Q: At my gym, they offer a yoga class in a special room where the temperature is turned way up, I assume to induce sweating. What is the benefit of this technique?
A: Called “hot yoga,” this particular brand of yoga is all the rage these days and basically consists of performing a series of yoga poses in a heated room. And we are talking really HOT rooms, heated to a temperature of up to 105 degrees F. The idea being that the hot room temperature helps your muscles warm up more quickly, which supposedly enables them to stretch more fluidly and to a greater degree. I have attended hot yoga classes where the instructor utilizes portable space heaters, sprinkled around the room and turned on full blast (which in hot and humid Florida is not exactly pleasurable). These hot yoga studios do induce sweating and not just a drip or two but profuse sweating!
Is there a benefit to performing yoga in heated rooms? Scientific research in the area of stretching has shown that the only effective way to truly warm up the muscles internally is to perform physical activity (such as light jogging) that increases the internal, or core body, temperature. Sitting in a sauna, for example, applies external heat and makes you sweat but is not an effective means of raising the core temperature inside the muscle cells. What’s more, heat regulation and the potential for heat illness is a concern I have because the hot yoga environment could potentially hinder the body from using its main source of heat dissipation, evaporation of sweat from the skin. Anytime we exercise in the heat, we must be cognizant of the potential for heat illness. However, if you enjoy hot yoga, then by all means continue taking classes, which are very helpful for many people in increasing flexibility and releasing stress. Just make sure to hydrate well before, during, and after exercise, acclimate to exercise in the heat and take as many precautions as you can to prevent heat illness.