Dangers of Hot Yoga “Extremely Disturbing”, Says Science

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A woman doing Bikram yoga. Bikram Yoga, or Hot Yoga, is a popular yoga technique. But hot yoga is potentially fatal.
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A new study by the American Council on Exercise says the dangers of Hot Yoga are extreme.

Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) is one of the most popular 28 types of yoga.

It’s an intense type of yoga often taught at yoga studios. When we do hot yoga the yoga studio is heated, typically to 105-degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity of 40 percent.

The heat and humidity of Hot Yoga pose a serious health risk. And this news comes just when we are hearing that there are health dangers of meditation too. 

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Why Are There Dangers of Hot Yoga?

At face value there’s little risk in Bikram yoga.  After all, the actual physical exercise is fairly traditional.

Bikram yoga lasts for 90 minutes and involves 26 asanas (poses).

The 26 Bikram asanas are:

1- Deep Breathing
2-Half Moon Pose
3-Awkward Pose
4-Eagle Pose
5-Standing Head to Knee
6-Standing Bow
7-Balancing Stick
8-Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose
9-Triangle Pose
10-Standing Separate Head to Knee Pose
11-Tree Pose
12-Toe Stand
13-Dead Body Pose
14-Wind-Removing Pose
15-Sit Up
16-Cobra
17-Locust Pose
18-Full Locust Pose
19-Bow Pose
20-Fixed Firm Pose
21-Half Tortoise
22-Camel Pose
23-Rabbit Pose
24-Head to Knee Pose and Stretching Pose
25-Spine-Twisting Pose
26-Blowing In Firm Pose

There is nothing inherently unhealthy about Bikram yoga poses. But scientists tell us that there are indeed some dangers of Hot Yoga that you need to keep in mind.
It all comes down to your internal body temperature when you practice Bikram yoga.

It’s all about the heat

A new study from the American Council on Exercise [1] has found that hot yoga is dangerous and could potentially lead to death.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science got 20 healthy men and women aged 28 to 67 to practice Hot Yoga for 90 minutes. The participants were all experienced, so they knew what they were doing.

The yoga studio was at a temperature of 105 degrees.

The researchers wanted to test the internal temperature of people doing hot yoga. So, got subjects to swallow a core body temperature sensor. And they also gave them a heart-rate monitor.

Every ten minutes the team of researchers took the heart rate and internal body temperature of the hot yoga practitioners.

The results?

Hot Yoga could be fatal.

One man’s internal temperature rose to above 104° F while doing Hot Yoga.

No one in the group showed any of the symptoms of heat intolerance, but their body temperatures were a cause for concern. At such an internal heat a person is susceptible to heatstroke, which can be fatal.

Heartrate

The researchers also discovered that the average heart rate of men in the group hit 80% of the recommended maximum (which is dangerously high) and 73% for women.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Of course their heart rates rose. They were exercising. If the heart rate didn’t rise at all it would not be exercise”.

Good point.

And the fact of the matter is that raising the heartbeat during exercise strengthens the heart [2].

However, there are safe situations and there are unsafe situations. And the highly raised heartbeat combined with the temperature of the room makes Bikram yoga unsafe.

There are both benefits and dangers of hot yoga (Bikram)

As well as the danger of Bikram, researchers did find benefits, and not just that it leaves you feeling positive [although if you truly want to feel great, try our guide to using yoga to boost positivity].

“There are potential benefits associated with practicing Bikram yoga,” the study authors tell us.

“However, the potential for heat intolerance among some students, including those who may not yet be acclimatized to the heat, should not be entirely overlooked.”

“The dramatic increases in heart rate and core temperature are alarming when you consider that there is very little movement,” says Emily Quandt, M.S. “Therefore, little cardiovascular training, going on during class.”

Sweating not cool, say scientists

Quandt explains that excessive perspiration is partly a benefit of hot yoga because it causes toxins to be released. However, the sweating in hot yoga doesn’t cool down the body enough, which is dangerous.

So, if you have ever wondered if Bikram yoga is good or bad, it depends on how you practice.

How to avoid the dangers of Hot Yoga  

Good news. You can avoid the dangers of hot yoga. You just have to be smart.

For starters, drink more water. Do not withhold water.

“Nothing is gained from withholding water in any setting,” says Dr Porcari, head of the University of Wisconsin’s Clinical Exercise Physiology program. “Exercise leaders must actively encourage hydration, particularly when classes take place in extreme environments like those seen in Bikram yoga classes.”

Warning signs

You will know when hot yoga is unsafe because you will experience symptoms.

  • For instance, if you are feeling chest pain during hot yoga you must stop immediately.
  • Also stop if you feel light-headed.
  • Dry mouth? Drink water.

Teachers are responsible

Your hot yoga teacher should also be keeping an eye out for warning signs and make their hot yoga classes safe.

“Bikram teachers should recognize that participants’ thermoregulatory systems will be challenged in this environment,” says Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at ACE. “It is essential that they are aware of the early warning signs of heat intolerance.”

Of course, anyone who has ever practised Bikram or hot yoga, has likely experienced one, a few, or all of these symptoms which include: cramps, headache, dizziness and general weakness.

If you experience problems during hot yoga, you can always try a different kind of yoga.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.