Yoga is one of the hottest fitness trends sweeping the country,and a form of the activity known as hot yoga is gaining inpopularity. An estimated 16 million Americans practice some styleof yoga.
Hot yoga refers to yoga practiced in a heated environment, withthe room temperature generally reaching 90° to 105°. The theorybehind hot yoga is that it helps the body to sweat out toxins whileallowing the practitioner to safely achieve deeper poses. Bikram isa common form of the activity.
While the practice can offer health benefits and a sense ofwell-being, people practicing hot yoga, especially beginners,should take certain precautions, according to Diana Zotos, acertified yoga instructor and physical therapist from Brooklyn.
Yoga of any type is physically challenging, and the heatedenvironment of hot yoga makes the practice especially demanding,says Zotos, who works as a physical therapist in the RehabilitationDepartment at Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. The heatmakes people feel as if they can stretch deeper into poses and cangive them a false sense of flexibility. This can lead to musclestrains or damage to the joint, including ligaments andcartilage.
Zotos says people over 40 who have never done Bikram yoga may beat greater risk of injury, and she recommends they familiarizethemselves with it prior to trying a class.
Beginners should keep in mind that poses will require a certainlevel of leg, core and upper body strength, as well as balance,according to Zotos. People should also have a tolerance forstretching and moderate flexibility in their legs and spine.
The heat factor also puts more strain on the heart andchallenges endurance. That
being said, people should be of good cardiovascular health; havehealthy hip, knee, spine and shoulder joints; shouldn’t havebalance or neurological issues; and should have a general tolerancefor excessive heat, she advises.
Zotos has these additional tips:
- Be well-prepared. Bring a mat and towel, and wear shorts and atank top. If possible, bring a buddy. It can be more fun and lessintimidating if you take your first class with a friend.
- Make sure you drink plenty of fluids well before class (but notcoffee or soda). Don’t eat anything too heavy (more than 200calories) two to three hours prior to class.
- Make sure the studio and teachers have a good reputation. Askabout their experience and credentials. The teacher should becertified in Bikram or another form of yoga.
- Try to arrive early. This way you can introduce yourself andspeak with the instructor, pick a good spot in the studio to set upyour mat and get comfortable with your surroundings and theheat.
- Start slowly and learn the basics. Never push yourself to thepoint of pain while stretching or assuming a position.
- Listen to your body. Stop at the first sign of discomfort. Ifyou are extremely fatigued, take a break. Do not try yoga posesbeyond your experience or comfort level.
- Don’t get discouraged if you can’t reach a pose. It’s not acompetition.
- Ask questions if you’re not sure how to perform a pose.
- If you get dizzy, lightheaded, overheated or experience chestpain, STOP immediately. Seek medical assistance if necessary.
Anyone who questions whether hot yoga is safe for them shouldconsult a physician, Zotos says. If you have sensitivity to heat,if you’ve ever had heat stroke or tend to get fatigued, dizzy ordehydrated quickly, you should ask your doctor before starting hotyoga, she said. Anyone with osteoarthritis, any rheumatologicarthritis, pain in muscles or a joint, or any kind of previousinjury should check with his or her doctor.
Zotos says it’s especially important that people who havehypertension, low blood pressure or heart disease check with theircardiologist before trying hot yoga.
For more tips concerning other forms of exercise and wellnessadvice, visit www.hss.edu/wellness.