What is Infrared Hot Yoga? Are there benefits and risks?

Another fitness trend is heating up in the United States and involves stretching and sweating in dry, desert heat.

Rather than raising studio temperatures with traditional forced-air systems, infrared hot yoga uses panel heaters to mimic the heat of the sun. The radiant energy warms the practitioners’ body and the ground rather than the surrounding air.

Proponents say this less boggy form of yoga offers health benefits ranging from increased flexibility to weight loss and “detoxification” of the body through sweating. But as with infrared saunas (who also use this type of dry heat), there is no evidence to support most of these claims. That said, infrared hot yoga offers many of the same benefits as other styles of yoga and may make it easier for some people to practice in higher temperatures.

“It definitely felt different practicing in dry, heated conditions,” says Stacy D. Hunter, director of the Cardiovascular Physiology Laboratory at Texas State University, who has practiced hot yoga for more than a decade and studies how heated and unheated forms affect vascular health. “It wasn’t really warmer [at first] because there was hardly any humidity there, but when you start training… it’s very difficult, it’s very hot and it’s very difficult mentally.

Hot yoga vs regular yoga

“Yoga in general is great for so many reasons, for physical and mental health,” says Cara Hall, a primary care sports medicine physician at USC’s Keck Medicine.

Movements improve strength, flexibility and balance. Research also indicates that yoga can relieve lower back and neck pain, reduce stress and improve sleep. When practiced regularly, Hunter says, it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and helps blood vessels widen to improve blood flow. She and her collaborators are further investigating how unheated yoga affects immune function.

During a hot yoga class, the room is heated to around 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows participants to limber up and sweat more. This variation is meant to further build flexibility and deepen the stretches.

“For someone who is training or conditioning to do some sort of performance event in a hot location or is just trying to optimize their performance, hot yoga can be a good way to acclimate to that environment. or to be able to push yourself a little. more,” Hall says.

[Related: 5 stretches you should do every day]

However, Hunter notes, the overall amount of calories burned during hot yoga and other traditional yoga styles is quite similar. She and her team further discovered that hot yoga and unheated yoga have similar effects on the dilation of blood vessels. “It didn’t appear that the heat conferred any additional benefit in terms of vascular function,” she says.

“A lot is still undocumented in terms of the benefits of hot yoga,” adds Hunter. “Some of the claims that have been made about this have certainly preceded the supporting evidence.”

The benefits of yoga do not come from sweating. Deposit photos

Let’s talk detox

One particularly flimsy claim is that hot yoga, and infrared hot yoga in particular, helps with “detoxification.” But the main thing to remember is that the main role of sweating is to cool the body, not to remove harmful substances. In fact, when you sweat, you lose electrolytes, which include minerals essential for many bodily functions. “I’m not aware of any sweat detox,” says Hunter.

The liver is the main organ responsible for processing waste and any harmful substances that a person might encounter, like ammonia. “When we talk about losing toxins, I would leave that to the liver,” says Hall.

In general, it’s possible that practicing dry heat can reduce the risk of overheating during classes, says Hunter, although more data is needed to confirm this. “Humidity makes it more difficult for sweat to evaporate…it’s really the evaporation of sweat that draws heat away from the body,” she says. “With dry infrared heat, you can also tolerate higher temperatures, compared to heat combined with humidity like in Bikram, or the traditional hot yoga style.” (Bikram is a particularly intense form of hot yoga popularized in the 1970s by a self-prescribed Indian guru, who later fled the United States after several accusations of sexual assault).

[Related: How much exercise do I need to stay healthy?]

Regular hot yoga can be quite “sticky,” Hall acknowledges. “The infrared [heat] can make it a more pleasant experience, which can help you continue your practice as it feels less stuffy, more natural, etc. “, she says. “I think the main target for this will be people who are into hot yoga to begin with and potentially make it more comfortable.”

Hunter is also conducting a study to determine whether infrared hot yoga can improve vascular health in black adults in the United States, which tend to be disproportionately sensitive to changes in blood pressure. Still, she suspects the practice doesn’t offer many health benefits beyond conventional types of yoga.

What to Consider Before Trying Infrared Hot Yoga

There are a few potential risks to keep in mind when practicing infrared and other types of hot yoga.

Training in hot conditions makes for a vigorous workout, but this can lead to injury when people push themselves too far because they’re looser than usual. Hot yoga also carries an increased risk of dehydration and overheating.

If you’re considering trying a class, Hall advises you to hydrate before it starts and don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to.

[Related: The best (and worst) beverages to sip when you’re dehydrated]

“I warn people not to go beyond their comfort point; it should feel a bit like a stretch, but nothing extreme and definitely don’t push through the pain,” she says. “That’s a risk you run with hot yoga: overdoing it.”

It is also important to familiarize yourself with the signs of heat-related illnesses. “I’ve been in situations where there was someone in the room who was starting to get disoriented, or maybe they looked like they were passing out, and the instructor will tell them not to leave the room. Hall. It’s dangerous,” says Hunter. “Certainly do not listen to this instruction.”

There are a number of conditions that can make practicing infrared and other forms of hot yoga dangerous, Hunter says, such as heart disease, pregnancyvery high blood pressure or taking certain medications.

If you do end up committing to an infrared hot yoga practice, “just set your expectations realistically,” says Hall. “The focus should be on making you stronger, potentially some mental health benefits and flexibility benefits, rather than, ‘How much can I sweat?'”

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Richard V. Johnson