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Year : 2014  |  Volume : 46  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 9-14

Possible effects of hot yoga: An objective approach

1 Department of Scientific Research, Kaivalyadhama, Lonavala, Maharashtra, India
2 Department of Rognidan Avem Vikrutividnyan, Hon. Shree Anna Saheb Dange Ayurved Medical College, Ashta, Sangli, Maharashtra, India
3 Department of Ayurveda, Kaivalyadhama, Lonavala, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication22-Sep-2014

Correspondence Address:
Suchitra Doddoli
Research Assistant, Department of Scientific Research, Swami Kuvalayananda Marg, Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, Lonavala, Maharashtra, Pune - 410 403
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Source of Support: Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, Lonavala, Maharashtra, India., Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0044-0507.137845

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Over the years, Yoga has not only contributed to holistic health and well-being but has also spread worldwide as an academic discipline. At the same time, there has been regular experimentation and adaptation in the field of yoga by people from various parts of the world since the time it gained wide popularity, some of them being quite scientific in their orientation. Among them, hot yoga is a new trend in Hatha yoga practice, which involves exposure to ambient temperature to promote the health benefits through acclimatization. However, to date, influence of hot yoga on various health-related parameters and its effect on thermoregulatory mechanism are still under controversy. This study attempted to explore the possible ill effects of hyperthermia-induced physical activity on various regulatory mechanisms of health, which may be directed toward impaired body homeostasis. This study suggests that hot yoga cannot regulate comprehensive health at cellular level and may deviate from the traditional concept of yoga.

Keywords: Heat, homeostasis, hot yoga, thermoregulation

How to cite this article:
Doddoli S, Shete SU, Patil S, Doddoli G. Possible effects of hot yoga: An objective approach. Yoga Mimamsa 2014;46:9-14

How to cite this URL:
Doddoli S, Shete SU, Patil S, Doddoli G. Possible effects of hot yoga: An objective approach. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2014 [cited 2023 Mar 25];46:9-14. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Yoga is a scientific art of ancient origin that mainly focuses upon body and mind awareness. Literally, Yoga refers to "integration" at all levels of one's existence. The ancient sage Patanjali's yoga sutras written around 400 CE and Swatmarama's Hatha yoga pradipika written in 1400 CE describe the philosophy of yoga, or self-realization that is highly spiritual in nature and offers peace to seekers (Sinha, 1955; Singh, 1979). Nevertheless, it is evident from scientific research studies that regular yoga practice not only showed benefits in treating depression (Babyak et al., 2000; Breslow, Ballard-Barbash, Munoz, & Graubard, 2001) improving mental health (Smith, Greer, Sheets, & Watson, 2011) and flexibility (Howie-Esquivel, Lee, Collier, Mehling, & Fleischmann, 2010; Tran, Holly, Lashbrook, & Amsterdam, 2001), but also demonstrated positive outcomes related to physiological disorders of the cardiovascular region, skeletal muscle functioning (Duren, Cress, & McCully, 2008; Ramos-Jimenez et al., 2009), metabolism (Balaji, Varne, & Ali, 2012; Hegde et al., 2011; Sahay, 2007; Sharma & Knowlden, 2012), and immunity (Field, 2011; Kulkarni & Bera, 2009). Yoga has also shown to have positive influences on inflammation (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2010; Sahay, 2007), oxidative stress (Dunn, 2008; Hegde et al., 2011; Innes, Bourguignon, & Taylor, 2005), nerve conduction (Field, 2011) and health outcome analysis through bioelectromagnetism (Kuntsevich, Bushell, & Theise, 2010; Tenforde, 1992).

In the present era, yoga has been looked upon as a practically advanced and scientific way to claim health benefits. It has evolved with different modifications by regular experiments, practical analysis, and constant results in order to provide more benefits to mankind.

In this process, hot yoga has evolved as a new branch of Hatha yoga with similar poses practiced under elevated room temperature around 41°C (105°F) and at 40% humidity up to 90 min. (Choudhury, 2007). History reveals that the founder of hot yoga is Bikram Choudhury and, therefore, it is also named as Bikram yoga. Apart from this, different modalities of hot yoga with distinct names are in practice, such as Forrest yoga, power yoga, balance yoga, and moksha yoga, which employ the fundamental aspect of heat while practicing yoga postures.

