It’s been a record-breaking summer so far, with early-season heat waves pushing temperatures along the typically seasonable Northeast into the upper 90s and past 100. Those of us who are fans of hot yoga— whether we’re talking about mildly heated vinyasa or Bikram, where the room is set to a sweaty 105 degrees F—know that the practice can be a welcome relief in the cold winter months. But what about when temperatures outside the studio are hotter than temperatures in?
Whether induced by vigorous exercise, high heat, or both, sweating is the body’s way of cooling us down, by absorbing heat and releasing it into the atmosphere. The process of evaporation is key to this function; that’s why doctors say to avoid wiping sweat if you can, letting it dissipate on its own instead. (If you’re dripping, however, you might as well wipe; anything that hits the floor won’t get a chance to cool you down.) But when we’re so used to “sweating it out,” how do we know when hot may be getting a little over the top?
It’s a simple matter of self-awareness, says Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga and a fan of hot yoga. “Sweating is detoxifying, while the heat itself can make our bodies more amenable to certain postures,” he says, noting that people with high blood pressure or heart conditions should use extra caution—or, even better, get the okay from a doctor first—when doing yoga in high heat. The downsides, of course, include the risk of dehydration and becoming overly exhausted. “Levels of tolerance are very individual, and can vary day by day,” he says.
While Devarshi says it’s not necessarily easier to reach exhaustion through super- hot yoga when it’s sweltering outside, as with any form of yoga it’s important to know your own limits and to listen to your body—even more so than usual in extreme temperatures. In the hotter months, this may mean listening to yourself over your instructor. And remember: What’s okay for you today may not be tomorrow. “When I’m in Bikram, I drink when I feel I need water,” Devarshi says, noting that Bikram’s rules often dictate water and rest breaks. “But that’s ridiculous. No one is going to tell me when I’m going to drink water or not. We should never let a yoga teacher disempower us. They’re our guides, not our gurus.”
That said, doing hot yoga in hot weather could actually be more beneficial to the body than doing hot yoga in the dead of winter. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that athletes who regularly practiced in extreme heat showed considerable ergogenic benefits in cooler conditions—that is, practicing in the heat made their physical abilities better in any temperature. And it’s true that the more time you spend in a hot environment, the better your body gets at handling the heat, whether natural heat or forced. You sweat more—and more effectively, losing fewer electrolytes. But it should go without saying whether practicing in extreme heat or in the middle of a blizzard: Drink plenty of fluids both before and during, and stop when you need to. “There is no shame in paying attention to your own body,” says Devarshi.
For more about Kripalu Yoga read here.