Benefits of Mindfulness-oriented Yoga in a Warmer Environment

The scientific literature presents that regular yoga participation can result in improvements in muscular strength and endurance, balance, and flexibility.  When mindfulness meditation and breath awareness (literally focusing on breath) are integrated into a yoga practice, the data suggests improvements can occur in the areas of stress management, mindfulness, mood, and emotional well-being. Performing mindfulness-oriented yoga in a heated space can be a unique multipurpose experience. Yoga postures taught or experienced with attention to how our muscular-skeletal system is feeling and responding, help us to connect with our body, ultimately enhancing awareness and self-care. The increased temperature of the working muscles and associated structures reduces stiffness and pain, while increasing range of motion.  Research supports an inverse relationship between muscle temperature and stiffness, with heat contributing to the extensibility/lengthening of the muscle. The warmed tissue accompanied by static stretching—holding a muscle/muscle group towards the end of its range of motion—is a preferred method for lengthening a muscle group.

Plasticity is a characteristic of tissue to permanently change shape or form. Athletes/exercisers  participate in flexibility exercises by employing stretches; this may also be considered plasticity training.  Ideally, appropriate range of motion, specific to each muscular skeletal unit, optimizes stability, physical performance, and activities of daily living. Flexibility or plasticity training is often performed at the end of a “sweat session” as a means of increasing range of motion while the tissue is warm. A yoga session that starts in a warmer environment allows for increased blood flow to the working muscles and ultimately the skin, as an aspect of managing the body temperature. This can benefit the yoga participant, as they can move into postures with less stiffness and pain, while achieving greater range of motion. It is critical to keep in mind, however, that a goal for flexibility training or yoga is not hypermobility, i.e.  pushing the joint structures beyond the appropriate stable range of motion. Hypermobility can contribute to joint laxity, weakness, and damage. The American College of Medicine recommends holding a stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and to work towards accumulating 60 seconds of lengthening time among several repetitions; therefore, in a yoga class it is beneficial to hold a stretching posture for at least 10 seconds and to repeat the position.

In a warm environment it is essential to stay hydrated, taking in fluids before, during, and after the activity. Our bodies acclimate to warmer temperatures over time, so easing into a yoga or exercise session in a warmer than usual environment should be done with caution (checking with your physician before starting something new is prudent). Our bodies can cool through sweat evaporation and air/wind moving across the skin, so it is important to wear breathable clothing with a fair amount of skin surface exposed to maintain the body’s desirable internal temperature.

 A mindfulness-oriented yoga experience can support a bond between the participant and their physical body from a perspective of appreciation and care. It gives us an opportunity to pause and notice tightness, pain, stiffness, or fatigue (maybe less evident in a warmer environment) and have compassion for ourselves. Conversely, we may celebrate improved muscular strength and endurance, or better balance and range of motion—whatever is happening is happening on any given day. With mindfulness meditation and breath awareness, our connections can shift beyond our body to our feelings and emotions—truly a mind-body experience. Why not give it a try--don’t miss an opportunity to bolster your well-being, wrapped up in warmth, connection, and acceptance.