Tell your doctor or co-workers that you practice yoga regularly, and chances are you will be greeted with an encouraging smile and something along the lines of, “Good for you!” While the research is limited, studies suggest that yoga is safe for most people and offers many benefits, including relieving low-back pain, improving flexibility and range of motion, and improving some heart disease risk factors.
When you take things up a couple of notches— as in raising the temperature— and practice hot yoga in a room heated to between 80 degrees and 105 degrees Fahrenheit, there is even less research about potential health consequences. Hot yoga may be more physically taxing than traditional yoga, making yoga practitioners susceptible to dehydration and muscle injuries, reported The New York Times. In fact, a healthy 35-year-old Chicago woman went into cardiac arrest during a hot yoga class last summer, which was induced by heat stroke during the class. The woman survived.
Proper Hydration Is Key
“People may assume the warnings and benefits and possible risks are the same for all types of yoga, and that’s simply not true,” said Dr. Casey Mace, an assistant professor of public health at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, who has studied hot yoga. According to Mace’s research, hot yoga practitioners reported benefits like greater flexibility and improvements in mood, fitness and stamina— but over half had experienced dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or dehydration.
“If people are feeling dizzy or have headaches or feel weak or fatigued, it may be related to fluid loss. They should take a break, cool down and get hydrated. Proper hydration is key,” Mace said.
Muscle and Joint Injuries
Mace told The New York Times that hot yoga is generally safe, and the side effects seen are usually mild. But, she cautioned, as with any kind of yoga, the practice does have risks. Because of the sauna-like conditions in a hot yoga class, people feel more limber than they actually are. This body bake may give people a false sense of security and cause them to overdo it, and muscle and joint injuries may be more common. However, data on injuries is limited, said Carol Ewing Garber, a professor of movement science and kinesiology at Teachers College, Columbia University, and past president of American College of Sports Medicine.
Research Not So Hot
Researchers also noted that most studies about hot yoga did not examine adverse events, and only included healthy subjects. Only one randomized controlled trial, which is considered the goal standard in medicine, has been conducted. “You have to be a bit cautious when you look at studies, because they are conducted with high-quality, well-trained yoga teachers under the best of circumstances,” Dr. Garber said. “The reality is that out in the real world, there is a lot of variability across instructors in terms of their training.”
Hot Yoga: Play It Safe
Is hot yoga right for you? Certain red flags can materialize during class, such as thirst, profuse sweating, dizziness or headaches, weakness, muscle cramps and nausea or vomiting. “If you’re sweating profusely, it’s very difficult to replenish that fluid,” Garber said, and many people aren’t good at “recognizing the early signs of heat illness.”
Take these precautions for a safe hot yoga class:
• If you have low blood pressure or a pre-existing medical condition, consult with a doctor before doing hot yoga.
• If you have adverse reactions to heat, are prone to heat stroke or dehydration, or you have been advised to avoid being in a hot tub or sauna for medical reasons, it might be better to go with regular yoga.
• Make sure you’re well hydrated by drinking a lot of water before, during and after a hot yoga class.
Rabin C. Is hot yoga good for you? The New York Times, December 20, 2016.