Hot yoga injuries
Hot yoga is becoming more popular every day but there is a lot of conflicting information regarding benefits versus injuries. Most of the information does not quote sources and is therefore is difficult to follow up on. It has unquestionably helped me become a more flexible person but there is a lot of information on the net regarding horrific injuries including slipped discs, muscle tears, neck injuries, emotional problems, and even strokes. Is there a research-based, or at least a factual breakdown on the health benefits of stretching at temperatures above body temperature versus the injury risk of exercising at temperatures above body temperature?
Dear Tentative Yogi,
Hot yoga can indeed have many benefits such as improved flexibility, heart health, and mood. Yet, it may also carry some unique risks, especially when practiced in a Western context which often implicitly, but sometimes explicitly, emphasizes competition, calorie burning, and getting an intense workout; all of which deviate from its original goals of enlightenment, inward focus, form, and awareness of the body’s relation to the larger world. While there are a few other concerns to keep in mind when practicing hot yoga, there are a significant number of benefits that might lead you to keep building your flexibility.
Similar to many other forms of yoga, hot yoga has become immensely popular—as you have mentioned. This form of exercise involves a variety of yoga poses performed in a room with temperatures ranging from 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat administered in hot yoga increases blood flow to the muscles and improves collagen elasticity. This change can improve bone mass by increasing both your perspiration and respiration—sweating and breathing. Studies have shown that heat in combination with stretching can increase flexibility and range-of-motion.
While increased heat is integral to the work out, it can become risky because it can decrease a person’s perception of pain. This loss of pain perception combined with increased flexibility can cause some people to push their body beyond its limits. If you’re doing poses that stretch beyond what you're used to, or muscling through poses, you may be making yourself more susceptible to injury. Class size can also increase the risk of injury. When classes are larger, the instructor may not always be as attentive to individual students or ensure they are performing the moves correctly. When possible, you might try to practice one-one-one with a trained instructor so they can assist you through poses in order to decrease the chances of injury. If you want to take a class, but you haven’t practiced yoga before, it might be a good idea to take some beginner classes to become comfortable with basic positions before jumping into hot yoga.
Before you begin practicing hot yoga, it’s recommended that you speak with a health care provider to determine if it’s the right form of exercise for you. It’s generally recommended that beginners to yoga, as well as people with asthma and heart problems, are advised to avoid hot yoga due to the strenuous conditions of the studio. The humid heat in hot yoga can cause excessive sweating, which may also increase the chances of dehydration. To avoid this, you might try increasing your water intake both before and after your hot yoga workout. Overheating is also a potential concern. Being aware of how you’re feeling and taking a step out of the room if you feel lightheaded or dizzy can be helpful in regulating your body temperature. You can check out The purpose of sweat from the Go Ask Alice! archives for more information. Supplementing your yoga with weight or resistance training can help decrease susceptibility to injury. Strength (not just flexibility) may help guard against pulls and strains. In fact, some research shows that weak, flexible muscles are more prone to injury than strong, stiff muscles.
As long as you maintain an awareness of your limits and follow your body’s signals, the “hotness” of hot yoga may not necessarily present a danger. Kudos to you for finding a form of physical activity that you enjoy!
Originally published Jul 07, 2014
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