Yoga Explained: Some like it hot!

By: Olivia Morrison

When Cat Morrison walked into a hot yoga studio in Jacksonville, Florida wearing a T-shirt and cotton pants – a lone-rider surrounded by a sea of booty shorts and lulu lemon sports bras – she would never have guessed that a mere three years later she would be standing in her very own hot yoga studio, The Sweaty Buddha, the only hot yoga studio in Durango, Colorado. Five years later and hot yoga is the oxygen that keeps her heart pumping; truly, she can’t imagine living her life without it. 

Yoga is an art that combines physical and mental health. It emphasizes four principles: 1) that the body is a sacred entity in which the “health or illness of any one dimension” impacts other dimensions; 2) each body is different and the practice of yoga must be tailored to each individual’s needs; 3) yoga is self-empowering and self-initiated meaning the “the healing must come from within,” and lastly 4) the yogi must have a positive mind-state, “otherwise the healing process will be inhibited” (Woodyard, 2011). Among many positive health benefits, yoga is known to “enhance wellbeing, alleviate stress, and improve psychological function” (Hewett et al, 2011). Hot yoga, more specifically, has also been found to increase overall mindfulness and significantly reduce perceived stress (Hewett et al, 2011). Its benefits on physical health are also multifaceted. The practice of hot yoga is linked to an increase in VO2 max – the rate at which oxygen is consumed – and, after 8 weeks of hot yoga practice, it has been found that one’s flexibility and balance will drastically improve (Hewett et al, 2011). 

So, what is hot yoga? The main difference between a hot yoga class and a regular yoga class is that…well… it gets a little hot! A hot yoga class must be facilitated in a heated environment of 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40-60% humidity (Hewett et al, 2015).  This “heated environment helps warm and prepare the body for movement”  (Hewett et al, 2015).  The heat also acts as a lubricant for the muscles and joints, offering more flexibility.  A hot yoga class originated from Bikram, which consists of 26 sequential hatha yoga postures and two breathing exercises (Hunter et al, 2018). A regular 90-minute hot yoga class begins with pranayama (deep breathing) and is followed by standing asanas, which means posture. The standing sequence is followed with savasana,“supine relaxation,” which might look like doing a “corpse pose” or lying flat on the floor. This is followed with a sequence of floor asanas, and seated kapalabhati, breathing exercises such as “quick, strong exhalations” and concludes with a final savasana (Hewett et al, 2015). 

As a Colorado-ian, Cat has always loved a great physical feat. Yet, Cat’s definition of a physical challenge is strikingly different to that of the average individual. She is a retired professional mountain biker who has competed in an array of races, including the women’s solo single category at the 24 Hour Mountain Bike National Championship in Moab, Utah! Yet, the heat and humidity of hot yoga, coupled with the challenging poses and breathing sequences offers a new type of physical challenge for Cat. 

After attending that first class in Jacksonville, drenched in her own sweat, her cotton attire soaking wet, she learned that hot yoga follows the same series every class. She thought “I could never do this every time!”  Despite her unfamiliarity with hot yoga, she went back the next day for a second time,  this time knowing what to expect. She came prepared with less restrictive, more breathable clothes and had a blast; after the second class, she experienced what she explains is like the ‘runner’s high’ but a thousand times more exhilarating. Finally, she went back a third time, and knew that she needed hot yoga in her life everyday. Returning to Durango Colorado, she wanted not only to continue to practice hot yoga, but to share her excitement and joy for what she experienced in Florida with her own community. After she started practicing hot yoga with a friend in her house (a makeshift studio of sorts)they discussed starting their own hot yoga studio to offer the same sense of clarity, exhilaration and positivity they felt after finishing a hot yoga class for Durango. 

Soon after, Cat was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, meaning staying physical (and mentally positive) became a challenge. Yet, Cat quickly realized that hot yoga, not only helped her practice more mindfulness, but it also provided immediate relief to all the pain she was experiencing from rheumatoid arthritis – more so than the pills she was prescribed by her doctor. Hot yoga even decreased swelling. Numerous studies have found that “asana and meditation reduces pain while improving flexibility and functional mobility in people with a number of conditions causing chronic pain” (Woodyard, 2011). In a sense, Cat likes to say the yoga found her. The immediate relief of pain combined with a passion to share her love for hot yoga with her community, was a catalyst that allowed this seedling of an idea to come into fruition…and, well…the rest is history. Cat’s perseverance and commitment to hot yoga highlights how powerful and successful you can be when you prioritize what makes your body feel good, and what makes you happy. It couldn’t be any simpler than that. Cat found the physical practice of yoga not only had positive effects on her mind and relieved pain, but found a compassion for wanting to share her experience of joy and catharsis with others. Cat epitomizes that living a healthy life will have an undeniable positive impact on your happiness and success. 

Cat Morrison owns The Sweaty Buddha, and when she’s not teaching classes, she is a Registered Nurse at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colorado. 

Reference List:

Hewett, Zoe L., et al. “An Examination of the Effectiveness of an 8-Week Bikram Yoga Program on Mindfulness, Perceived Stress, and Physical Fitness.” Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, vol. 9, no. 2, 2011, pp. 87–92., doi:10.1016/s1728-869x(12)60003-3. 

Hewett, Zoe L., et al. “The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Trial Recommendations.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2015, 2015, pp. 1–13., doi:10.1155/2015/428427. 

Hunter, Stacy D., et al. “Effects of Yoga Interventions Practised in Heated and Thermoneutral Conditions on Endothelium-Dependent Vasodilatation: The Bikram Yoga Heart Study.” Experimental Physiology, vol. 103, no. 3, 2018, pp. 391–396., doi:10.1113/ep086725. Woodyard, Catherine. “Exploring the Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life.” International Journal of Yoga, vol. 4, no. 2, 2011, p. 49., doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85485.

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