6 Ways to Keep Your Cool While Practicing Yoga During a Heat Wave
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It's been ferociously hot lately. If a strenuous yoga class is part of your routine, it's essential to understand the effect that the sweltering summer heat has on your system and how it can affect your practice.
Your body has a built-in thermoregulation system to keep your core internal temperature around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. "If the heat increases inside your body, the body tries to get rid of as much heat as it can," explains Dr. Matthew W. Martinez, a sports cardiologist at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, N.J. Vasodilation--the widening of your blood vessels--releases heat through radiation and sweating cools your skin as the moisture evaporates.
But exercising when your body is already taxed from extreme and prolonged heat can throw that process out of whack--even if you're practicing yoga indoors. "Under heat stress, endurance capacity and performance are going to be impaired as the heat gain exceeds the heat loss," says Dr. Martinez.
Also, keep in mind any seasonal allergy medications you might be taking. "Antihistamines and decongestants decrease our ability to sweat," explains Randell Wexler, M.D., a professor of family medicine at Ohio State University.
There are, however, several ways you can help your body regulate the extra heat.
6 ways to (safely) practice yoga during a sweltering summer
Choose your attire wisely
Fact: You're going to sweat during a vinyasa yoga class. You want to do what you can to help that sweat evaporate as quickly as possible so it can cool you. (That's why we sweat!) The following advice can help your body thermoregulate:
Wear loose-fitting clothes to allow for maximum air circulation
Opt for clothes made of moisture-wicking material to bring the sweat away from your body
Show some skin (within your comfort level, of course) to enhance the evaporation of sweat from your skin
Try a cooling towel around your neck
Hydrate--including before you hit the mat
All that sweating, while helpful, can lead to dehydration, which happens when you lose more water than you take in. In addition to placing you at an increased risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke, dehydration causes your muscles, which are more than 70 percent water, to perform less efficiently than usual.
But don't wait until midway through class to chug some water. "You want to hydrate pre-exercise," says Dr. Martinez. "It's hard to make up the difference once you get behind."
The American Council on Exercise recommends 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours before you work out, and 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes while you're exercising. You also want to continue to replenish your fluids after your practice.
Exactly how much can be tricky. Also, you'll need to take in more water than recommended if you were already operating at a deficit before you began sweating, which can easily happen during an especially sweltering summer. If you lose track of ounces or think you might need more, there's an easy solution. "You can tell for yourself if you're dehydrated or not," says Dr. Wexler. The color of your urine indicates whether you need to increase your water intake. The darker the hue, the more water you need to drink.
Dial down the intensity
The practice of yoga is a "skillful engagement with the world around you," says yoga teacher Kelly Turner. "That means recognizing that now may not be the time for a super heating, challenging flow."
When temperatures are extreme and your body temperature increases (hyperthermia), your body uses its energy stores more quickly. This means your muscles will become fatigued more quickly. This might be time to dial down on the intensity of your practice or shortening the duration of time you practice. Turner recommends listening to your body and exploring more cooling styles of yoga, such as restorative and Yin. At YogaSix, where Turner is vice president of training and experience, class options range from "hot and powerful to slow and mindful." Most studios offer an array of styles of yoga you can explore.
Practice in a cool(ish) environment
If you're inside, open a door or turn on a fan to help with air circulation to help your sweat evaporate and cool you down. Think twice about practicing outside, especially in humid conditions. If you insist, find someplace shady, but don't make it too remote. Stick to sites where, "if you get yourself in trouble, you've got the ability to get yourself out of trouble -- places where you can obtain a bottle of water or find a water fountain," says Dr. Martinez.
Find your mindfulness fix elsewhere
Remember, yoga doesn't occur only within the four corners of your mat. "This could be a great time to explore one of the other incredible limbs of yoga, such as meditation," says Turner. "I love focusing on a moving meditation while swimming laps in a pool on hot days. Listening to my breath, staying connected to the water and the movement of my body--it certainly helps me stay present and grounded." Or try a walking meditation early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures dip.
Reframe taking a break from yoga
It can be frustrating when dangerously hot weather curtails your practice. Research on the mental-health benefits of yoga has shown it can help depression, reduce anxiety, stress, and insomnia, and improve the quality of your sleep. You may already know this from personal experience. You may also feel a little lost when your practice isn't accessible to you.
"Remind yourself that the break is temporary and you will return to it when you are able," says Dr. Beth Pausic, a licensed psychologist and the director of behavioral health at Hims & Hers. "Even if it isn't something we choose to do, a break can be restorative and help renew our minds and bodies."
About our contributor
Holly Burns is a writer in the San Francisco Bay area whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.