The science behind hot yoga’s chill factor

Scientific research for yoga being good for your mind and body continues to mount. Two new studies have shown that hot yoga can decrease your stress, reduce emotional eating and help you cope with day to day problems — especially if you’re stressed out to begin with.

Conducted on women exhibiting some signs of depression, such as high stress levels and unhealthy dieting patterns, both studies examined the impact that twice-weekly sessions of hot or Bikram yoga had on their mood. What they both found was that the yoga reduced the stress levels, both mentally and physically.

Researchers from the study by San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Centre even pointed to previous studies, which showed that while both yoga and aerobic exercise reduced perceived stress (how the participant felt), only yoga reduced salivary cortisol (the physical symptoms of stress).

The reason they went with hot yoga is because it teaches participants to regulate their emotional responses, and to persist in doing something difficult, while being exposed to heat and uncomfortable bodily sensations. Essentially, training in a stressful situation teaches your body to deal with stress better.

Dr Maren Nyer from Massachusetts General Hospital conducted the second study, and points to yoga rebalancing the two parts of the nervous system: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. Stress increases activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which controls arousal and the flight/fight response, overtaking the parasympathetic system, responsible for rest and relaxation.

“We live in these constantly stressed states,” says Nyer. “Yoga helps us return to homeostasis.”