  Heat-Induced Activity on Psycho-Physiology Top

The stability of human body's physiological internal system is maintained by homeostasis in varied conditions of body environment such as heat, cold, etc. This is mainly governed by thermoregulatory action by means of negative feedback mechanism. Some reports revealed that hot yoga practice or any other physical activity in ambient temperature could improve flexibility, arterial stiffness, cardiovascular stability, and other regulatory functions of the body (Gonzalez-Alonso et al., 1999; Hunter et al., 2013). However, several researchers explored the adverse effects of hyperthermia-induced activities in body systems based on physical, physiological, neuro-physiological, and biochemical points of view, such as heat-exposed exercise leading to reduction in physical activity (Bruck & Olschewski, 1987; Gonzalez-Alonso et al., 1999; Nielsen et al., 1993; Parkin, Carey, Zhao, & Febbraio, 1999), motivation and voluntary activation (Bruck & Olschewski, 1987; Nybo & Nielsen, 1985), central fatigue (Morrison, Sleivert, & Cheung, 2004; Nielsen, Savard, Richter, Hargreaves, & Saltin 1990; Nybo & Nielsen, 1985; Nybo, Secher, & Nielsen 2002; Racinais Gaoua, & Grantham, 2008; Todd, Butler, Taylor, & Gandevia, 2005), etc.

The main influencing factors are impaired body systems, as indicated above, due to muscle fatigue caused by depletion in arterial oxygen (O 2 ) supply (Nybo, 2008), cardiovascular stress (Wilson, Cui, Zhang, & Crandall 2002; 2006), hypoglycaemia (Nybo, 2003), altered neurotransmitter level (Nybo & Secher, 2004), impaired sensory feedback from contracting muscles (Morrison, Sleivert, Cheung, 2004), and inhibited dopaminergic activity (Meeusen & De Meirleir, 1995; Nielsen & Nybo, 2003). In heat stress, there is increased blood flow in the skin as well as increased cardiac output (Gonza΄lez-Alonso, Mora-Rodriguez, & Coyle, 2000; Rowell, Blackmon, Martin, Mazzarella, & Bruce 1965) for thermoregulation. This would provoke high cardiovascular strain leading to high blood pressure (Wyndham et al., 1968) and reduced stroke volume with an upward drift in heart rate to compensate the reduced blood flow to other organs (Radigan & Robinson, 1949; Rowell et al., 1965). This is considered as a dominant factor for reduced performance in hot condition (Fink, Costill, & van handel, 1975; Koslowski et al., 1985). Generally, in heat-induced exercise, more sweat output results in dehydration and hyper tonicity of plasma (Nose, Mack, Shi, & Nadel, 1988a, 1988b) which in turn affects both mental and cognitive performance (Gopinathan, Pichan, & Sharma, 1988; Sawka, 1992). Further, dehydration results in reduction of sweating rate with increased core temperature and heart rate (Gopinathan et al., 1988; Sawka, 1992). With prolonged high core temperature, sweat gland fatigue (hidromeiosis) occurs due to hyper hydration of the surrounding skin (Kerslake, 1972). In fact, there is limitation to combat dehydration caused by sweating process as humans do not have enough capacity for more water intake or store it to replace heat loss (Newman, 1970; Schmidt-Nielsen, 1964). Therefore, it is evident that even a slight elevation of core temperature is also fatal (Burton & Edholm, 1955; Kerslake, 1972).

Furthermore, based on morphology, obese have more heat stress and cardiovascular strain due to reduced physical activity (Leithead & Lind, 1964; Minard & Copman, 1963; Ross, 1966; Vaughan & Conahan, 1980). From a metabolic point of view, hyperthermia induces depletion of Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP) synthesis, deficiency of O 2 , and elevated muscle lactate (Deborah, Keith, & George, 2004; Ivy et al., 1987). This is a major indication of metabolic stress and low energy intake (Margaria, Edwards, & Dill, 1933; Shorten, Wallman, & Guelfi, 2009) which hampers work rate. In a hot yoga room, due to high humid condition, there would be less O 2 intake that may lead to hypercapnia, hypoventilation, and carbon dioxide (CO 2 )poisoning (Porter, 2011) with elevated respiratory rate. Humidity impairs sweating which acts as an evaporative cooling process (Pandolf, Gonzalez, & Gagge, 1974). Biochemically, it has been found that the rate of production of injury markers, i.e. heat shock proteins (HSP), will be high under heat stress (Horowitz, 1998).

There are many research reports indicating that prolonged exposure to heat-induced physical performance improves the body's homeostasis in terms of acclimation state, aerobic fitness, and hydration level (Wenger, 1988) as well as improves physiological processes like sweating, cardiovascular stability (Hori, 1995; Sawka, Wenger, & Pandolf, 2011), fluid-electrolyte balance (Hori, 1995; Sawka et al., 2011), etc. However, this process depends upon environmental conditions and diet (Armstrong & Maresh, 1991; Brandenberger, Candas, Follenius, & Kahn, 1989), and whether this condition is acquired through continuous or intermittent heat exposure, with or without physical activity is still unclear. The changes that occur with repeated heat exposure and acclimation such as variability in cardiac output (Rowell, Kraning, Kennedy, & Evans, 1967; Wyndham et al., 1968), circulatory changes like blood volume (Senay, Mitchell, & Wyndham, 1976), or venous tone and cardiac filling pressure (Kirsch, Rocker, Ameln, & Hrynyschyn, 1986; Rowell, Kraning, Kennedy, & Evans, 1967) are still under debate. For example, blood volume changes can be caused both by heat exposure and by exercise, training, and posture (Harrison, 1985).

