There are so many dimensions to the practice of yoga. Often there are no words to describe the reason we keep going back to our hot yoga classes. It is just something we begin to feel. There is such a sense of cleanliness once showered and nourished with fresh water after the practice. To people who have never gone to a hot yoga class, they may think it sounds like torture to stay 90 minutes in a room heated to 115 degrees and up to 40-50 percent humidity. To the disciplined hot yogi there are days when we may want to scream, pass out, lie down, or leave the room.
Knowing why we are doing what we are doing can be of great benefit and motivation when we are exhausted, drenched in sweat, and about only half way through the standing balancing series. The heat and humidity puts our bodies into physiological responses that are of incredible healing benefit. The mind is also stretched in the practice revealing many psychological benefits.
When the body’s temperature rises, several systems of the body collaborate to get the body to internally regulate and cool itself down. The practices of yoga are all focused on purifying the nervous system to inspire consciousness. Hot yoga takes it to another level on the metaphoric ladder. Some of my greatest “Ah Ha!” moments have been once settled in meditation after a hot yoga class.
Adding heat to the practice gets the body to sweat, which is a passive exercise that increases the circulation, to bring fresh oxygen and nutrients to all the cells, tissues, and organs of the body. The lymphatic system is also stimulated assisting our bodies in detoxification, increasing our metabolism, metabolizing toxins and storage fat for elimination. Hot yoga is incredible for cardiovascular health, strengthening the heart muscle, as it woks harder in temperature regulation. Sweating stimulates the hypothalamus, which is located in the brain near the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is vital for many important functions of the body, such as regulating body temperature, sleep, emotional response, hunger signals, etc. Heat and humidity assists in activating fat receptors facilitating fat loss, especially brown fat cells, which are the bad fat cells that can stick to internal organs and affect their optimal functioning. Body temperature regulation will stimulate the production of white blood cells boosting the immune system, and increasing the healing of connective tissue.
Adding the 26 yoga postures and two breathing techniques to this already healing atmosphere increases benefit. The sequence begins and ends with breathing techniques. The yoga postures offer incredible variety from balancing, strengthening, challenging standing postures, to floor sequencing, targeted to strengthen the spine, core, as well as deeply stretch and lengthen. Each posture requires a balance of strength and flexibility.
Psychologically the hot yoga sequence challenges the practitioner with the management of energy conservation. The conservation of energy, strength, and balance, requires focused mental activity, increased concentration, and determination. The use of breath control calms brain waves, which stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain and creates a more relaxed state of consciousness, regulating the stress response. Being in a hot humid environment while practicing the hot yoga sequence provides the practitioner the opportunity to decrease resistance, as it may be a very uncomfortable and challenging experience. This can increase awareness, discernment, humility, self-discipline, patience, will power, and self esteem.
The benefits of this practice outweigh the risk. The risk is being uncomfortable. Most of us do all that we can to avoid discomfort. Yet this is not a realistic approach to a life of balance. My yoga teacher Sharon Gannon says that the hardest part of yoga is showing up. The hardest part of life is showing up. Showing up to the moment-by-moment scenarios of life even if the present moment is not what we hoped or wished for. Hot yoga is a training ground. It creates the opportunity to reprogram the stress response. The hot yogi will observe more tolerance, peace, and equanimity in life.