Power House Yoga Berwick - Articles

Hooked On HEAT

Yoga Blog Post Featured Image

Yoga Article AuthorDee Taueki

What is it about the HEAT factor that has got everyone hooked? Is it healthy? Is it safe? Where did it come from? And what are the benefits?

Before I begin this article, I would like to make it clear that Power House Yoga is NOT a Bikram Yoga studio and the information in this article refers to the science and history of Hot Yoga ONLY with passing reference to Bikram’s history on heating yoga rooms. For more information on the differences between the two, please refer to our previous article “Bikram Yoga vs Hot Yoga (Yoga HEAT)”. Click here to read now. 

Have you thought about trying a hot yoga class, but find you are being held back by fear and uncertainty? As we harp on here at Power House Yoga, whatever “style” of yoga you practice, it is a very personal journey and needs to be right for YOU!! As we progress in our practice we also evolve, so what suited us once, may not be suitable now. Depending on time of day, particular season or time of life, our practice will change and in turn we need to be open to evolving with the changing seasons of life. Sometimes we’ll need more from the time on our mat, sometimes we’ll need less.

Often the fear of the heat is overcome once tried and tested for oneself in a safe, relaxed, nurturing and sensible environment of which Power House Yoga is renowned. You are not forced to stay in the room and you are encouraged to do as much or as little as you need of your practice on any given day. Your practice is just that – YOURS!! The key is balance. We don’t want to overdo it and we don’t want to under do it either. We use our practice to get in touch with our bodies, get out of our heads and let our heart and soul speak.

The Science Behind The HEAT Factor

The heat in a hot yoga room is very therapeutic; it increases your circulation and has a relaxing effect on the muscles. This relaxing effect allows you more range in your poses and mobility in your joint complexes. We do however advise that for your first few classes, not to overdo it as the heat can be a false sense of security and we don’t want you waking up the next day regretting going that little bit deeper into a pose. As you begin to practice regularly, you learn your limits and know when to go deeper and when to hold back.

The heat creates extra blood flow which is healing for the entire body. That extra blood flow can help to break up scar tissue from old injuries, stimulate healing for injured tissue fibres and also increases our heart rate making our yoga practice a cardio workout as well. Bonus!

There are many conflicting articles out there about sweat being a form of detoxification or not. Some say it is; some say it isn’t. We know that the primary function of sweating is to regulate our body temperature. However, some research indicates that trace elements of toxic heavy metals have been found in sweat. “Toxic elements were found to differing degrees in each of blood, urine, and sweat. Serum levels for most metals and metalloids were comparable with those found in other studies in the scientific literature. Many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat. Presumably stored in tissues, some toxic elements readily identified in the perspiration of some participants were not found in their serum. Induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of many toxic elements from the human body.” Stephen J Genuis, Detlef Birkholz, Ilia Rodushkin, Sanjay Beesoon. Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2011. Therefore, our hot yoga practice is potentially a detox for the body as well as the mind!!

An article by Colin Hall recently published by Yoga International wrote “There are some less understood processes at work in hot yoga that are subject to ongoing research. We know there is a natural antibiotic released in your sweat called Dermcidin. Dermcidin is currently being studied as a treatment for powerful superbugs like tuberculosis and MRSA.”

“Dermcidin is most effective when sweat does not evaporate quickly and is allowed to pool on the surface of the skin. This might vindicate the old hatha yoga notion that sweat should not be wiped away, but rather rubbed back into the skin during yoga practice.”

Hall also noted: “that being exposed to heat increases the flow of lymph fluid in the body. The increased flow of lymph fluid assists the immune system and helps the body to repair and heal.”

But perhaps the most interesting and exciting development in the Science of hot yoga comes from the research work of Dr Rhonda Patrick – biomedical researcher. Dr Patrick conducts clinical trials on the effects of Hyperthermic Conditioning – or exercising in the heat.

