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Is hot yoga too hot?

Bikram yoga, or “hot yoga,” has become a popular activity for fitness, flexibility, strength, and mindfulness. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Individuals who practice Bikram (hot) yoga find themselves in a 104°F room for up to 90 minutes, performing various poses and breathing exercises. This intense form of yoga claims to improve flexibility, mental focus, strength, and overall fitness. Researchers have found that Bikram yogis exhibit lower stress levels, improved endurance, muscle strength, and balance after as few as 20 yoga sessions in 8 weeks. Some older adults who participated in Bikram yoga even experienced a decrease in body-fat and improved overall glucose tolerance.

Despite these potential benefits, there are also risks with doing yoga in such an extreme environment. During a Bikram yoga session, people’s core temperature and heart rate can reach dangerous levels associated with heat illness. To reduce the risks, experts suggest sessions of 60 minutes or less, slightly lower room temperatures, and frequent water breaks. Instructors should remind their students to stay hydrated and replenish the water that they’re losing through sweat. If your instructor discourages water breaks, you should find a new instructor.

If you’re new to yoga, we recommend starting off with more traditional styles of yoga that do not involve high temperatures. Traditional styles and gentle yoga (including stretching with yoga) are also beneficial and safer for adults who may be less heat tolerant and/or are beginners.

Many people find Bikram yoga to be challenging and enjoyable, but it’s important to be smart about this kind of workout. 

Learn how to stretch mindfully

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Learn how to do stretches in a mindful way using yoga poses to get the benefits of both stretching and mindfulness.

Mindfulness isn’t something you have to do sitting still. You can apply mindfulness to activities such as stretching. A great way to do this is by using yoga poses. When stretching in a mindful way, you bring your attention to your breath as you stretch your muscles.

Mindful stretching can help you in a number of ways:

  • To focus your attention before or after a workout
  • To focus on and relax knotted areas within your muscles
  • To provide closure to something you’re working on (such as the transition from work to weekend)
  • As a routine before you go to bed to prime your body for sleep

In mindful stretching, the focus is not on doing repetitions or certain times, but rather going with what your body needs in the moment. To learn how, see HPRC’s “Mindful Stretching Exercises Using Yoga Poses” for a step-by-step guide with pictures. 

Safe moving tips to spare your back

Here’s a reminder about how to lift heavy objects properly and protect your back when loading your moving truck during a PCS.

Many Warfighters relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without the added stress of an injury. Here are some tips on how to properly lift and push/pull heavy objects such as moving boxes and furniture, and how to take care of yourself if you do sustain an injury:

  • Wear less-restrictive clothing such as looser-fitting pants or workout clothes.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes.
  • Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting. HPRC has tips on how to maintain flexibility and remove tension in your body.
  • The U.S. Army has some additional Lifting Techniques for handling heavy objects.
  • Remember to keep your core tight and use your leg muscles rather than your back to lift heavy objects.

The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has suggestions and exercises to help build your back.

If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you may have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow the NIH guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. If all seems well, consider core-strengthening exercises to support your back. Taking a yoga class to relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function is a good option. In a recent large study of adults with chronic low back pain, those who participated in yoga classes saw reduced pain symptoms and improved mobility that lasted for several months.

For more about how to protect your back, please visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention Series. Good luck with your PCS!

Keep the happy in the holidays: If you’re feeling pulled, try stretching

As you work on your happiness this holiday season, remember that it’s not just a mind thing; incorporate the physical activity of stretching too.

HPRC continues it series on keeping the happy in holidays, as last week we focused on practicing acceptance. This week, a simple tip: If you’re feeling pulled in a hundred different directions or have been too busy to simply sit and relax, find five minutes to stretch—both your body and your mind. In addition to being an important component of fitness, stretching can also help quiet your mind from the stress of the holidays. Try this basic stretching routine from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). While you’re at it, practice some of the other skills described in this series to foster happiness: examining your thoughts and practicing gratitude, acceptance, and optimism. Your body and mind will thank you.

HPRC’s website has more ideas on mind-body skills you can try this holiday season and New Year.

Be flexible in your approach to fitness

It’s good to be strong, but don’t forget about flexibility. Improving it can boost your performance and reduce your risk for injury if done correctly.

Increasing your flexibility with a regular stretching routine can help improve your performance by allowing your joints to move with greater range of motion (ROM) with each step, swing, or turn. Stretching also is a great way to increase the blood flow to your muscles, so it can be helpful prior to PT or sporting events. You can start increasing your flexibility with simple stretching and foam rolling exercises; check out our Performance Strategies for tips on how to begin.

The run-down on the cool-down

The post-exercise cool-down—is it really necessary? Does it prevent muscle soreness? Is it good for you?

The cool-down—a practice so engrained in our exercise habits that we assume it’s important. But, the truth is, the topic is understudied, and evidence for or against cooling down is still up for debate. What is a cool-down and what is it supposed to do? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a period of low- to moderate-intensity aerobic or muscular endurance activities after exercise to gradually reduce heart rate and blood pressure and remove metabolic byproducts from the system. For some, this may be a slow jog down the street, or an easy ride around the block after a workout with the hope of also preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The long-standing theory behind cooling down was that it helped to remove lactic acid from the system, a substance that could later cause muscle aches and soreness. However, it is believed that DOMS is the result of minor muscle damage due to novel or intense exercise, but we do know that lactic acid is not the culprit. During cool-down—active recovery—more lactic acid is removed from the system than during passive recovery, i.e., no cool-down. But is this a good thing? In a study of cyclists, researchers found that when subjects stopped exercise abruptly, lactic acid turned into glycogen, a fuel for the muscles. But when the cyclists gradually tapered off activity, less glycogen was made, leaving less energy for the muscles. These results indicate that cooling down might not be beneficial and may waste useful energy for the muscles.

On the other hand, a cool-down lowers elevated heart rates faster than passive recovery does and may prevent post-exercise dizziness. Stopping abruptly after exercise can cause blood to pool in the dilated vessels of the legs and feet, which may lead to a feeling of light-headedness and/or dizziness. Keep in mind, however, that these symptoms can also be related to other post-exercise conditions such as low blood sugar, low blood pressure, dehydration, or even hyponatremia. If you experience these symptoms, check with your doctor to find out if there are other causes.

Scientists agree that cooling down is also beneficial for people with cardiovascular conditions and heart disease where the coronary vessels are narrowed due to atherosclerosis (fatty deposits), as blood return to the heart may be compromised without it.

ACSM currently recommends at least 5-10 minutes of cool-down, with at least 10 minutes of stretching after exercise. However, more research is needed to determine the value and ideal recommendations for cooling down. If stopping exercise abruptly causes symptoms of light-headedness and dizziness, then a cool-down is a good idea.

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Runners: To strech or not to stretch?

HPRC Fitness Arena:
The USA Track and Field (USATF), the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States has just released a study to determine the effect of pre-run stretching on running injuries.

Runner stretchingPhoto: Blake Cable

The USA Track and Field (USATF), the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States has released a study to determine the effect of pre-run stretching on running injuries. The purpose of the study was to determine specifically if pre-run stretching of the three major leg muscle groups is beneficial for overall injury prevention or reduction.

According to the study, this was a clinical trial that involved close to 3,000 runners and the results confirm there is no difference in the risk of injury for those who stretched before running and those who did not. The study randomly assigned people to perform a specified pre-run stretching routine or to perform no pre-run stretching for a period of 3 months.

The findings of the stretch study can be viewed as a PDF here.

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