While a hot yoga practice can bring many benefits—better physical fitness, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced stress, depression, and anxiety—it’s a different story for pregnant women.
Is hot yoga safe?
No published studies on the safety of hot yoga for pregnant women and their fetuses currently exist. Yoga instructors and studios tend to encourage women to check in with their doctors before participating in this form of yoga—and for good reason. Hot yoga is a more vigorous form of exercise that involves standard yoga postures in rooms heated to 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit—sometimes with a humidity of 40 percent. This type of yoga includes Bikram-style as well as any vinyasa or “flow” class that takes place in a heated room.
As a registered yoga teacher and new mother myself, I understand the allure of hot yoga. I also remember the desire to feel like “yourself” while pregnant, especially if hot yoga is a major part of your fitness routine. When I was expecting my son, I stuck with my own hot yoga practice. But, as a teacher and longtime student of yoga, I knew I needed to make every effort to be in tune with my body as well as regularly check in with my doctor. I drank water during class, walked out of a studio rooms for mini-breaks, adhered to all prenatal modifications, and reduced the number of times I practiced in general. All that being said, I still advise pregnant women to skip hot yoga for other alternatives whenever possible because is it still risky.
Do talk to to your doctor.
If you’re an avid hot yoga student, the first thing to do after learning you are pregnant is to chat with your healthcare provider. He or she will help you determine what is best for your body. Some pregnancies are higher risk than others for a variety of reasons that you may not be aware of.
“As soon as a student shares the excitement of a pregnancy with me, I ask them if they have talked to their doctor about hot yoga,” says Tiffany Thomas, an E-RYT 200 certified yoga instructor. “After checking in with what their doctor said, I outline modifications for the prenatal student, and then I leave it to the student to decide.”
Don’t practice hot yoga if you’ve never done it before.
A big rule of thumb for expecting mothers when it comes to fitness is: When you’re pregnant, stick to what you know and avoid adding any new, vigorous forms of exercise.
Let’s say you are a consistent runner, and you find out you are ten weeks pregnant. Maybe you choose to add in prenatal yoga or more daily walks, but you probably wouldn’t sign up for a Crossfit class series or drop in sprint intervals to each run, right? Common sense says yes, and your body does, too. The same is true for hot yoga: if you’ve never taken a hot yoga class, save it for after your pregnancy.
Do listen to your body and let go of your ego.
Women, especially while pregnant, tend to have a deep-rooted understanding of what’s best for themselves and their bodies and most yoga teachers want you to honor this whenever possible. It’s important to trust what feels okay in your body versus only doing what is deemed “right” or what you “should do,” but in a way that is mindful.
“Be sensitive to whatever is going on for you and your body every single day,” advises Ariele Foster, Physical Therapist and DPT, E-RYT 500 certified trainer. “I hear a lot of people say, ‘Listen to your body,’ which is a nice sentiment, but also limiting, because people get a little buzzed from the endorphins of working out. That’s not a bad thing, of course—I want my students to feel peaceful, centered, and awash in good mojo during a yoga practice—but it makes it difficult to listen to your body and easier to push past where you need to be or go.”
Don’t minimize the risk involved with hot yoga.
The number one risk of practicing hot yoga while pregnant is the heat itself. “While mom can cool down, it’s very different for baby,” said Thomas.
“Heat is a risk factor for anyone with cardiac issues, and particularly for pregnant women,” notes Foster. “Heat makes it harder for your heart to pump blood and puts pressure on the aorta, so you must be mindful of safety and basics when it comes to physical activity. Furthermore, the challenge of heat means it’s easier to overdo it without knowing it.”
“Additionally, your body isn’t the same during pregnancy,” adds Foster. “Due to a hormone called relaxin, your ligaments are actually relaxed to make space for baby. This combination of increased flexibility plus heat adds up to a big challenge for expecting mothers during a hot yoga practice. There’s also the human tendency to accomplish what you’re told to do or push yourself further, whether at a studio or with an at-home, self-led practice, which can lead to injury or risk.”
Do explore modifications—aka, you can still practice yoga.
The good news: whether you practice hot yoga or not, there are plenty of modifications that allow you to retain the benefits of a yoga practice in general while staying safe during pregnancy.
“Stay away from deep twists, deep backbends, and middle of the room inversions,” said Thomas. “I always explain the ‘why’ of which elements of poses should be avoided, because I’ve found that if students understand what is happening in their body, and why it may or may not be safe, it informs their practice. There is a common misconception that if things feel okay, than they are okay, which is not always true, particularly with ab work while pregnant.”
Don’t view your pregnancy as a disease.
When you get pregnant, it can feel like you’re not “allowed” to do anything fun anymore considering the usual nix on things like sushi, sandwiches, intense exercise and alcohol. But, pregnancy is not a disease or symptom to manage. It’s a beautiful, unique experience that allows you to get to know your body while it’s focused on the incredible task of growing a human. Most of all, you can still make fitness a priority in your life during these special nine months of pregnancy.
Do take advantage of other fitness opportunities.
“Pregnancy is exciting, and it’s a great time to soften and find strength in stillness. Spend time exploring other aspects of yoga, such as meditation, gentle stretching, breathing and prenatal,” offers Thomas. “There will be plenty of time after the baby is born to tackle your yoga goals in a more physical way.”
“Look at your pregnancy as an opportunity. If you’ve never tried different types of yoga, or mostly stuck to power or hot quick flows, this is a great time to experiment. Try new teachers, classes, and yoga types. Find something else out there with respect to yoga that you can love in a new way,” said Foster. “Prenatal classes can be very empowering. They can help you learn tools to modify your yoga practice in a safe way.”
The bottom line: hot yoga involves certain considerations that pregnant women must take into account before practicing. While there’s no official rule against doing hot yoga while expecting, be safe before putting yourself—and your baby—at risk.
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