Hyperthermic Conditioning effects endurance by increasing blood flow to the skeletal muscles and thereby reducing dependence on local glycogen stores during activity (by 40-50%). It also increases blood flow to the heart, which lowers cardiovascular strain and lowers the heart rate for the same exercise workload. Finally, heat acclimation increases blood flow to the skin which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which allows sweating to occur at a lower core body temperature.

Hyperthermic Conditioning increases hypertrophy (muscle building) by increasing the production of heat shock proteins, by boosting growth hormone levels and by improving insulin sensitivity.

Heat exposure and heat acclimation can also have positive benefits on the brain. These include increased neurogenesis, improved learning and memory and improved focus and attention. Heat stress increases the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) released when combined with ordinary exercise. BDNF has been shown to increase the growth of new brain cells, increase the survival of existing brain cells, improve learning and retention, reduce depression and anxiety from early life stressful events and improve muscle repair! WOW!!

Dr Patrick argues that it is this acclimatisation to heat that produces what is known as the “runner’s high.” Lovers of hot yoga will recognise that a good hot class produces a significant yoga buzz. At Power House Yoga, we like to call it the Yoga Glow!!

The History of The HEAT

So where did the hot yoga room come from? Some argue that Bikram Choudhury was the first to heat a yoga studio in Japan in the 1970’s. But Bikram’s guru Bishnu Ghosh was also known to teach and practice yoga in a toasty, warm room. Ghosh was initiated into the field of yogic science by his guru and older brother, the famous Paramahansa Yogananda, the world renowned yogi, spiritual master and author of “Autobiography of a Yogi.” Bikram claimed the heat in the yoga room was developed to mimic the heat of their hometown in India.

Ayurveda, Yoga’s sister science, makes use of steam baths to induce sweating, both for general health maintenance and to treat colds and flus. From the Mayan temazcal to the Turkish bath to the Finnish sauna, sweating for health and transformation is something common to almost every culture on earth.

Perhaps there is an original hot yoga in an ancient ascetic practice called panchagni tapas (five fire heat or the bath of fire). In yogic history, this is where the yogi sits in the heat of the sun surrounded by fire. The heat is a test for your resolve and is said to increase the power of your will. The original hot yoga was a severe practice with an aim to transcend suffering through intentional discomfort. And even though this practice is now highly frowned upon and nothing more than a historical contribution, ascetic disciplines are fairly common in yogic history. Sleeping on beds of nails, standing for long periods of time, being buried alive all have a single aim – to strengthen will power and overcome our inclination towards a comfortable, easy life. Hot yoga can be considered as a much less dramatic way to find that same strength in will without the brutality of historical ritual.

What else do I need to know?

With any physical form of activity or exercise, we must always take caution and prepare ourselves as best we can. The obvious danger of hot yoga is heat exhaustion. Signs can vary from dizziness to nausea to even fainting. However, if proper preparation is applied – like making sure you are well hydrated before class – as well as mindfulness during class – making sure you listen to your body and rest when you are feeling fatigued – then you will definitely set yourself up and make way for a positive, transformational yogic experience.

At Power House Yoga, our teachers are aware and educated on the precautions and symptoms of possible heat exhaustion. Our studio is equipped with the necessary tools to handle any situation. Our classes are generally 60 minutes in duration for time restraint purposes, furthermore to account for the added intensity of the heat factor. Our duty of care policy is for the participant to have the best experience possible and if that means stepping out of the heated room for a moment, then the option is there. However, from experience, we’ve found that just knowing you can remove yourself from the heat, takes the pressure off completely and in fact very few have ever needed to leave the room. Instead, a short rest in Child’s Pose (Balasana) is always welcomed and encouraged. Our advice would be to make sure that the hot yoga studio you practice with has your best interests as a forefront of their service.

Competitiveness and expectations are left at the front door at Power House Yoga. There is no need to conform and there is no pressure to do anything outside of the individual’s capabilities. Yoga teaches us to drop our desires, honour our bodies, challenge our minds and approach every practice with a clear canvas of which to create our experience on. You are the artist; let your practice be your art. Let the heat benefit you from the inside, out and don’t ever be afraid of getting sweaty!!