Yoga has become a highly popular technique to improve overall physical health, mental health, balance, strength, flexibility and many other features that are great for you. As with everything that is meant to make you healthier and that has gained a certain amount of popularity, hot yoga has become a favorite topic for top celebrities.
Many of them, from Madonna to Gwenyth Paltrow and more swear by hot yoga and claim that it has enhanced benefits over “regular” forms of yoga practiced at a more standard room temperature. They claim that they experience a full spectrum of additional benefits by practicing Bikram and other forms of hot yoga.
However, recent studies have suggested that hot yoga may not be as exceptional as top celebs have been promising. Indeed, it is a healthy practice just as yoga performed in other temperatures can be great for mental and physical health. That said, the additional heat and sweating might not offer precisely the benefits that have been associated with it until now.
Is Hot Yoga Worth the Heat?
Research published from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) indicates that putting yourself through all that extra sweating in the hopes of burning more calories might not work as you’re imagining. In fact, that study suggests that hot yoga burns about as many calories as you do when you’re doing far less sweaty forms of yoga.
The study followed 20 participants who practiced yoga in different room temperatures. First, it measured the heart rates and core temperatures of the participants before and after an hour long yoga class practiced in a room that maintained a steady 70ºF. Then next day, the same group of participants was asked to complete the identical hour long yoga routine in a room that was 92ºF. In both rooms, the humidity was maintained at a relatively steady 34 percent.
According to the researchers, the measurements of heart rate and core body temperature suggested that the participants burned the same number of calories regardless of the temperature of the room. In both yoga classes, the heart rate and core body temperature of the participants were nearly identical. This suggests that regular yoga and hot yoga are pretty much the same in their strenuousness and, therefore, fat burning.
Why Do People Think Hot Yoga is Better?
The researchers in the ACE study stated that they felt people believed hot yoga was better for them for two main factors. The first is that the stretches feel easier in hot yoga. When muscles are warm, they tend to offer improved flexibility and range of motion. This better performance can make it seem as though there will be better results, as well.
At the same time, hot yoga causes the body to produce more sweat – a lot more sweat – and many people feel that sweat is a sign of progress when it comes to fat burning. Sweating simply makes people feel as though they are getting more of a workout, even if they are sweating due to room temperature and not necessarily as a result of their physical activity.
The Confusing Part
What is confusing is that hot yoga really should provide more fat burning than regular yoga. After all, if you go outside and walk on a cool day and then do the exact same walk the next day in far hotter weather, your body temperature and heart rate will be higher on the second day. With that increased heart rate, this means that the body is burning more calories with the same activity due to the additional obstacle of heat.
However, in the two yoga classes, the heart rates were virtually identical. This suggests that when it comes to yoga, something changes when the room heats up. The researchers suspect that the heart causes people not to push themselves as hard.
It may also be that because the room is hot, and the muscles are warm, range of motion and flexibility naturally improve. Therefore, poses that might be easy in hot yoga become more challenging in regular yoga. That additional challenge in the cooler temperature might make up for the lower heart rate that may otherwise have occurred due to the hotter room.
What About More Extreme Hot Yoga?
While it may not look as though standard hot yoga has an additional impact on fat burning above and beyond what regular yoga can provide, there is still some question about more extreme practices. There are some forms of Bikram which can, after all, be practiced in considerably higher temperatures. It is not uncommon for Bikram classes to take place in a 105ºF room with a 40 percent humidity level.
What does science have to say about that technique? It’s also not as good as you might think.
The first thing studies have shown about more extreme forms of hot yoga is that they likely do offer a better overall workout. However, at the same time that they are probably giving the body more and are more than likely burning a higher number of calories, there is a downside.
Some studies have suggested that there are some negative health consequences to practicing more extreme hot yoga, when compared to practicing in cooler temperatures.
The reason is that exercise in any form in extreme temperatures place practitioners at a very serious risk of dehydration and of overheating. Many people may not even realize that a problem is present until it has indeed become problematic. This was confirmed by ACE Chief Science Officer, Dr. Cedric Bryant.
Signs of Hot Yoga Problems
According to experts, there are a number of different signs of potential health problems that hot yoga practitioners should watch for. This can be difficult to do when you are supposed to be paying close attention to your form, your breathing and calming your mind. However, it is vitally important to be mindful of symptoms of problems before they can develop into something more dangerous.
While practicing hot yoga, any signs of dehydration or overheating such as thirst, dizziness, nausea or faintness should be taken seriously. Fluids should be replaced steadily and if you feel as though you feel faint or sick, stop right away and seek a cooler place to lower your body temperature. Failing to do so can lead to a drop in blood pressure, fainting or even a loss of healthy brain function.
Practiced safely with appropriate hydration and cooling down processes if needed, very hot yoga may offer a slight advantage over regular yoga in terms of its fat burning potential.