Bikram Yoga also known as hot yoga is a relatively new branch of yoga named after its founder Bikram Choudhury. It is practiced in a room kept at a temperature of 40C. A typical class will last 90 minutes during which students are led through 26 yoga postures and breathing exercises.
Having been to several hot yoga classes since I started to practice yoga, my experience has been very positive on the whole as I emerged feeling like I’d just spring cleaned my body. And with good reason, the combination of heat, postures, and breathing promises to enhance the body’s oxygen absorption and detoxification through targeted compression followed by extension of specific joints and organs.
I must admit that I personally highly enjoy cleansing my body with cardiovascular exercise and focusing my mind through yoga breathing, so hot yoga always felt like a great combination for me. Even so, I have rarely managed to complete a 90 minute session to the end as I have had to stop from feeling dizzy or nauseous. Since this is quite common, especially for beginners, I started to do some research on whether hot yoga is in fact a safe form of exercise, given the possible risk of heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
The University of Maryland Medical Centre advises that “physical exertion in hot or humid environments increases the risk of developing heat exhaustion”. Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea, thirst, and muscle cramps. If left untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke and eventually heart attack.
There are, however, simple measures to counteract this risk.
Hydrate With The Right Fluids
It is extremely important to stay well-hydrated with fluids that replenish the body’s electrolyte balance. This means drinking a sports drink or mineralised water containing calcium, magnesium, and potassium before, during, and after exercise. Drinking pure distilled water is not advisable as this will further dehydrate the body by stripping it further of electrolytes.
Hot yoga is not the place to show off your lycra.
The less you wear and the more natural the fibres, the better – both to regulate body heat and to detoxify. If you are shy about a body part, opt for a loose fitting light cotton material.
Choose Your Teacher Wisely
Some hot yoga teachers have come under criticism for discouraging students from drinking during lessons.
Several university studies have shown that it is imperative for athletes to rehydrate consistently while exercising, especially in hotter temperatures, to avoid heat stroke. The request to avoid drinking during a hot yoga class is dangerous and should therefore be ignored.
Hot yoga should be a cleansing practice for your body, mind, and soul. It is not a spinning class. Do your research and choose a studio and teacher that encourage you to find and work with your own comfort zone rather than keep up with the class.