Hot Yoga, An oxymoron

Hot YogaI remember that when I first heard about “hot yoga” I was baffled. Having already been deeply immersed in the yoga practice for a number of years, I quizzed the practitioners of this new “yoga” trend about the reasons for the torturous conditions. The common reply was: “to imitate the heat in India, the birthplace of yoga.”

Like most people who received training in the traditional classic hatha yoga, I was warned by my teachers never to practice yoga in the heat and instead, to always do it in an environment comfortable for the body. They advised that if you happen to live in a hot climate, you should practice yoga either early morning or after sunset.

Observe cultures living in hot climates, including India, and you will find that not only do they not exercise in the midst of the heat, they actually do relatively nothing. They try not to move at all. In other words they practice the art of siesta. Why? When the environment gets hot it raises the temperature in the body. The primary concern, and survival instinct, of the body is to maintain a very consistent temperature within the vital organs at all times. This way the internal organs won’t get too cold or overheat. Clearly this is why, according to research in Neuroscience, the brain devotes most of its grey matter to the regulation of the body’s temperature; homeostasis.

It takes tremendous energy to lower the body temperature and keep it balanced. Exercising requires a great deal of energy from the body. Doing exercises in the heat puts the body, and all its systems and organs, under great stress. Would you ever do vigorous exercises when you have a fever? This is the sole reason why we prescribe rest during an illness; particularly one involving a higher than normal body temperature. You need to conserve energy so that the body can bring the system back to equilibrium as quickly as possible.

Most of the time people harm themselves not because they are stupid, but because they are ignorant. Often, in the modern trendy yoga reality, not only do you not get the right education, you often get the wrong information. When students trust teachers who deliver false information it can get messy and downright harmful.

Many people who are hot yoga survivors report that as a result of their yoga practice they suffered from nausea and vomiting during or after classes, headaches and lightheadedness, fatigue, exhaustion, as well as feeling edgy and restless. Upon being asked why they continued despite these symptoms they all gave the same answer, “we were told by the teacher that we are having a ‘healing crisis’”. So that we all understand, a healing crisis may last for 24 to 48 hours, not 6 to 12 months. When you experience such significant symptoms after exercising it means you are going against the clear messages of your body. You are abusing yourself, and you are definitely not tuning in.

It took me years of living both in the Eastern and Western cultures to understand how the western mind has twisted the reality paradigm to only feel “alive” when it is accompanied by struggle. The mantra of ‘no-pain-no-gain’ is so pervasive that we’ve started to manifest it throughout our lives. ‘Love is hard and then you die’. ‘Just grin and bear it’. ‘Relationships are hard work’. From our parents indoctrinations of the above concepts, to messages from our friends, coworkers, religious sermons and particularly the evening news, the concept of life being tough is inescapable. Is it any wonder why manifesting your dreams is hard and aging is such a scary thing? Is it any wonder why depression is the most prevalent of health problems in the western world and antidepressants may soon be replacing fluoride as a tap water additive?

The Eastern spiritual goal of Living with Ease is one of hardest concepts for Westerners to take, having been raised with so many hard life concepts.

Unlike modern trendy yoga which emphasizes creating beautiful bodies, the aim of classical yoga is to remove suffering from our existence and discover who we are beyond the physical aspects of our body.

Instead of changing the true aim and methodology of yoga practice to suit our unhealthy philosophies we should have the humility and curiosity to adapt ourselves to what has worked for thousands of years, freeing our minds and bodies and living (IN) with ease.

According to Sri Bhagavan Patanjali, the author of the classic “Eight limbs of Yoga”, considered the father of the principles of the yoga practice, asana literally means a “posture that brings steadiness and comfort”.

Do not confuse the practice of hatha yoga with a sport or a workout. If you do:

  • Yoga will pump your ego along with your body.
  • In your practice you will develop a sense of competition with others and with yourself.
  • You will become rigid and fanatic about the form of your practice.
  • You may injure your body and drain your prana – the life force within you.
  • You may become addicted to your practice as it will satisfy your senses like any other stimulant.
  • Your practice will become an external performance not an inner journey.
  • You will become fascinated by your physical abilities and identify even more as your body; sowing the seeds of discontentment and fear at the prospect of aging.
  • You will fall into the illusion that you are on the spiritual path.

In addition, doing hot “yoga” makes you dependent on high end facilities for your practice and takes away your freedom from practicing asanas anytime and anywhere.

Your indicators for the practice in the true spirit of yoga:

  • Practice in the presence of flowing fresh air to avoid inhaling the carbon dioxide (yours and that of others).
  • Dress modestly while practicing with others to calm the senses and experience the self which exists beyond your appearance.
  • Move slowly to still the restless mind. Maintain stillness within each asana creating a moment of meditation.
  • Avoid any pain. Pain is a signal from the central nervous system that harm is being done to your body.
  • Pain depletes the energy in the body. Comfort and stillness increase the energy. Immediately modify the asana if it creates pain.
  • If you hear yourself panting like a dog during your practice you are not in the meditative (awareness) state which is the ultimate aim of the practice. Your brainwaves correlate directly to the rate of your breathing. Your breathing should be steady and calm at all times.
  • Let your energy move you safely to where you should be in the asana in each given moment. Move beyond your ambitious mind.
  • There is nowhere to go and nothing to gain as you are already there.

Can you see it? Are you being it?


One Response to “Hot Yoga, An oxymoron”

  1. Diane Lu-Hovasse

    Shakti… we are in the midst of a heat alert here in Ontario. The humidex pushed the discomfort yesterday to 45°C – comparable, to some “hot yoga” facilities. I cannot fathom doing any activity in such suffocating heat. Thank you for reminding us. Doing yoga in such heat is illusory. I’ve heard so many people say they become so much more flexible. I warn them that in 2-3 years of continuing to abuse their bodies, they will likely be finding, as many physiotherapists and other health workers have, that their joints will be seriously damaged. Trendy is one thing, but risks of harm trump all.


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