Written by Rachel Boddy
I recently returned from holiday in Sri Lanka (I know, mega-holiday brag).
Along with the sunshine, tropical fruit for breakfast and cultural experience, I found something magical on the teardrop island: the heat & humidity.
It’s been about eight years since I was in a properly humid, 30+ degrees environment, and that was at a time I thought running on the treadmill in an air-con gym was the ultimate exercise regime (it’s not by the way).
Fast-forward to 2017, and I got to take my yoga practice on holiday with me – that’s got to be one of the key benefits of yoga: that you can take it anywhere with you.
When I did my first Ashtanga practice in this new heat, I was drowning in a puddle of my own sweat by the time I got to Sun Salutation B.
What? I can’t be this unfit after a few days of travel!
As I progressed through the asanas, my skin slippy with sweat, I found it easier to twist into the seated postures. I also felt it easier to get my legs into lotus and half-lotus.
It was like the heat and humidity had melted away a layer of tension that was previously holding me back.
But the moment I knew this new-found heat was working it’s magic was when I could ‘move’ in upward facing dog.
Instead of pushing myself through the posture like an unforgiving plank of wood, I was able to:
- Lift my collarbones (moving the upper thoracic spine
- Breath into my ribcage
- Turn my heels in towards each other to rotate the femurs (something I remember Karen Kirkness telling me when I first started Mysore!)
With this newfound movement I approached my backbends with cautious optimism, and was amazed at the difference.
Don’t get me wrong, my backbends still have a way to go, but I really felt the heat had unlocked yet another barrier to this seemingly impossible posture.
During my heat-filled holiday I made the following modifications to my Ashtanga practice:
- Spent 3 breaths in upward-facing dog instead of 1.
- Skipped vinyasas between sides of seated postures (I really didn’t need the extra heat!)
- Worked through all my backbend progressions (bridge pose, ustrasana, etc)
This experience taught be two things:
- No yoga practice is ever the same, and you are allowed to adapt the practice to your environment.
- Hot/heated yoga definitely has its place and I have a new respect for it. Remember: yoga originated in India, which has a climate similar to Sri Lanka. It was originally practiced in 30 degree heat, so anything less than that might be against its original nature.
Why you should try hot yoga:
Even the words ‘hot yoga’ may make you feel uncomfortable, but hear me out.
1. It will make you feel uncomfortable
What? I don’t want to feel uncomfortable! You’re really not selling this to me
Yes you do.
If you’re constantly in your comfort zone, you don’t learn anything.
You remain in a bubble and just stay there.
Challenging yourself physically and mentally, getting outside your comfort zone, starts a trickle effect into other aspects of your life: if you’ve challenged yourself physically (in hot yoga, for example), you may find it gives you the confidence to challenge yourself in your work and personal goals.
2. You’ll become less self-conscious
Now this may seem contradictory: if I’m sweating more AND uncomfortable, I’ll be more self-conscious.
But this is the beauty of doing hot yoga: you’re so focused on working through the postures and sequences in the heat, that you don’t have TIME to worry about your hair, or whether your top is running up over your belly, or if you’ve got sweat marks.
Everyone is in the same position. So hot yoga actually provides unity in the sweat and discomfort!
When I’ve taught hot yoga, I’ve seen more people in less clothing that they would normally be comfortable wearing, but they know they are in good company…and also just don’t care. They just want to get it through the class and not care what they are wearing.
3. You’ll remove barriers to your yoga practice
No, I’m not just talking about clothes!
As I found in Sri Lanka, the heat took away a level of restriction that was omnipresent in my practice.
Whether it made the fascia more fluid, or my joints less constrained, or both, the heat certainly allowed me to access postures I found tricky and go deeper in postures I could already do (especially twists).
If you are a regular yoga practitioner, I recommend adding a hot yoga class into the mix and see how it impacts your regular practice.
If you are new to yoga, I’d recommend starting with a beginners course at a normal (21 degree) temperature, get familiar with postures and sequences at this temperature, and then try hot yoga once you are confident in class.