Heat Survival

New to the heat! Warning: You NEED to know this if you practise in the heat. Really!

This section gives you some crucial information if you’ve never fully acclimatized your body when exercising in the heat.

A quick heads-up … After you’ve read this page, please make sure you also read the section called Start Here. It’s the best place to find the essential information for this website, tailored to you and your experience (Choose sections on new students, returning students, experienced yogis, teachers and people who want to practise at home)… Now you’re here, read on!

Did you know …?

… that you need 2 (to 2 ½) whole weeks practising at least a couple of times each week – in the heat – for your body to physiologically adapt to working in the heat? It’s not about getting “used to the heat”.

Acclimatisation is no joke. It’s crucial and there’s no getting around it. It takes that time and that’s it. No shortcuts. Here are a few really important things you need to know so that working in the heat is easier.

Get in there … and work (kinda)

Yes, you do have to get into that hot room and then you have to do the yoga poses. To do both from the get-go and at the same time can seem quite intimidating. However – and this may surprise you –  you do not need to bust a gut going crazy with the actual poses each class to get your body’s system in heat-sync! (I just made that word up). But the point is this. If you feel a high level of challenge doing everything that you’re asked to do, and you can only do say, half of the class, fear not. Because just staying in the hot room will be instrumental in making the changes you need. It will be better if you do a good proportion of the yoga. It helps the process.

But don’t be worried if you can’t do it all. The most important thing is breathing, as calmly as you can through the nose, doing what you can, not going beyond your own ‘design capabilities’ and certainly not hurting yourself.

If you find things are too difficult, you are better off standing still and breathing (through the nose if you can!). Choose stillness over struggle. Stand there and breathe. Join back in after a few breaths or at the next pose (or set). Before you know it, gone will be the struggle and you’ll be doing all the poses. (Remember, for any help go to the Hot Yoga Doctor Forum. You’ll find many of your own questions already answered or … ask your own!)

You see, if you’ve started this yoga, then there’s no doubt in my mind that what you really want to do is to keep going. Nobody starts something like this and thinks, ‘I will just do it once and hope that’s all I need to do’. Put it this way, you wouldn’t take one shower and expect to be clean for life! No! You want the magic that everyone is raving about. I want that for you too. You’ll need some persistence and plenty of curiosity to learn, learn, learn! This page is more about how you can keep safe when exercising in the heat.

So with that in mind, there are some important things to consider.

Already some yoga experience but never with Hot Yoga?

Then the only difference between you and a complete yoga newbie is that you may have an easier time with the poses.

Having done yoga, but not in the heat brings with it, its own unique challenges. Knowing some yoga doesn’t necessarily guarantee you an easy time with the heat. (It can be harder if you’re the type of person who has high expectations of your yoga prowess because of the yoga you’ve done before.) Just keep a mental check on those expectations if or when you have a moment of struggle, because, as you know, it’s not a competition. To get all New-Agey on your a$$, “It is what it is”.

This may not be you, but it could be hard to submit to the idea that you may be an accomplished yogi elsewhere, but have to be a beginner in the hot room. Not because you don’t know what you’re doing. Because you might. But because it takes your body over 2 weeks to physiologically adapt to the physical conditions in the hot room. (Remember, like it or not, there are no shortcuts!)

It also means that you may not feel as ‘good at yoga’ as you have felt before: Unlike non-heated yoga styles when you’re new to the heat you may have to build up your hot yoga stamina, your hot yoga breathing and your ability to even pay attention to the different style of class delivery, before you really start to feel like you’re getting somewhere.

So I ask you to be mindful at all stages of how your body is responding. If you need to drink, wait until a Savasana, but by all means take a few sips of water when you need it.


… Hey pssssst that’s you too if you’ve taken a long break from hot yoga and lost your heat-acclimatization-mojo.

Here are two obvious facts. Hydration is very important. You lose a lot of water when you sweat.

However, what almost nobody ever knows or tells you is that in your first 2 weeks to 18 days, (or your first weeks back if you’re returning to practice after a longish break) you’re 99% more likely to sweat even more and lose more electrolytes than someone who’s already heat-acclimatized (ie with a regular hot yoga practice).

In other words you WILL sweat MORE in those first 2-2.5 weeks, so don’t get alarmed. With your sweat a good portion of your body’s electrolyte stores washes out. And this is where the problem lies. Keep reading for the hard facts (below) and what to look out for.

The good news is that your sweat and electrolyte loss will settle down back to normal once you settle into your regular practice. It’s just what happens, right? Don’t fight it. Just use that knowledge to really take care of yourself.

And if you are returning after that longish break, don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t get through class like you used to. It’s probably just your body re-acclimatizing. So let it go, OK?

Taking care of yourself

I see it as my duty to help you make the most of your first weeks. What this is telling you is that you MUST make sure you take some kind of electrolyte supplement. Don’t go crazy. You don’t need a fancy schmancy expensive electrolyte drink. You can take them of course. Look, if I were a superhero I might be called “Practical Girl”. While that doesn’t roll off the tongue like it does with “Super(wo)man” what it does mean is I would just as soon make sure I am salting my food with yummy sea salt. IMPORTANT TIP: Low salt diets and hot yoga do not mix.

This other tip is invaluable

For newbies and prodigal yogis, my strong recommendation is this: Add a pinch of sea salt to your water bottle that you take to class. If you want, you can add a few drops of fresh lemon juice too. It’s delicious and you’ll feel the salt doing its magic and reviving you almost instantly. I kid you not. When I have tradespeople over, doing outside work in the hot Aussie sun, I give them a big glass of water with salt which also has a touch of lemon juice.  I watch as they literally get their zing back and their energy goes up, up, up in a jiffy.

