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Health, Columns

Tales from the Mat: Hot Yoga

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January temperatures and dark days invite a love of warm pursuits and healing balms. For me, the practice of yoga in a heated room delivers both. Hot yoga builds an incredible, deep warmth in the body and its immersive qualities are medicine for the mind. 

I’ve just started teaching Hot Yoga again at a beautiful new studio in East Oxford. I absolutely love it – but it wasn’t always that way. When I first started sauna-style yoga over ten years ago, I couldn’t believe that people did this for fun!  With temperatures sometimes hitting 40C I’d position myself near the door to get a waft of cool air and I’d beg for the windows to be open at the end. Bizarrely, I kept returning. Then a lightbulb moment occurred: I realised that I was fighting against the heat, getting flustered, tense and cross. This was weird since it was entirely my decision to be here and my private self-punch-up was doing nothing for my temperature control or state of mind.  

So I decided to stop struggling and let go, to surrender to the environment much as you have to in a hot climate. A strange shift happened. I felt cooler, calmer and more focused. I started entering the hot room with the same sense of excitement as you get when disembarking an airplane in the sweltering heat of a tropical airport. I upped the frequency of my classes and started to see real changes like weight loss, increased strength and stamina and, most remarkably, an intense feeling of mental clarity after each class.  Suffice to say, I was hooked.

While it’s not everyone’s steaming cup of hot yogi tea, here are just some of the exciting research-based benefits that are reported with Hot Yoga:

  • Flexibility: warmed muscles, joints and connective tissues get to experience deeper stretches in the hot room.  As the mind adapts to these new bodily achievements, we become ‘re-wired’ to repeat them, improving range and flexibility.
  • Deep cleaning: not just the obvious sweat detox but self-cleaning at the cellular level. There’s an increasing body of research on the impact of heat on our health – processes like ‘autophagy’ which, when triggered by high temperatures, clears out debris and unwanted or damaged proteins from tissues and cells.
  • Anxiety and mood: apart from the psychological impact of facing and overcoming the challenge of the heated room, there are profound brain chemistry changes that happen in heat. Apparently, uncomfortable heat gets registered in the brain with the release of dynorphin, a neuro messenger that says ‘ouch – stop’ but dynorphin also increases the sensitivity of the brain to its ‘nice twin’ endorphin (a pleasure messenger).  So, when you leave the studio feelings of pleasure are enhanced, hence that floaty, euphoric, post class high.

How cool is that?!  You can join me in the hot room at Prana Yoga every Monday morning.  Book here


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