Get ready: The holiday season — and all its chaos — is swiftly approaching. Somehow, our favorite time of the year as kids becomes anything but merry as adults. In anticipation of all the travel to book, the time-off to request and those awkward run-ins with family members that you’d rather avoid, it’s important to make self-care a priority before the holidays roll around.
If only a miraculous technique existed to tackle the monster that is holiday stress head-on… Oh yeah: Hot Yoga.
As winter weather begins to cool the earth, a warm ‘n steamy hot yoga practice will be your new best friend — guaranteed. Why? Because it’s the ultimate way to get pro-active about your wellness this holiday season. Taking place in heated rooms that range from 95-105 degrees Farenheit, its many variations — from Bikram to Vinyasa Flow — all boast serious stress-fighting properties that’ll obliterate your holiday blues.
As it’s fighting stress levels at the biological level with mood-enhancing, resiliency-promoting hormones that rebalance your brain chemistry, it’s also improving your overall stress-tolerance from the outside-in, thanks to its documented community-building effects — and those are only some of the benefits. Here are the Top 5 reasons why hot yoga can de-stress (and warm you up) this holiday season.
5.) Hot Yoga reduces stress at the biological level by reducing the stress hormone, cortisol
As all-consuming as it can feel, stress is — biologically speaking — a hormone called cortisol. When faced with real or perceived stress, the presence of the chemical is what cues your sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response — sweaty palms, palpitations and all.
As your physical symptoms of stress begin to manifest (i.e. an elevated heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, less blood flow to your digestive tract, etc.), your cognitive processes — namely, thoughts and emotions — reflect your body’s fearful state. If left unchecked, the interplay of our stress responses can spiral into a self-perpetuating cycle of destructive stress and anxiety.
And yet — there’s hope! As Dr. Saltzman told Everyday Health, “It is established science that yoga destroys and metabolizes stress hormones.” In other words, clinical findings confirm what Dr. Hopkins de Boer presented to the ADAA Conference in 2015, “Research has linked yoga to reduced levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.”
And there you have it: Yoga helps us to tame our bodies’ runaway stress response by reducing stress hormones at the biological level. So, the theory that hot yoga amplifies these benefits is already sounding pretty great.
4.) Hot yoga improves “stress tolerance” through the release of mood-boosting endorphins
Hot yoga’s anti-stress qualities go well beyond reducing cortisol. It also provides you with mood-boosting and mood-stabilizing chemicals — namely, endorphins and dopamine — that equip you to perceive and handle stress better. Even when the external situation has not changed, practitioners still benefit from a sense of well-being and calm internally.
Let’s not gloss over this fact: Your brain “on yoga” enables you to perceive the same stress in a less negative way. In essence, you are “re-framing” your situation with the uplifting assistance of your body’s “happy hormones” — a cognitive tool that therapists are paid hefty sums to help clients do in therapy.
To drive the point home, a study of Bikram Yoga’s efficacy as a stress management technique for college students found, “Yoga reduces the body’s response to stress with an improvement in perception of stress, self-confidence, and an overall sense of well-being.”
In the same study, Bikram yoga — practiced at a room temp of 105 degrees — has a profound health-promoting effect on chronic stress, stress-related illness, and even sleep quality.
3.) Hot Yoga’s emphasis on breathwork helps rebalance your brain chemistry
All forms of yoga emphasize breathwork. Yoga instructors guide attention back to the breath repeatedly, and some hot yoga practices even designate allotted time for breathing exercises at the beginning of every class.
So what is it about your breath that is so important for stress-reduction? Well, Vogue interviewed the ultimate breath-master, Sudarshan Kriya, whose controlled breathing expertise is unparalleled. According to Kriya, specific breathing practices activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is your body’s natural counter-response to the activating stress-response. Specifically, Kriya’s findings state that “If you deepen your breath, if you slow your breath, and in particular if you lengthen exhales, your heart rate decreases, your blood pressure decreases, and you’re tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system.”
In other words, breathwork cues your body’s natural “relaxation response.” By engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, your body can regulate the symptoms of physical arousal triggered by the stress response. The breathing techniques you’ll learn in class thus help you restore homeostasis, returning your stats to pre-stress levels. ‘Nuff said.
2.) Sweating doesn’t just have health benefits — it helps you manage stress, too
Hot yoga’s signature increase in room temp flaunts a number of advantages, ranging from increased flexibility, to less time spent warming up, and even weight loss. Oh — it’s also majorly detoxifying because you’ll be sweating buckets.
As Power Yoga describes, “The artificial heat and humidity primes the body for the elimination of toxins through the activation of the lymphatic system, and increases blood circulation, which supports the metabolic processes of organs and glands.”
Sweating out our body’s subcutaneous toxins regularly in hot yoga practice sounds great. So do the other benefits of sweating, which include skin- and pore-cleansing benefits, as well being the conduit for those mood-boosting endorphins, which we already know bolster your stress tolerance.
This game-changing study, released by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, found that the natural antidepressant effect of endorphins actually continues long into the future. “[Exercise] helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure… [You’ll] not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events.”
Basically, your yoga practice today yields benefits that go far beyond the short-term.
Coupled with The Royal Society Publishing’s findings in their Biology Letters, which revealed that synchronized, group exercise enhances the effect of endorphins, joining a hot yoga class is basically a bullseye. Getting in on that group yoga sesh doesn’t just flood you with endorphins (AKA nature’s antidepressant), but the group dynamic literally maximizes them.
1.) Attending hot yoga at a studio promotes bonding and socialization — two protective factors against stress
In the world of mental health, social connectedness is a protective factor against stress. While a sense of community alleviates feelings of alienation and loneliness, there is — as always — a corresponding biological process at work.
Oxytocin, the hormone associated with social bonding, works like magic against stress: “Adequate amounts of social support are associated with increases in levels of a hormone called oxytocin which functions to decrease anxiety levels and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system responses.”
Of course, a hot yoga studio also provides yogis with a common meeting place for socialization, but there are numerous pro-social benefits associated with group exercise and yoga. One study by the NCBI offers a sampling yoga’s multi-level benefits — ranging from improved interpersonal relationships due to personal growth, to the sense of connection you’ll feel to classmates and, particularly, your instructor.
Most notably, the study points to hot yoga’s community-building potential. The connection and bonding that occurs in the studio carries over into everyday life. In other words, individuals, in part, feel better able to handle life’s stresses because of the sense of belonging they feel.
The importance of community cannot be over-emphasized. Regular group practice in an environment that promotes social bonding instills yogis with the confidence that we’re all in it together. Stress always becomes more manageable when you’re not handling it alone.
This holiday season, remember: Practice makes perfect. And there’s no better way to learn to “go with the flow” than to literally flow through your hot yoga practice on the reg.
Want more ways to ensure a stress-free holiday season? Check out our Guide to Relieving Stress During the Holidays.