Practicing yoga in a heated room (traditionally between 90 and 105 degrees) is the method of choice for many modern yogis. We love hot yoga because, like all forms of yoga, it has been scientifically proven to increase GABA levels, a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for depression and anxiety. Practicing yoga in high heat has its specific benefits as well: heat equals deeper stretching, improved circulation and increased stamina and elimination of toxins through perspiration, just to name a few. The safety of hot yoga, especially in variations which call for a room heated above 100 degrees, has been called into question in countless online blogs and scientific studies. The bottom line through researching both: hot yoga is safe if you are healthy, well hydrated and listen to your body. I compiled a list of hot yoga safety tips for our hot yogis, so you can stay safe as you sweat on your mat:
- Use a hot yoga mat towel so you don't slip and fall. Most yoga mats are closed cell, which means sweat is absorbed straight into the material like a giant sponge. Not only is this incredibly gross, it's unhygienic and can lead to fungal issues like athletes foot. Performance yoga mats (aka premium weight mats) and other more expensive yoga mats are closed-cell, meaning sweat does not penetrate the surface and thus, pools on the surface of the mat. Sweat-drenched yoga mats are slippery and can easily cause disastrous falls. Hot yoga mat towels are specially designed to prevent incidents on both yoga mat compositions. They are cut to fit right over your yoga mat and absorb sweat. They are extra sticky, too. The sweatier you get, the less slippery your towel becomes. An extra hand towel to wipe sweat off forehead and arms is a necessary companion as well. We recommend microfiber.
- Check your health. If you aren't a seasoned yogi or are over the age of 60, it is recommended that you choose a different type of yoga class. Those with diabetes, a bun in the oven, low blood pressure or other major health issues should sit this one out as well.
- Listen to your body. Yoga is supposed to connect the body with the mind and soul. "Pushing yourself" is best saved for marathons and setting personal records at the gym. Going into child's pose when you feel you might collapse isn't a sign of weakness. That's not what yoga is all about. Listen to your natural cues to stay safe and have an effective practice.
- Abstain from lotions and perfumes. Lotions can linger on the skin and turn the skin into an oily mess once you start to perspire. If you are like me and use lotion all the time, a quick rinse before class can keep your limbs from slipping. Perfumes and yoga don't mix, and adverse smells only get worse once you add heat. Even if it doesn't bother you, it might give the yogi next to you a killer headache. Don't do it.
- Dress for success. This might be counter-intuitive, but capris are preferable over shorts in hot yoga. In binds, a sweaty bare knee and upper leg is impossible to grasp. Capris or yoga pants are better in hot yoga for this very reason. As far as tops, sleeveless tank tops that are form-fitting and long in the trunk will keep you cool and prevent you from adjusting/pulling at your shirt. Loosely fitting clothes trap heat so wear something form-fitting that handles moisture well.
- Hydrate! One of those 12 oz water bottles 30-60 minutes before class should be adequate. Overdoing it can cause vomiting, dizziness and discomfort, so don't go crazy. Bring a bottle of water with you into class and don't be afraid to take a sip when you need it. Some teachers discourage this, but it all goes back to listening to your body and obeying when necessary.
- Don't forget to breathe. Heat can cause hyperventilation if you forget to breathe.
- Don't overdo it. The heat causing deeper stretches goes on both the pros and the cons list. If you are relatively new, be careful you don't go too deep into poses. This will cause pain and discomfort after class and the following day. Soreness isn't necessarily a bad sign, but it becomes a problem when you can't stand up straight.
- You are what you eat. Eat mindfully the day of your practice: whole foods, veggies and fruit. Avoid dairy and excessively processed foods. Don't starve yourself before class, either. Clearly, you don't want to eat a huge meal 20 minutes before class, but if you are hungry, a banana or a granola bar won't hurt a thing and will actually make your practice more effective.
What helps you before Bikram? We want to hear from our hot yogis! What are your pre-class rituals like and what products help your practice?