So please, take extra special care of yourself in those first 2 – 2.5 weeks. Look, you may want to keep an eye out for the other newbies in your class and help them especially if they tell you or you notice they are struggling. I have never found this information on any other website. It has only ever been found in my scientific research on hydration, heat exhaustion and low-salt conditions and as a result of my communications with other experts  in their field (eg hydration, renal physicians, sports doctors and university professors). I of course, cover these topics in my trainings and workshops (and have answered related questions for years on the Hot Yoga Doctor Forum) but main stream hot yoga teachers neglect to share this crucial information. Remember, the most important time to be taking care of your electrolyte loss is right at the beginning of your hot yoga journey. This is the least likely time for you to be told this info, so hopefully I have helped smooth the way for you!

High heat conditions

I want to pay some attention to the temperatures that people are subjected to in the hot room. Since 2008 I am on record as having answered literally hundreds of questions of people who are experiencing some disturbing signs and symptoms from going to yoga. In almost all cases, it appears that many thousands of people are continually being exposed to temperatures (and combined with humidity conditions) that are causing what is referred to as chronic low grade heat exhaustion.

Feeling great could be getting in your way

You wouldn’t have thought that feeling great could be a problem. But it could be! What I have experienced over many years by answering those questions from people like you, is that those wonderful feelings of well-being, that satisfaction that you feel from the yoga, can often block out the problems of heat and hydration to the point that you ignore the signs! That’s not good!

So often people are very resistant to believe it’s the heat … at least at first. Anyway, there are so many threads on the forum, I do believe that if you have any issues, you know where to go. The first step is knowledge and now that I have alerted you to the facts, the Hot Yoga Doctor Forum is the perfect place to find the support and information to get you through.

What should you look out for?

I think a word of warning is important here on another matter concerning the temperature of the studio that you practise in. When you practise or exercise in the heat (anywhere) there are certain conditions of the body that you really need to know about. One of these is called Hyponatremia and the other of these is Heat Exhaustion.

Hyponatremia is the condition of low (hypo) sodium (natremia). Well actually, to be more precise, the natremia refers to sodium in the blood! Heat Exhaustion is a condition that occurs when the body is exposed to high heat for too long (especially in exercise).

Unfortunately the culture around doing Bikram-style and Hot Yoga seems to be firmly entrenched for many teachers around the belief that ‘the hotter the heat, the better the experience’. I wish that were the case. But years of answering emails and forum posts has proved to me time and time again that consistently excess heat for many people (NB: NOT ALL people) makes the environment not just challenging but potentially damaging and risky. It can create lethargy, pain, difficulty in going to sleep, night sweats, inability to get through class, dizziness, confusion in and after class, inability to concentrate, the need to sit down or lie down often, and many other problems including raised core temperature.

A big indicator of Heat Exhaustion (for those wanting a practical gauge) is the inability to go every day to class. Let me be clear, I am NOT suggesting you must go to class every day. Yes, many people do go 5-7 days per week. So here’s the gauge: If you feel so drained that you simply could not, under any circumstances attend a hot yoga class within the next 1-2 days, then that tends to be a clear sign that excessive heat is causing problems, even if nobody else is affected. In thousands of cases, students find they just don’t have the energy to go more than 2 or 3 times per week because they feel wiped out. This is probably heat exhaustion. Trust me.

Comparing conditions

Signs and symptoms of Heat Exhaustion resemble those of shock:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Heavy sweating
  • Rapid, weak heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Cool, moist, pale skin
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle and abdominal cramps
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dark-colored urine

Please note, Heat Stroke is the acute and severe form of Heat Exhaustion. Look that one up.

Now compare Heat Exhaustion with Hyponatremia:

Hyponatremia symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps, tingling in limbs
  • Bloating or swelling
  • Seizures
  • Decreased consciousness or coma

What’s alarming is that there is a big overlap of symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Hyponatremia.

What’s the answer?

  1. Be aware of what’s in the above lists so you know that if you experience any of these you can take notice and act. Maybe you’ll need to rest, drink water, take salt.
  2. Hey, if you notice somebody else having some difficulty, maybe you can help educate them to take more salt, and drink accordingly.
  3. Maybe find out more about the actual temperature and humidity conditions in the room. Come to the Hot Yoga Doctor Forum and we can have a conversation about your issue and see if we can exclude heat and salt! Maybe it’s something simple and harmless.
  4. Take salt or electrolyte supplements.
  5. Even sip water with sea salt (with or without a few drops of lemon during class, between poses whenever you need to).
  6. Be aware that practising in rooms of approx body temperature (37-38C or 98F) with 40-60% humidity is all you really need to get that satisfying sweat and the great practise outcomes that you want. Higher temperatures may work for you, but they don’t work for everyone. There is no glory in causing a hike in core temperatures to the point where it becomes dangerous. (Recently in January 2015, someone posted on the forum experiencing signs of severe heat exhaustion almost to the point of heat stroke. This is serious stuff.) Being aware of the situation arms you with the right information.
  7. Knowing what the signs and symptoms are may help you help somebody else!

Listen, the serious, life-threatening stuff I mentioned above doesn’t happen very often. The most common issue is to be tired or unable to sleep (usually because of high heat), to be unable to manage another class within 1-2 days, or to have swelling or bloating (because of low salt). But maybe, just maybe, knowing about the ins and outs of this heat-related subject will help you feel much more relaxed about things. You’ll know what to do if it ever happens to you or someone around you!

Now you know the serious stuff, you can take care of having fun in the hot room.

If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend going to the Start Here page where you’ll find some of the links to the ways that I can best help YOU, all arranged according to what you want out of your hot yoga experience!

Warm wishes and namaste

Gabrielle 🙂

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