It’s a question that you’ve surely asked yourself when in the middle of a particularly strenuous hour in a 80-degree room, as you work through your Warrior Two—is hot yoga safe?
Yoga itself is obviously a great thing, as it increases flexibility, encourages mindfulness, and it strengthens and tones your muscles. Hot yoga adds another layer to that by heating your studio up to 80 or even 100 degrees.
While this heat causes more sweat, making the process more physically rigorous, it also increases the potential for practitioners to fall prey to dehydration and muscle injury.
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“People may assume the warnings and benefits and risks are the same for all types of yoga, and that’s simply not true,” said Dr. Casey Mace, assistant professor of public health at Central Washington University, in an interview with the New York Times.
She found that while those who practiced hot yoga reported various benefits like improvements on flexibility and mood, “Over half experienced dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, or dehydration.”
“There may be a misconception that these feelings are normal,” she said. “But they’re not.”
The majority of hot yoga injuries are dehydration-related, as you might expect, but there is also a risk of muscle and joint injuries because the heat convinces people they are more limber than they actually are.
Data on these injuries is limited, however, according to Carol Ewing Garber, a professor of movement science and kinesiology at Columbia University. The studies undertaken to see how hot yoga and injuries are related are, “Conducted with high-quality well-trained yoga teachers under the best circumstances…there’s a lot of variability across instructors,” Garber says.
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Overall, it seems like a lot of the dangers of hot yoga come from two things—dehydration and a lack of awareness of its symptoms. If you notice lightheadedness, cramps, thirst, nausea, vomiting or dizziness, chances are, you need to take a break and fuel up.
There’s no need to be afraid of hot yoga, especially as it clearly works for millions of people. Just be mindful of how you’re feeling . When your body says it’s time to take a break, listen to it!