Oh, Bikram; life can’t be easy right now. As if the recent scandal weren’t enough, a new study has demonstrated that hot yoga doesn’t live up to its reputation of burning more energy than standard yoga. In a study funded by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, researchers found that while hot yoga is safe if performed properly, it fails to boost core temperature or heart rate relative to other types of yoga.
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For the study, researchers randomly assigned 24 adults to one of two sessions, hot yoga (92F, 33C) or regular temperature. To salvage Bikram’s ego, there may be some salve in acknowledging that the study’s “hot” yoga was conducted in a room that was considerably less hot than the Bikram standard of 105F, and above for an increasing number of classes. Thus, the findings of this study don’t necessarily generalize to hotter temps, and further study is needed.
Many of us, explains Dr. Cedric Bryan, chief science offer of the ACE, “think the degree of sweat is the quality of the workout, but that’s not the reality. It doesn’t correlate to more calories.” It makes logical sense; we think that because vigorous exercise is linked to sweating, sweating on the mat means we are working harder and burning more calories and fat. Certainly, hot yoga feels less easeful and comfortable than regular yoga; surely, then, there must be some benefit to the increase in effort? Yet by the same token that caloric expenditure does not increase in saunas, you will not lose any more weight or obtain any more benefits from attending hot yoga than regular yoga. Unless, of course, you like it more and are likely to attend this form of yoga more often!
On the redeeming side, the fact that an increase in core temperature was not evidenced suggests that risk of heat injury is low, at least in classes at 92F. Adherents will argue that the draw of hot yoga isn’t necessarily increased calorie burn relative to other forms of yoga, but increased suppleness, joint lubrication, and flexibility, as well as an increased subjective sense of accomplishment attained from working out in an extreme temperature.
I’ll admit it; I dislike hot yoga. In my yoga therapy training of 65 students I was chosen as the archetypal fiery Pitta (with just enough spacey Vata to make me crazy sometimes), and in a consultation with Ayurvedic guru Dr. Vasant Lad, I was informed (strongly) that my intense Pitta contraindicated steam-inducing activities. I hadn’t wanted to believe him, but after three years of daily heated noon vinyasa practice, I became mindful of increased intensity and anger in the aftermath. Now I notice that after hot yoga I feel irritable, drained, and sticky. While I don’t mind getting sweaty outdoors with the fresh air on my skin, pouring out sweat on my yoga mat feels far less appealing. However, for many peers and colleagues, hot yoga is dearly beloved.
Are you a fan of hot yoga? What do you like most about it?