Mindful Movement Science (#MMS): Why Hot Hatha Yoga? Do you know about the Telomere effect?
Do you feel injured, old, tired, sore, scatterbrained, sick, stiff, weak, out of shape, over- or under- weight, depressed, bored, run-down, or just plain off?
Do you want to access to the benefits of anti-aging, disease-fighting, functional movement, and proper anatomical alignment that reduces and prevents pain, strengthens, lengthens, and corrects muscles, balance and flexibility, and regulates (calms or energises as appropriate) the whole mindbody from the inside out?
Practice hot hatha yoga!
Hot hatha yoga gives loads of value for your time and money, especially at Mindful Movement, where group based classes are donation-based and there is no minimum or set donations (yep--that is self-promo!). But seriously, it is possible that you cannot afford not to practice hot hatha yoga.
You may be thinking, "I have heard these claims before from hot yoga enthusiasts or fitness marketeers." While there is a dearth of specific studies, the benefits of hatha yoga, if practiced frequently with purpose and proper technique, can be explained psychologically, anatomically, biomechanically and biochemically, and many, including me, can give personal testimony after decades of practice, but now science offers some researched-based insights into why this yoga may work as well as it does.
I believe hot hatha yoga is so powerful because it includes what science has begun to tell us works well to maintain, stabilize, regenerate, and lengthen (if shortened) telomeres--(1) mindful movement meditation (qi gong), (2) HiiT (high-intensity interval training), and (3) heat (or hypothermia) therapy, not to mention being present and eating and sleeping well. Of course, eat, sleep and move sounds all too familiar. There are various ways to practice these activities. We can do qi gong, take any HiiT class at a gym, and spend some time in a sauna. Indeed, I sometimes do and enjoy all three of these activities, However, if you are like me--short on time and money-- why not get the benefits of all three of these telomere enhancing activities in one hot hatha yoga class?
Based on my experience and research, I also believe practicing hot hatha yoga with purpose, proper technique and frequency over time helps us stay present, regulate metabolism, and eat and sleep well. Finally, science is becoming available (or catching up).
In 2009, researchers won the Nobel Prize for Medical or Physiology Research for their work on telomeres. As their website notes, it is hard, even for the primary scientists, to keep up with the explosion of research following their book The Telomere Effect. The application of this research to practice is new and the study of its application even newer but the telomere effect has been shown to be causal regarding aging and disease, not just correlated. For some examples of the research explosion, emerging studies suggest that all cardio is not equal. Whereas activities like hot hatha yoga (combine movement meditation, HiiT and heat-- 3 activities shown to positively affect telomeres) traditional cardio, such as step, spin, running, aerobics etc., may actually stress and damage telomeres, and consequently hinder rather than help us live healthier. Another example to keep an eye on is heat/Sauna therapy. While also understudied, at least in the UK, USA and in English, research exists that support its benefits. For another example, thermodynamics has been shown to repair telomeres damage, such as by drug use/addiction. For more see Dr. Rhonda Patrick on heat therapy; here she also explains mediation's role in rebuilding telomere health. It's important to note that benefits increase with experience, i.e. experienced meditators get more benefits from practicing than novices. It is also important to note that telomere length is genetic and developed prenatally. However, epidemiology and epigenetics tells us that we can do a lot -- like the telomere 3 -- to help ourselves live healthier (and longer) lives.
As far as I know, there are not specific telomere studies on hot hatha yoga in the Ghosh tradition, but it is possible to extrapolate from existing studies on heat, HiiT and movement meditation why practicing this yoga may be so powerful.
Find out for yourself. Commit to practicing 3xweek for 3 months and see what happens.
Steph Curley, Ph.D., is an academic researcher, educator and practitioner for over 25 years. The MMS is for a popular, not academic audience, but Steph shares some of the science behind Mindful Movement and the practices, education and methodologies that she uses. Steph is owner/director of Mindful Movement, a community organisation, as well as a Research Fellow in the Education and Social Research Institute and the Biosocial Lab at Manchester Metropolitan University.