Although heat acclimation or adaptation to heat stress enhances physiological processes (Hori, 1995; Sawka, Wenger, & Pandolf, 2011), plasma volume is not maintained in an ideal proportion (Patterson, Stocks, & Taylor, 2004). The acquired physiological benefits through acclimation process are transient and gradually disappear in the absence of continuous heat exposure (Sawka, Castellani, Pandolf, & Young, 2002). Enhanced sweating to acclimation is a matter of controversy, since in hot condition often there is increased sweating rate than can be evaporated (Mitchell et al., 1976). Studies have also shown that heat acclimation does not improve exercise performance of maximal intensity, and endurance of maximally tolerable core temperature (Sawka, Young, Cadarette, Levine, & Pandolf, 1985; Nielsen et al., 1993; Nielsen, Strange, Christensen, Warberg, & Saltin, 1997).

The reviews presented above justify that heat-induced exercise or any other physical performance may affect the homeostasis of the body. Hyperthermia and humidity-induced exercise cause increase in peripheral blood circulation (through vasodilation), and body core temperature, which impair visceral organs' functions as well as disturb the sensory feedback mechanism of the central nervous system (Nielsen et al., 1990). This disturbed mechanism further lowers metabolic rate (Ivy et al., 1987), and adversely affects the immune system (Horowitz, 1998) as well as the system of energy intake (Margaria, Edwards, & Dill, 1933). Therefore, the presence of humidity in hot yoga room may impair the respiratory rate, in turn decreasing the lung capacity, leading to oxidative stress as well as lipid peroxidation (Sharma, 2004), though long-term hyperthermia-induced exercise decreases the ill effects of heat stress by means of acclimation. However, the possible mechanisms involved in this process and its period of existence is still under controversy (Mitchell et al., 1976; Nielson et al., 1993, 1997). Meanwhile, it is evident from recent scientific studies that hot yoga does not act as a stimulus to improve the pulmonary functions or maximize the aerobic capacity (Abel, Lloyd, Williams, & Miller, 2012) and is also not fit for practice during pregnancy (Chan, Natekar, & Koren, 2014), whereas traditional yoga practice has been shown to be beneficial (Chuntharapat Petpichetchian, & Hatthakit, 2008; Madanmohan, Jatiya, Udupa, & Bhavanani, 2003). This reveals limitation of hot yoga practice in comparison with proper yogic breathing exercises and asanas. It also implies that hot yoga may actually prevent one from getting the ideal benefits of yoga and spirituality. The human temperature variation effects are presented in [Table 1].
Table 1: Human temperature variation effects (Porter, 2011; Winslow, Herrington & Gagge, 1937)

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Temperature homeostasis of body is maintained through negative feedback mechanism in the form of conduction, convection, and evaporation. Conduction is the exchange of heat between two objects in contact with each other. In convection, exchange of heat between body and air takes place because of increased air flow next to the skin surface, whereas, evaporation is a cooling process in the form of sweat. In heat exhaustion, this thermoregulatory system is impaired leading to profuse sweat and dehydration. Further, it may end up in dizziness, weakness, nausea with elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory stress. The possible thermoregulatory mechanism in elevated body temperature and the proposed model to explain the effects of heat stress- induced thermoregulation on body homeostasis are illustrated in [Figure 1] and [Figure 2].
Figure 1: Thermoregulatory mechanism of elevated body temperature

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Figure 2: Proposed model for heat stress-induced thermoregulation

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  Conclusion Top

It is evident from the available studies that hot yoga may alter the homeostatic regulatory systems of body and mind. There are not many reports on the physical, physiological, biochemical parameters to explore the potential health benefits of hot yoga. In fact, the available scientific research reports in relation to hot yoga and its effect on vital health are not statistically significant. But there are numerous research studies showing a positive influence of traditional Hatha yoga practices on human health. The possible un-conducive heat exposure leading to acquired ill health effects before acclimation process and the mechanisms involved in this process are still unclear. It is quite possible that regained ideal health through acclimation process may suddenly fall without continuous heat exposure. Thus, the influence of alternate training and detraining of hot yoga with reference to age, gender, and aerobic fitness is yet to be studied. Due to these limitations, this study concludes that hot yoga cannot regulate comprehensive health at a cellular level. This also implies that hot yoga may be a deviation from proper application of spiritual and traditional concept of yoga.[84]

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  [Table 1]


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