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The sweltering temperatures during the recent and relentless heat wave—not to mention the health advisory alerts inundating your phone and urging you to take caution–may have prompted you to wonder whether it’s still safe to practice hot yoga.
It’s not just the temperature that is cause for concern. The heat warnings are typically in response to the heat index, which is the combined measure of temperature and humidity. Not everyone experiences adverse effects from exercising in the heat. But at a certain critical point, the ability of a body to regulate its temperature diminishes. A heat index reading above approximately 95 degrees Farenheit is typically regarded as dangerous for anyone undergoing prolonged exposure or strenuous exercise. It’s not uncommon for the heat index at a hot yoga studio—where temperatures vary from the 90s to the low 100s and humidity levels tend to be 40 to 60 percent—to surpass that danger threshold.
No one is saying you shouldn’t practice hot yoga. But if you choose to take class in a heated studio, you need to take certain precautions and pay attention to your body’s reaction during your practice. The following guidelines can help you understand your limits and know how to handle it if you overtax your body.
6 ways to stay safe while practicing hot yoga
1. Modify your practice
If you’re feeling fatigued, are returning to hot yoga after a break, or are new to it, allow your body time to adjust. “Your initial exposure to heat should be without exercise,” says exercise physiologist and yoga instructor Leslie Funk. You may want to sit still during portions of class. Start by holding poses for a fraction of the time the teacher suggests. You’ll gradually build your endurance with each class.
2. Water, water, and more water
The excessive sweating that is part of a hot yoga practice could, in certain situations, result in dehydration, heat exhaustion, even heatstroke. Funk recommends drinking at least 16 ounces of water during the two hours before class, drinking frequently during your practice, and continuing to take in water for several hours after class.
It may be tempting to chug cold water during and especially after your hot yoga practice. Resist. Instead, take frequent sips. Cool water is fine, but avoid anything containing caffeine.
3. Show some skin
Sweating is your body’s primary defense against overheating. Baring some skin allows your body to release heat more efficiently. This has everything to do with safety and nothing to do with immodesty.
4. Recognize the warning signs
The first symptom of heat exhaustion is a pulse rate that rockets and remains elevated. Other causes for immediate concern include dizziness, confusion, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal or muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, and vision disturbances. Also, pay attention if you experience a decrease or cessation of sweating, which is a sign of serious dehydration.
5. Play it safe
If you experience any of the above symptoms, immediately leave the heated portion of the studio or find the coolest area you can and lie down. If you feel like you might pass out before you can exit the space, simply lower yourself onto your mat. Elevate your legs above your heart by resting them on a chair or a box. Drape a towel soaked in cool water on your skin and slowly drink water. If your symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
6. Get your doctor’s OK
Medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, sleep deprivation, pregnancy, eating disorders, a history of heat-related illness, and being overweight may increase the risk of developing a heat-related illness, says Randell Wexler, M.D., a professor of family medicine at Ohio State University.
Also, some medications can interfere with the body’s heat regulation system and shouldn’t be combined with a hot yoga practice. Check with your primary care physician before beginning or continuing with hot yoga so you can take any necessary precautions and prevent a situation rather than figure out how to recover from it.
This article has been updated. Originally published August 28, 2007.