When it’s cold outside, a hot yoga studio of 95-100 degrees might start to sound pretty good.
There are benefits to practicing hot yoga during the winter months. Not only do you get a break from the chilly weather, but performing yoga in such a warm space makes the exercise extra challenging, so you feel like you get an especially good workout. However, hot yoga also presents its own set of risks and may not be appropriate for everyone.
Here is a checklist to follow when you’re thinking of giving hot yoga a try in the colder winter months:
Get your physician’s okay. Practicing yoga in a hot room poses greater demands of your body than practicing in moderate temperatures, so it’s important to check with your physician and see whether or not it’s appropriate for you. This is especially true for people who are sensitive to heat, have rheumatologic arthritis, pain in their muscles or joints, osteoarthritis, or previous injuries of any kind. Consult a cardiologist if you have high blood pressure, low blood pressure or heart disease.
Learn the basics first. Familiarize yourself with the basic poses used in standard yoga classes before you begin hot yoga.
Warm up! During cold weather, the body takes longer to warm up. Once the body is warm, there’s less chance for injury, especially pulling a muscle. You should spend about 10 minutes warming up your body before beginning any strenuous exercise, especially before deep stretching, as done in yoga. You may know you are warmed up enough because you just begin to perspire or feel your heart rate rise.
Take it easy. The heat can make you feel more flexible than you really are, causing you to push yourself into poses more deeply than you’re ready for. This can potentially lead to injury. Know your body, and don’t overextend yourself.
Drink plenty of fluids. It’s important to hydrate before class. Avoid caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate you.
Eat light in the two to three hours before class. Keep your intake at or below 200 calories.
Get to class early. This will allow your body to adjust to the temperature.
If you need a break, take it! Hot yoga is very challenging. Be gentle with yourself and take a break if you need to catch your breath and then resume practice when you’re ready.
Know when to stop. If you begin to feel at all faint, overheated, or dizzy, or begin to experience chest pain, stop immediately and seek medical assistance if you need to.
Diana Zotos is a physical therapist and certified yoga instructor with the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Department. You can watch Diana’s demonstration of yoga poses on the HSS YouTube channel.