Love to feel the heat? Hot yoga can boost your fitness and well-being, but sadly, it probably does not provide a cardio workout. Hot yoga comes in many forms. Bikram is the most well-known style, but any yoga set in a heated room qualifies. Based on ancient Indian principles, hot yoga involves poses and breathing techniques to increase mindfulness as well as strength. However, until research proves otherwise, you should look elsewhere to get your cardio on.
So what exactly is a cardio workout? Technically, cardio is sustained activity using major muscle groups, such as the legs, that raises your heart and breathing rates for an extended time span. During a moderate cardio workout, you should be able to carry a brief conversation but should be too breathless to sing. Cardio increases stamina and lung function while eventually reducing resting heart rate. Classic cardio activities include jogging, bicycling and swimming, but you also get a cardio workout with football, tae kwon do and ice skating.
When it comes to hot yoga and cardio, the research just is not there. And what little evidence there is suggests there may be no cardio benefit at all. In a study published in "The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research," scientists followed young adults throughout 24 sessions of Bikram yoga. Each session lasted 90 minutes, and subjects practiced three sessions per week. The results? No measurable cardio or aerobic benefit whatsoever.
Even if you still need to hit the track for your cardio, don't dismiss hot yoga just yet. It offers many perks such as enhanced flexibility, increased strength and better balance. It can improve your posture and increase lung capacity; even though it is not aerobic, the breathing exercises still give your lungs a workout. The more vigorous yoga forms tone your muscles, and all styles reduce the stress that can lead to overeating and poor lifestyle decisions. By increasing coordination and range of motion, hot yoga might even prevent you from falling or otherwise injuring yourself.
Hot yoga is not safe for everyone. Avoid the sweltering studio if you have heart concerns or have suffered from heat-related illnesses in the past. If you do brave hot yoga, take care not to strain. Overuse injuries may occur in the neck, back, knees and other areas if you push too hard. Yoga may also be dangerous if you have advanced osteoporosis or ear problems. If you are pregnant, just say no.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.