Hot yoga devotee Karla Walsh feels exhilarated after an hour
of twisting her soggy limbs into pretzel shapes, but the Iowa-based writer
wonders if all that swelter really ramps up her workout.
Bikram and other types of hot yoga, where temperatures can
soar to 105 Fahrenheit (40.5 Celsius) or higher, are increasingly popular.
Fitness experts say the hot-house workout if done properly
is not harmful and may seem more challenging, but add that followers aren't
working any harder than in other yoga classes."The benefits are largely
perceptual," said Dr Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer of the
American Council on Exercise (ACE).
"People think the degree of sweat is the quality of the
workout, but that's not reality. It doesn't correlate to burning more
calories."In a small study sponsored by ACE at the University of
Wisconsin-La Crosse, researchers who monitored two dozen healthy adults during
regular and hot yoga classes found no difference in the increase in core
temperature or heart rate between the two 60-minute sessions.
"An increase in core temperature would suggest the
person is storing heat, and depending on how high, would be at risk for heat
injury," Bryant explained. "We didn't find that."He added that
people enjoy hot yoga because it allows them to feel more flexible."But regarding physical benefits," which he said include muscular strength,
endurance, flexibility and balance, "you can get those from a standard
"For the study, the hot yoga was conducted in an
average temperature of 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 Celsius). Bryant said in
classes, including the popular Bikram style, where the temperature rises to 105
Fahrenheit or higher, further study is needed."Many folks want to know
what happens in that really extreme class," he said.
People like to sweat
"Our study says you don't have to be at those extreme
temperatures to get all those benefits." New York-based yoga instructor Taj
Harris likens a hot yoga class to a physical therapy session with heat packs or
a massage with hot stones."The heat allows the body to be more
supple," said Harris, who teaches 60-, 75- and 90-minute classes at Crunch
"It increases joint lubrication as well as flexibility
in muscles."Harris said the heat, which can range from 92 to 100 degrees
Fahrenheit (33 to 38 degrees Celsius) in her classes, eliminates the need for
the extended warm-up of a traditional class. "People like to sweat, they
enjoy the way their body feels after a nice heated stretch," she said.
"I have had the pleasure of watching some students work
through tightness, strains and pains with a regular hot yoga
practice." Harris encourages her yogis to drink water during class, bring
plenty of towels to wipe away their excess sweat, and tells them that if they
need a respite, it's always cooler on the floor.
Bryant said when doing any activity in a hot environment
it's crucial to maintain hydration and to watch out for early danger
signs. "Dizziness, headache, lightheadedness, mild nausea and muscle
cramps, are indicators that you're not tolerating that heat," he
explained. "You need to remove yourself from that environment and get into
air conditioning." Walsh said at first she didn't get the whole hot trend,
but now she is a fan. She credits it with helping her acclimatise to the steamy
Midwestern summer. "It doesn't feel quite as daunting walking to
work," she said.