Why Hot Yoga is as harmful as Alcohol and Tobacco during Pregnancy

When you’re making another human life, you start taking much better care of your own. At least that’s what it took for me.

The first week I found out I was pregnant, I started driving slower. I started nourishing my body with vitamin rich fruits. I started prioritizing sleep. I reduced my hours at work. I stopped teaching hot yoga, even though I had worked so hard to get to teach at that particular studio, and risked not ever being able to teach there again. I stopped practicing fancy inversions like headstands and handstands. Sure, some of these things are nature’s doing – the extreme fatigue and food cravings – as a way to force me to use my energy to build a human, but the driving slower and the many other firm boundaries I began to set around my well-being were all things that I realized I could have or perhaps should have been doing anyway.

Self-care is something I preach, but didn’t practice. I would push myself to the limit, and enjoy a false sense of accomplishment if I could cram a million things into one day, day after day, week after week. At some point, if pregnancy wasn’t the reason, I would have burnt out. What was I proving to myself? I might be capable of surviving a plane crash and living in the jungle for 6 months but that doesn’t mean it would feel good.

The last few years have been a journey (as you might have read if you’ve been following this blog – though I have been neglecting it, so hello again)! I remember high school and feeling invincible, I remember college and feeling driven, I remember my first couple of “real world” jobs and feeling so grown up. But as that facade faded away and I started questioning and looking at the world differently, the last few years had some blurry moments.

I was committed to the well-being of others and knew I wanted to be of service after learning to teach yoga, adopting my dog and becoming vegan – but my long term future was never clear. I often imagined myself living in a treehouse out of the city running an animal sanctuary with baby goats, piglets, and like 20 dogs. I started to accept my life solo – after going through many short and disappointing relationships and being diagnosed with PCOS (a hormonal disorder that leads to infertility). But the world had other plans.

I met my now fiancé Reiss, moved downtown, got a full-time job and landed more regular teaching opportunities on the side, got my period back after a 2 year disappearance, traveled a lot, and what do you know – got pregnant.

Wow.

Suddenly, my future is all laid out.

And I’m not the star of the show, I get to be behind the scenes and help another life make it in this world – which is what I actually truly enjoy doing. It was a bit of a shock, but once I got my head around it, I realized I’m incredibly qualified for the life-long job of nurturing and mothering. All that inner desire to help people, all the love and commitment to my rescue fur-baby, all the times something inside of me said “you are meant to do more“.

My new job is scheduled to begin July 27th, 2020. Right now, in my 18th week of “school”, I am studying, I am preparing, I am practicing the highest level of self-care I’ve ever committed to in my life. Acupuncture every week. Taking time to rest. Baths. Reading time. Going to bed early. Snack breaks. Asking for help. No more hot yoga.

What? No more hot yoga? But.. ???

That’s right folks. Before I get into it – I want everyone to know that I’m all about women doing whatever they want with their bodies. But for me, practicing or teaching hot yoga during pregnancy is like smoking a pack of cigarettes or drinking a bottle of wine.

Sure, one can make the argument that a glass of wine or a cigarette here and there isn’t going to harm the baby. But if you don’t need to do it, why take the risk?

But hot yoga is healthy!” Yes it is, for some people. Not all people. And not tiny, developing people. “With the increased risk of neural tube defects and possibly of other malformations among fetuses exposed to excessive heat, pregnant women should avoid practising hot yoga during pregnancy,” –researchers with the Motherisk program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children write in the latest edition of the journal, Canadian Family Physician.

Pregnant women are given a laundry list of things to avoid including alcohol, cigarettes, many prescription and over the counter drugs such as Advil, excessive caffeine, processed foods, seafood, hot tubs, saunas, down-hill skiing, etc.

But that list is forgetting hot yoga. Bikram yoga, which, don’t get me wrong can do wonders for some people including my pre-pregnant self, is practiced at 105 °F with a humidity of 40%, intended to replicate the climate of India. This raises internal core body temperatures to dangerously high levels even in the fittest, strongest people especially if not practiced with adequate hydration, electrolytes and awareness.

It’s not the yoga, it’s the heat. Heat exhaustion is real. Fetal heat exhaustion is deadly. And during the first trimester, when 80% of miscarriages occur, many people still look physically able. I remember practicing alongside pregnant women in my Birkam classes and thinking “Wow, good for her, what a champion for being able to practice while pregnant“. But now I see them as if they were getting wasted in a bar or smoking in a car with the windows up without a seatbelt.

Despite what uneducated yoga teachers say, despite what Instagram says, despite what others have done, do what’s best for your health and the health of your unborn baby. Sure, you might know someone who practiced Bikram yoga and their baby turned out fine. I know many people who’s mothers smoked in pregnancy and they turned out fine. But that doesn’t make it healthy.

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Being pregnant has made me a much better yoga teacher. In the standard Canadian Yoga Alliance 200 hour yoga teacher training program that most teachers in Toronto are certified with, most programs will neglect to educate trainees on how to modify for pregnant bodies let alone what to discourage altogether. And since these programs are often taught by studios in the business of making money, the common curriculum is usually “make sure you ask at the beginning of class if anyone is pregnant“, and that’s it. When a teacher says “Listen to your body“, that’s translation for: “I don’t know the answer or how to assist you, so it’s all on you.”

Well I think as yoga teachers and studios we have a responsibility to prevent our students from causing themselves harm over making money.

Becoming pregnant was the best thing to ever happen to my life, my career, and my morals. I’m not afraid to use my voice for the voiceless, to stand up and say “factory farming is wrong”, “buying animals from breeders is wrong”, and “practicing hot yoga while pregnant is wrong”.

For now, I am no longer teaching hot yoga, but you can still find me teaching reduced-heat Yin yoga at Solis Movement and with the Nature of Yoga. 

Look inside of yourself. Take care. And be unapologetic about it.

xo
-Melissa

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