A quick Pubmed (the online database of published research articles) search for the term “hot yoga, pregnancy” yields exactly two results. For perspective, almost everything I’ve ever searched yields dozens if not hundreds of hits. So, while there’s lots of research on prenatal yoga, its safety, and benefits, there isn’t a lot of evidence on whether hot yoga is safe during pregnancy.
Is Hot Yoga Safe, In General
I’ll go ahead and let you in on my bias: I don’t think hot yoga is safe for most people. I actually really enjoy heated practice and have taught it in the past. But in my experience, people push themselves harder and deeper in a hot environment, and are not aware of pain or discomfort (particularly as it pertains to over-stretching) until after class.
I personally have chronic knee pain while practicing Bikram-style hot yoga, that immediately clears up when I stop. Specifically, I think the Bikram style (or 26+2) is more troublesome because the sequence is the same each time; so if you over-do it once, you continue to irritate that spot repeatedly. Warm power yoga classes aren’t as bad, in my opinion, as the sequences change and are oriented more toward strength than flexibility, generally speaking.
However, I only think people who have a strong regular yoga practice and are in good overall shape should practice in heat. Exercising in heat elevates your body temperature, and as your body struggles to give off excess heat, it also elevates your heart rate. At best, you’re getting an extra challenging cardio workout. At worst, you can have a headache, nausea, faint, or worse.
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Is Hot Yoga Safe During Pregnancy
Circling back to the topic at hand, you can obviously see that if you aren’t already in great shape with a strong practice, you would already be disqualified from hot yoga, in my expert opinion. Now, add to that the physical strain of pregnancy.
Interestingly, the research focuses on the danger to the baby of hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature also known as heat stroke. In the few published articles, hyperthermia due to hot yoga is the focus, but the research basically just suggests that more research should be done.
However, there is a wealth of articles about the affects of hyperthermia in pregnancy due to other causes. One study found, “Women reporting exposure to sauna, hot tub, or fever in early pregnancy had a crude risk of their fetuses developing neural tube defects 2.2 times that of women without heat exposure.” And the risk is higher with greater exposure. There are additionally studies showing risk of schizophrenia, autism, cleft palate, and a whole host of other issues.
Generally, the danger is believed to be at a body temperate of 102F or higher. Obviously, this is very high, and you may not feel that you are likely to raise your body temperature to a risky level during a hot yoga practice. There are some additional concerns about your health, however — not just the baby’s.
For one, as I mentioned above, a hot yoga practice is strenuous! Pregnancy affects heart rate and blood pressure, putting you at higher risk of dizziness and fainting. Adding heat would simply increase the chance of that happening. While I obviously don’t want that to happen to you, having it happen to you and baby is even worse.
Additionally, during pregnancy, you have higher levels of the hormone relaxin. This makes the joints looser and more susceptible to over-stretching. As I mentioned above, the heat in a hot yoga class can make you feel more “open” and less aware of how far your body can really stretch. When you push into the “borrowed flexibility” created by relaxin, you are far more likely to pull a muscle, tendon, or ligament during pregnancy.
Prenatal Yoga Classes
Obviously, I think there’s a strong case against hot yoga during pregnancy. And I just don’t see a compelling case for it. I know, maybe you love it. Maybe it’s what keeps you sane.
But, there has never been a better time to explore gentler options for your body. You are about to have some major changes in your life, momma. You are going to come out of this experience a totally different person. I would love for that person to be someone who can be gentle with their body and listen to the shifts nature is creating in you. Learn more about (unheated!) prenatal yoga here and join us for class in-person here.