Since the 1970s, yoga, a form of low-impact exercise that combines elements of physical strength and spiritual exploration, has become wildly popular in the United States. One form of the practice called hot yoga, challenges the participant to sustain difficult positions and meditative focus in very hot conditions. In this kind of yoga, the temperature often exceeds one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, which is believed to induce a deeper state of mental clarity as well as a host of bonus health benefits. While it certainly offers some good health benefits, hot yoga is not appropriate for everyone.
Burn More Calories
One of the benefits of hot yoga is that it provides individuals with the opportunity to burn more calories. Exercise elevates an individual's core body temperature. Skeletal muscles account for the vast majority of heat production, and hence calorie use, in the body. Doing so in torrid conditions forces the body to work twice as hard to maintain a safe internal environment. The process of self-cooling requires a higher calorie consumption, as the heart beats faster, skin produces sweat, and blood vessels dilate to shed the excess heat. All of these cellular processes are expedited at elevated temperatures, resulting in a net calorie burn much higher than the same activity at cooler temperatures. Consequently, hot yoga may have the added bonus of weight loss or simply make maintaining a healthy weight easier.
Circulation is the flow of blood throughout the body. Beginning at the heart, blood travels through the largest blood vessels and gradually flows down the tiniest of capillaries, where oxygen exchange provides bodily tissues with all of their energy requirements. Hot yoga can serve to improve an individual's circulation when the rising body temperatures cause vasodilation, a bodily adaptation that allows blood vessels to widen and stretch to adjust blood flow to surface areas, lower core temperature, or answer increased energy demand.
Improving vascular tone in this way not only helps keep distal body tissues healthy, but it also improves kidney function, reduces stress, and assists in promoting blood detoxification. Additionally, individuals with certain conditions that limit their circulation, such as Raynaud's disease or peripheral neuropathy, may see extra benefits from hot yoga.
Hot yoga promotes the detoxification of metabolic waste throughout the body. As with all of hot yoga's intermingled benefits, the enhanced circulation, cardiac output, and kidney function promoted by the excess heat can all serve to remove toxins from the body. Sweat, of course, is a big contributor to waste excretion, while stretching and breathing both function to remove metabolic 'junk' from muscles and joints, such as lactic acid, uric acid, and trace heavy metals.
Individuals should, of course, be sure to drink plenty of extra water before, during, and especially after a hot yoga session. Their bodies will be filtering these wastes for hours afterward. The stress reduction and detoxification process may be enhanced with herbal tea or certain essential oils as well, and some mineral supplementation may benefit. Individuals should consider coconut water for potassium and a small magnesium supplement after a sweaty session.
Not Appropriate For High Blood Pressure
Although hot yoga is a good form of exercise, it is not appropriate for individuals with high blood pressure. The extreme temperatures of the practice, by design, force the body to work much harder to stay cool. As the heart pumps more forcefully to circulate blood and oxygen faster, this causes the arterial blood pressure to rise temporarily. Thus, those who are already under treatment for high blood pressure may not be able to tolerate hot yoga safely.
Very high blood pressure can cause arteries already constricted by plaque to occlude suddenly, resulting in a stroke or heart attack. Chronically elevated blood pressure can do other types of damage too, such as to the delicate tissues of the kidneys, retina, or the tiny vasculature at the end of the fingers and toes. If individuals have been diagnosed with or are taking medication for hypertension, they should check with a doctor before trying hot yoga.
Risky With A Heart Condition
For the same reason that hypertensive individuals may need to avoid hot yoga, so too should anyone with certain conditions. Hot yoga puts added strain on the heart, forcing it to work harder and faster to meet the energy demand induced by a rising core body temperature. Those without heart problems can easily compensate for physical stress, but it may be risky for those with a heart condition.
Anyone with a history of angina (stress-induced chest pain) or coronary artery disease, a condition in which vascular plaque has narrowed the lining of the arteries that supply oxygen to the heart itself, should be cautious about trying hot yoga. Heart conditions and blood pressure issues go hand-in-hand, so the same cautions apply. As the heart rate speeds up and blood pressure rises, individuals with compromised heart health may be placed at high risk for a sudden cardiac emergency.