A recent study at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), suggests that hot yoga is not actually more beneficial than regular yoga. In the study, researchers found that there was no difference in the increase in core temperature and heart rate for 12 participants in both a hot and regular yoga class. So what exactly does that mean?
No difference in increase in core temperature primarily signifies that the body is not over-heating, and therefore is not at risk for heat injury. This really just proves that practicing yoga in the heat is not dangerous, but it does not necessarily mean it does not have added benefits. However, the lack of increase in heart rate could suggest that the intensity of both workouts is the same.
Those who practice hot yoga will tell you that hot yoga, versus regular yoga, is a much more challenging workout and there are many added benefits resulting from practicing in heat. The argument raised by this study is that the workout and physical benefits are the same in both hot and regular classes, because the routine is the same, and that because hot yoga feels harder to do, it is perceived as more beneficial, but it is not actually so.
To put it in perspective, imagine running 3 miles indoors on an air conditioned track versus running 3 miles on an outdoor track in 102-degree weather at 60% humidity. All terrain the same, obviously running on the outdoor track in the heat would feel a lot more challenging, but the physical motions and benefits are essentially the same between the two.
That being said, the reason people practice in heat is that the heat helps warm the muscles, allowing them to be more flexible, encouraging a deeper practice, and lowering the risk for muscle injury. Many consider that to be an advantage of hot yoga versus regular yoga.
In addition, the high heat and humidity obviously leads to a lot of sweating. Although the association of the amount of sweat with the quality or intensity of a workout is not an accurate one, sweating as much as one does in a hot yoga class has great positive effects on the body, the biggest one being the elimination of toxins from the body. You will sweat in a hot yoga class even if you lay in child’s pose the entire time. But many hot yogis consider that to be an added benefit over regular yoga.
It is true that many people begin practicing yoga for weight-loss; to increase their strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance; to improve their posture; and to reduce anxiety and stress levels. And it is also true that anyone can experience all of these from both hot and regular yoga. So the real answer to the question of which is better is up to the individual yogi. Some like it hot, some like it cold, all like being tied in knots, or at least touching their toes. 🙂
What kind of yoga do you prefer, and why?