoga is about because they just want it as hot as possible. I do not know why – maybe they feel like more is burning when it’s they sweat a lot, or maybe they are born with colder bodies. This is something I will never feel with because I simply do not enjoy heat. I would only attend the hot class if it’s my favourite teachers teaching. I try not to think too much about the heat. It only feels uncomfortable at the beginning but once the body breaks sweat, the body kind of gets used to the ambient temperature and the yoga is doable.
I’ve been going to HOM yoga for a few years and most classes offered there are hot – and their heat is known to be very hot! Think 45⁰C/ 113⁰F. This is higher than the usual 40⁰C/ 105⁰F. They used to have a lot of hot classes and even Ashtanga was done as Hot Ashtanga. Ashtanga is never served this like this anywhere else in the world! They have finally changed it to non-hot after a good 3 years and only from this month onwards, HOM yoga started offering more non-hot classes. Because most of their classes were hot, I ended up doing a lot more hot classes than I personally prefer to, and I more or less got used to it. Around 80% of my practice has been hot yoga for the past few years! With the recent change of class types to non-hot, I could really see some differences and hence I’m ready to debunk some myths.
Tolerating the heat and sweating more means you burn more, use more effort and you work out more.
With a logical mind we know that is all in the head and this is a psychological thing. Sweating doesn’t mean you work out more.
In a hot room, we sweat more but this is because of the room temperature. Sweating only counts if it happens because of your body’s own effort. Sweating due to heat does not count.
It’s good to sweat a lot and the feeling of tiredness after a hot yoga session is the result of working hard.
When you sweat a lot, you lose a lot of water and more importantly, salts from your body. Without the electrolyte balance in your body, the muscles will feel fatigued. There’s no real benefit in losing so much sweat. There was a person who developed high fever after sweating too much from hot yoga and somehow she didn’t have the awareness to replenish it all.
Heat gives us flexibility and this is good.
Yes it is true. When I practice in a heated room I somehow feel like I can do a lot of things. For instance, Ashtanga which I’ve been doing it in a hot room for years and all seemed well. But the day I started doing it non-hot, I felt aches ALL over and it wasn’t just one off! For 2 weeks straight the same thing happened. It just shows that people who are used to doing hot yoga may not be able to take the same practice to a non-hot room because the flexibility is not real.
There was once I did yoga at 7am on top of a skyscraper in Tokyo and it was chilling cold. My body was super stiff all over and even basic poses like triangle felt difficult. Thinking you can do a lot by using a hot room is somewhat like cheating yourself into doing poses which you otherwise cannot do in a natural environment.
Muscles are warmed up faster in the hot room and it’s good.
That is true that muscles can be warmed faster and feel ready to be use but it’s not really a good thing. It’s like cheating ourselves and not letting our muscles warm up the natural way using our internal heat. When I switched to non-hot Ashtanga, I felt a lot more aches in my body like my front thighs even though I’ve been doing the same yoga for years but in a hot room.
This also leads to the point that the body needs to put in way more effort to warm ourselves up in a non-hot environment and hence non-hot yoga will actually consume more energy than a hot class! And this is how the muscles can actually get stronger.
It is fine to let the hot room give us pseudo flexibility and warmed up muscles.
Because the heat distorts reality, we need to be extra mindful not to overstretch. Sometimes we just cannot discern what is too much and end up causing injuries or aggravate existing injuries because we really can’t tell when the body is heated up externally. For people lacking awareness, this can be very dangerous. But if course, it is also dangerous when people choose to ignore hazards and perform deep poses in a non-hot room. Awareness is key.
Hot Yoga wouldn’t harm anyone but it’s good to know what’s really happening for our own good. This is important for so many reasons. Being unaware in hot practice can lead you to dehydration, salt deficiency and injuries. Beginners needs to be well educated before trying.
Also, if you feel you’ve plateaued in your practice, you may want to try doing the same in a non-hot class and see how the body responds because the heat can distorts the body’s abilities.