Om it like its Hot: Practising yoga safely in the heat
Safe yoga in the summer
We are currently enjoying an unprecedented British summer; it hasn’t rained for days, England are doing well in the world cup and its so hot I’m beginning to wonder how many clothes I really do need to wear to work. Everyday is an ice-cream day and at night I’m lulled to sleep by the rhythmic noise of a thousand fans. Unaccustomed though we are to this heat, life goes on, birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim and all that jazz. It might seem like an added bonus that rather than paying for a Bikram yoga or Hot Flow yoga class you can reap all of the benefits of practising yoga in high heat by simply continuing with your normal yoga practice. But it might not be a simple as that.
As a general rule of thumb we Brits are not accustomed to working or exercising in the heat. In most hot countries work and activities wind down during the hottest hours of the day and resume once the temperatures have lowered. But what’s that they say about mad dogs and English men? In dedicated hot yoga and Bikram classes students are encouraged to acclimatise to the heat, initially working slowly with the poses until their bodies are ready to cope with the combination of high heat and exercise. There are some very clear benefits to practising yoga in a monitored hot environment such as increased joint mobility, enhanced stretching, improved circulation and detoxification. Additionally, yogis may find themselves at a lower risk of injury due to the combined benefits of hot yoga environments (though hot environments can be contra-indicated for those with hypermobility due to the risk of over extension).
The effects of heat when exercising:
However, there are also some possible adverse effects from practising yoga in the heat. According to the Mayo Clinic:
Exercising in hot weather puts extra stress on your body. If you don't take care when exercising in the heat, you risk serious illness. Both the exercise itself and the air temperature and humidity can increase your core body temperature. To help cool itself, your body sends more blood to circulate through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which in turn increases your heart rate. If the humidity also is high, your body faces added stress because sweat doesn't readily evaporate from your skin. That pushes your body temperature even higher.
A safe yoga practice for hot weather
It can take between 10 – 14 days for your body to acclimate to exercising in hot weather. Not everyone experiences heat in the same way so you will need to take extra care to listen to your body.
- Stay hydrated: in addition to drinking water during a yoga class you need to make sure that you drink before and after your class. Aim to drink about 450 millilitres of water 2 hours before your class. This will help you to regulate your core temperature while you’re on your mat. You should consume approximately 600 – 1200 millilitres of water after a class for every hour of exercise practised. Therefore, if you have just completed a 90 minute class you will need to drink about 900 millilitres of water.
- Dress for the weather: don’t be afraid to show some skin. We all have our body hang ups but its better to let those legs see the light of day than overheat because you’re worried about your cellulite (my view is if I was supposed to worry about it, it wouldn’t be happening where I can’t see it!). Your body will sweat to counter overheating, so make it easy for it to do so as bare skin will release heat more easily.
- If you know the heat effects you: think about attending early morning or late evening classes when the temperature is a little lower.
- Know what to look for: recognise the signs of overheating. Cool, moist skin with goose bumps when in the heat, heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, weak, rapid pulse, low blood pressure upon standing, muscle cramps, nausea and headache are all signs of overheating.
- Consult your GP: If you have experienced any of the signs of heat exhaustion during your yoga practice please consult your GP as they will be able to confirm your diagnosis in addition to ruling out any other conditions.
What to do if you don’t feel well
- If you experience any of these symptoms stop all activity immediately and if in a class let your teacher know that you are feeling unwell and why.
- If standing, bring yourself to a seated posture with care.
- If your blood pressure has dropped, bring yourself to a supine position (laying on your back) and ask your teacher to help guide you into ‘feet up the wall pose’ (laying on your back with your legs resting vertically up a wall, option to bend knees) to help regulate your blood pressure.
- Stay seated or laying down until you are ready to move, it doesn’t matter if there is another class starting immediately after yours, your health and wellbeing will be the top priority for your teacher.
- Drink water but slowly and with care, don’t guzzle water hoping to counteract the effects of heat exhaustion. You can also pour a little water over your wrists and the back of your neck to help regulate your temperature.
- Trust your instincts: you know when you don’t feel well, its ok to take as many rests as you need throughout your yoga practice or indeed stop it if it doesn’t feel right for you.
The above is intended as guidance only for hot weather yoga practice. I am not medically trained therefore if you are in any doubt or unsure of anything please always check with your doctor first as they will be able to give you the best advice.
Stay safe yogis and yoginis xx