Hot yoga debate steams on: beneficial or hazardous?


Hot yoga classes are soaring in popularity. A number of celebrities, including Lady Gaga and Madonna, swear by hot yoga. So do legions of yoga practitioners. But many of the hot yoga classes require heat of at least 105 degrees and humidity around 40 percent.

Is exercising in extreme heat and humidity healthful? Consumer Reports medical experts have a caution.

Though there is little specific research on hot yoga, we do know that exercising in extreme heat can cause a number of uncomfortable and even dangerous symptoms. It can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Warning signs include feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or experiencing nausea or muscle cramps.

If you suffer more serious symptoms either during or after class, such as unusual weakness, fever, vomiting, or confusion, Consumer Reports advises going to the nearest emergency room.

Bikram hot yoga practitioners say the high temperature and humidity promote health. Studio owner Rich Pike says he hasn't had complaints of heat exhaustion and touts the benefits. He says, "Heat allows you to bend safely and be more flexible. What the sweating does is it eliminates toxins through your sweat."

Consumer Reports says that though the heat may help you stretch further, it can also cause you to overstretch, leading to possible joint or muscle damage.

Consumer Reports' advice: Whatever exercise you do, stop if you feel pain or heat exhaustion. Be sure always to drink plenty of water. And with any type of yoga, Consumer Reports says there are steps you can take to avoid picking up viruses or bacteria. Bring your own mat and towels. Cover any cuts or scrapes with an adhesive bandage, and use alcohol wipes to wipe down any surfaces, such as mats or blocks.

Recent studies address benefits, injuries of hot yoga

As someone who enjoys a less rigid (than Bikram) form of hot yoga from time to time, I wanted to know more about actual research on this benefits and hazards. Here's what I found: A study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise found that while higher sweat levels may cause participants to feel like they were working harder, heart rates showed they were actually at comparable levels- whether in the regular or hot yoga class.

A recent Duke University study found that injury complaints may actually be linked to some of the yoga positions- and beginners especially, should avoid tricky positions, and competitive classes that might encourage you go too far.