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?