Do you like working out in a hot, sauna-like room? Probably not.
My only experience in such an environment years ago left me dizzy and nauseated; before passing out, I crawled out of the stinky room to take a cold shower.
Personally, I don’t enjoy working out in air-conditioning either – my ideal setting would be outdoors, under a shade by the beach, with a gentle breeze blowing.
So, it was with much reservation that I accepted an invitation to try out a local hot yoga place, with a difference.
Hot yoga has been around since the 1970s and its origins have been attributed to yoga guru Bikram Choudhury.
At that time, he was teaching in Japan and became intrigued by the saunas his students patronised during lunch break. He then started experimenting with heaters in his yoga studios, and cranked up the heat to 28°C to mimic the temperatures in his hometown of Calcutta, India.
Bikram noticed the increase in temperature allowed people to sweat and push themselves further. The feedback he obtained was that the students got a better workout as their flexibility increased. He kept increasing the temperature until he was satisfied with 40°C.
The heat forces the heart to beat faster, which advocates say provides a better cardiovascular workout and burns more calories while all that profuse sweating flushes out the toxins in the body.
Most Bikram classes are 90 minutes long, and students go through a set of breathing exercises and 26 poses in 40°C temperature with 40% humidity.
Consequently, Bikram yoga is often called hot yoga; however, the two are different. Hot yoga refers to any yoga practice done in a hot room, which may not be as hot as Bikram rooms, which the guru Bikram playfully referred to as “torture chambers”.
Since then, there has been a boom in hot yoga centres, with most using heaters and blowers to heat up the rooms.
“Our unique differences are that we use far infrared heaters, dedicated negative ionisers and a device called the Zazen Scalar that emits earth frequency in our practice room. We are the only hot yoga studio that has these elements combined,” claimed Grace Sim, founder of the recently opened Metta Studio in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
The earth frequency (7.83hz) is present to promote a mind that is relaxed, more coherent, sharp and focused.
She explains: “The beauty of earth frequency is that it neutralises electromagnetic fields from our bodies, allowing our brain waves and body to return to our natural, healthy energy state, which ultimately invokes self-healing.”
Meanwhile, far infrared heat provides a method of detoxing and encourages your body to become more limber. It works differently from conventional heat as it does not “transfer” heat from a heating source, but rather it distributes heat more evenly and outwardly.
The rays gently heal, soothe, stimulate and detox the physical body as well as the mind.
Besides improving muscle recovery and stimulating blood flow, studies show that far infrared therapy may help in fat loss, chronic fatigue, water retention, skin disorders, as well as in the elimination of heavy metals, poisons, and carcinogenic material from our bodies.
Sim, 37, worked in the IT area of a fitness chain for 10 years before deciding to venture out on her own. She yearned to open an alternative healing place – one that was toxic-free and used green materials.
“I’ve always liked things to do with health and wanted to study medicine but finances didn’t allow me the opportunity. So, I did IT, got bored working and joined the gym, eventually becoming a fitness instructor,” says the daughter of a tai chi master.
In June, she opened her own, extremely-zen outlet, with one of the aims to clear the misconception of hot yoga.
Along with two colleagues, I nervously went in to try a session. The first thing that strikes you as you enter the room is, obviously, the heat. It wasn’t unbearable but it was hot.
We started out with basic poses and 20 minutes into the class, I was sweating aplenty. Normally, I would spend a few minutes prior to class to limber my joints but none of that was necessary as the heat did it naturally.
Gradually, the room seemed to get hotter as we ploughed through the poses but halfway through, my body adjusted to the temperature and I was surprised how comfortable it felt at 37°C or 38°C.
Hydration is key to enjoying the class so drink plenty of fluids before, during and after class.
I didn’t notice a stark difference or improved flexibility in the later part of the class but then, Sim kept to the basics as there were newbies in the class, and guided us gently through a series of twists.
My skin did feel a tad smoother and I felt calmer afterwards but once I stepped out of the clean, non-toxic environment, I got a niggling headache for the next few hours despite keeping myself well hydrated. Perhaps the pollution got to me.
Would I do it again? Oh yes, when time permits.
While the session was pleasant, the heat does raise other concerns and experts do not recommend vigorous exercises in raised temperatures.
Hot yoga has often been hyped to be a panacea for all physical ailments, but this is not true. Yoga requires spinal flexion, rotation and hyperextension. If you have spinal issues or osteoporosis, extremes of these motions are contraindicated.
Also, if you are pregnant, have a heart condition or high blood pressure, hot classes are not for you. Stick to the cooler temperatures.
Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.