By: Jessica Adams (G+)
John Date 11/7/2013
I'm.65 years old. I've been practicing Bikram for several years. I agree with all of your tips, but suggest that age is not necessarily a problem. I have seen plenty of superb practitioners in their 60s and even 70s. I think a health check before embarking on any yoga may be very sound advice, but if all is clear, then Bikram is a wonderful practice.
Observer Date 11/7/2013
The age 60 thing is age-ist and insulting. Child's pose is actually one of the better poses to do when you get a little dizzy or tired, since it gets your head lower than your heart. I have NEVER heard a certified bikram teacher discourage the drinking of water - it is a requirement in most of the studios I have used. "Forget to breathe"?? When the entire class, you are told when to breathe and how? Have you ever actually done hot yoga or bikram?? NO eating for an hour before class - you don't want food in the esophagus when you are doing inversions - period.
Martha P. Date 11/7/2013
"Observer": I am 70 years old and practice Bikram sometimes because I practice hatha daily. I don't think the author is being ageist. I think you need to re-read. She uses the word is it "suggested" (not "you cannot") not to attend Bikram if you are in poor health, pregnant, or older and not an experienced yogi over the age of 60. I doubt Yoga Accessories would advise everyone on the planet to try hot yoga, that is just insensible. Your child's pose remark is agreeing with what is stated in the article. If you are new and going to Bikram it is easy to forget to breathe. Observer, are you SURE that yoga is working for you? Clearly you are a very angry person. Yog is love. Where's the love? Just curious, who made you the omnipotent Bikram God?
Michael Beloy Date 11/7/2013
Hot yoga at 60 is great if you hydrate with coconut water an hour before you will find during practice you will retain this type of hydration and feel stronger and take sips instead of gulps which can cause cramps ,stay in your breath and find your driste and the peace and love will come. Namaste
Dieuwke Fiedler Date 11/9/2013
Question: Is the first mat an open-cell?
Thank you for clarification.
Robin Date 11/9/2013
Martha P. Very well stated. Did I miss something where it says this is only about bikram? There are many hatha yoga classes that practice in hot studios, but are not under the Bikram name.
Jessica A. Date 11/9/2013
Dieuwke, thanks for asking! Our Premium Weight Mats ARE closed-cell. I love them. They are great for intense practices and are also easier to clean (vs. opened-cell, which in my opinion is basically a giant sweat sponge --ew!). Plus they are generic (unbranded) and priced at wholesale costs so you are getting the best mat for the money with our Premium Weight Yoga Mats.
Liana Date 11/9/2013
So, is this really true? To a certain degree, yes. But certainly not to the extent most Bikram yoga devotees want to make you believe that it is. "Only about 1 percent of any toxin will be released from the sweat glands," notes Michele Olson, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Alabama. "Sweating does not release toxins. The powerhouse for detoxifying our bodies is the liver."
Amanda Austin Date 11/9/2013
Jessica, thank you so much for your well articulated article on this subject. I would like to add one more thought which is also more specific to Bikram practitioners...I know in the several classes I have had the pleasure of taking, we were instructed to, in fact, "lock our joints" on several occasions. As a seasoned yoga instructor, I strongly discourage this practice; locking or hyperextending your joints is never a good idea in yoga, especially in a hot room. Although what they truly mean is to fully lengthen the joints, unfortunately this is not what is literally relayed to students, and most beginners/early practioners would not know the difference. peace love and namaste
William Bell Wolfolk Date 11/9/2013
I am forwarding this article to those friends who practice Bikram and those who have considered it. Thank you for the information.
bobby boles Date 11/11/2013
We do not lose any significant toxins in our sweat....only water and electrolytes...
Ginny Date 11/11/2013
I think there was a mistake in the following - the word "not" may have been left out of the first reference to closed cell... "Most yoga mats are closed cell, which means sweat is absorbed straight into the material like a giant sponge. Not only is this incredibly gross, it's unhygienic and can lead to fungal issues like athletes foot. Performance yoga mats (aka premium weight mats) and other more expensive yoga mats are closed-cell, meaning sweat does not penetrate the surface and thus, pools on the surface of the mat."