Between yoga happy hours and hybrids of yoga and kickboxing, yoga as a form of exercise has gained traction in the DC metropolitan area. The thriving yoga scene of the city continues to attract more adventuresome yogis to hot or heated yoga studios.
By practicing this form of movement and meditation in high temperatures, people get physical, mental, emotional, energetic and even spiritual health components but at an advanced pace.
But is it safe?
“I think hot yoga really is representative of our society today. We want everything fast, we want it now, and that’s what hot yoga gives people,” said yoga instructor Amanda Martin of Hot Yoga USA, a studio in Tenleytown.
Hot yoga is an alternative form of exercising where you follow a sequence of movements in a heated room. Bikram yoga is known for placing participants in environments that are 105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise concluded that the average exerciser’s body would not be affected by the extreme heat during the sessions.
“We didn’t really see any difference in the increase in core temperature or heat rate between regular yoga and a hot yoga class,” said Dr. John P. Porcari, one of the co-writers of the study.
Heat is meant to help people stretch deeper and it prevents injuries and even helps you heal faster, according to instructors at Down Dog Yoga in Georgetown, including Erica Collins, who called it a “faster purification process.”
Down Dog Yoga and Hot Yoga USA are heated yoga studios for all levels of participants, maintained between 90 to 95 F. According to Hot Yoga USA instructor Neva Ingalls, this type of hot yoga is less invasive than Bikram, where the studio heats up to more than 10 above body temperature.
“It takes much more effort to stay in the room because the heat is so much. It’s like being in the sauna and exercising at the same time,” said Ingalls.
Her colleague, Martin, cautioned against taking hot or heated yoga classes if you have high blood pressure or excessive sweating. She said participants would have to “be super careful with hydration.”
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it is important to drink “before, during and after a hot yoga practice,” to avoid dehydration.
With the heat of having the water come into your body, your body will be working even harder to try and process that,” said Ingalls.
Another little-known tip for hot yoga participants is to shower before the class.
“Otherwise we smell every single thing that that person ate or drank that day,” said Martin, laughing.
Dealing with injuries
Hot yoga shouldn’t cause health issues for participants, but according to the local yoga instructors at Tenleytown’s Hot Yoga USA, injuries are common.
Martin had recently been hurt by popping her leg out during a deep stretch known as Janu Sirsasana. She had placed the sole of her foot into her inner thigh and she stretched her torso down over it. Trying to reach farther and touch the edge of her purple yoga mat, she heard the pop before sensing the pain shooting from her hip.
Fortunately for Martin, her leg popped back in quickly and her body recovered without the need to seek physical therapy.
“It just goes to show you that you can do it for 20 years, but you still have to be cautious,” said Martin.
Martin has been practicing yoga for the past 12 years and became certified to teach this past May.
Some people can be “misaligned” and hurt their posture or get hurt by rushing through the exercise or by stretching too deeply. “Sometimes we have over 20 people in a class, and it’s impossible for the teacher to go correct every person’s posture,” said Martin.
She added that 70 people of those who practice at their studio are not careful enough with their practice.
Collins emphasized the policy for newcomers at Down Dog Yoga to get a foundation to solidify their concepts of proper form and correct yoga. She recommends trying a workshop such as “The Foundations of Flow,” a class that is good for transitioning into our heated studio, she said.
Another piece of advice from Down Dog Yoga is to commit to yoga: “Discipline helps you improve and you can spot inexperienced yogis when they rush through the movements,” said Collins.
The motto at Down Dog Yoga sums up the commitment: “Practicing consistently three days a week will change your body; practicing five days a week will change your life.”
Ingalls said that drinking during the session or right before it will only make the person practicing hotter. At Hot Yoga USA, it’s recommended to avoid drinking too much during the session and not to eat two to three hours before class.