Dear Om Gal,
I have been practicing yoga for about a year and found your blog around the same time. I really love reading your thoughts and advice. Please keep up the great work! I actually took your class last Sunday at Inner Strength. It was by far one of the most challenging and different classes I have taken; I really enjoyed it . . . except for the heat. I have been discussing with my husband and friends recently, all who swear by heated yoga, on why they love it so much. I have taken a handful of classes and it is just not for me. Part of me feels like it is a a gimmick to get you to workout harder. Shouldn’t you be able to challenge yourself without the discomfort of the heat? Also, to be completely nitpicky and maybe a little silly, I really can’t stand the smell. The deep breathing really becomes an issue when there is such a foul smell in the room! So I am wondering your take is on the issue. Do you only practice/teach in a heated room? What do you believe are the benefits? Any advice on how to push through? Thanks!
Dear Yoga Hottie:
First, thank you for coming to class on Sunday evening. Second, I’m really sorry about the smell. You see, I was snowboarding in Vermont all weekend and didn’t have time to shower before class. I thought the incense and a little Jo Malone orange blossom fragrance would do the trick. Eeek, I guess not . . .
All joking aside, you should be able to enjoy a heated yoga class without it being stinky. Typically, the funk you smell at studios is more related to dingy mats and blocks rather than the bodies in the room, and you should feel free to share this feedback with the studio manager or teacher so he/she can help address the situation. I know Inner Strength will. From the sound of it, however, you may not enjoy hot yoga at all, which is perfectly OK. With so many styles of yoga available, many non-heated, there is bound to be an alternative to better suit your needs. Here’s a guide to many popular styles of yoga including several that are more moderately heated, if at all.
But before you put hot yoga classes on ice for good, I’d like to address the rationale behind and benefits of a heated practice. With greater understanding of the reasons behind a heated practice, perhaps you’ll enjoy it more, and you and hubs can continue to attend classes together, assuming this appeals to you both.
It’s important to note that while not all yoga classes are hot, none of them are cold or even cool. The primary reason, of course, is that muscles contract in the cold, which presents a problem if the aim of an asana practice is largely to relax and lengthen your muscles. To that end, a heated practice accentuates the body’s ability to open, move, stretch, and twist. Consider how much more willing you are to submerse yourself in a heated whirlpool than an ice bath or take a dip off the shores of Mexico than those of Maine. The heat also encourages greater joint mobility, blood circulation, and plenty of sweating, which is a healthy function of the body, in particular the skin, our largest organ.
Not only do lower temperatures make it more challenging for muscles to loosen and less likely for perspiration to occur, they’re also not common occurrences in India, where yoga originated. More often than not, it’s hot in India, so to a degree (excuse the pun) a heated room is closer to yoga’s natural environment.
Still, I can see why you’re wary that cranking up the thermostat is a bit of a ploy, a “gimmick,” as you said, because you’re not alone. For some, all that perspiring and panting and purifying seems a bit much, one more example of Westerners figuring that if a little bit of something is good, a lot must be even better (like, say, reality TV), and eventually, we go overboard. Or, perhaps, its the sinking suspicion that steamy temps skew a yogi’s perceived exertion? “Shouldn’t [we] be able to challenge ourselves?” as you aptly put it.
Indeed, we should, and relying on an external element for challenge defeats much of the purpose of practice. With that said, adapting to the heat becomes less of a challenge over time. For me, a heated practice feels normal and pleasant, so that’s how I practice and teach most often. Moreover, I think this point helps illustrate a larger distinction as well:
Does the heat enhance asana practice and support the opening and cleansing of our bodies, or is it a mind trick to “push through?”
If you sense it might be the former as opposed to the latter for you, and hot classes could become pleasurable experiences that leave you feeling more stretched and serene than a room-temperature class might, then stay with it a bit longer. My advice for now is simply to take it slow. Here are a few additional hints to consider as well:
- Take class more often; this will help you adjust quicker.
- Be sure to pace yourself by taking child’s pose when you feel fatigued or overheated.
- Keep yourself hydrated all day before class so that you’re not playing catch up on your mat by needing to guzzle water (a surefire way of feeling depleted).
- Scope out areas of the room that are draftier or cooler than others. They certainly exist, and any teacher (or studio regular) can help you find a spot that’s best for you.
If, after all this, you still discover that you’d rather unroll your mat in cooler pastures, then take heart that you will receive most, if not all, of the same benefits that you would through a heated practice. Your body may take longer to open, so move gingerly at first.
Have fun exploring different styles, and good luck acclimating to the toastier temps in heated classes.