It's no big secret that infrared saunas have become a hot commodity in recent years. Fans of these seriously sweaty sessions claim that infrared heat can increase metabolism, remove toxins, ease muscle and joint pain, and reduce the appearance of cellulite. In theory, you'll get all of the benefits of a day at the beach without exposing yourself to harmful UV rays from the sun.
So it should come as no surprise that fitness enthusiasts like David Beckham and Lady Gaga are jumping on the bandwagon at infrared group exercise classes across the country. "There has been a lot of research investigating the effects of heat stress and exercise on the physiological adaptations to heat acclimation," says Dr. Lorenzo Santiago, a former Olympian and assistant professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, FL. "It is well-documented that heat acclimation improves heat tolerance and performance in a hot environment."
As a fitness writer, I'm used to trying out all of the latest workout crazes in the name of "research," but even I was intrigued after hearing all of the hype about infrared workouts. So, after conducting a quick Yelp search for the hottest Spinning, Pilates, and yoga studios on my iPhone, I decided to sign myself up for an infrared yoga class at Vibes Hot Yoga in Newport Beach, CA. I've been practicing yoga on and off for almost 20 years, but even I was seriously intimidated by the idea of doing Crow Pose in a 112-degree room.
Twenty-four hours later, I found myself standing in a dark studio surrounded by several dozen yogis dressed head to toe in Lululemon. I already regretted the giant bowl of pasta and fried calamari I had inhaled at my birthday celebration the night before. Somehow, I resisted the urge to flee the room, exhaling my nervous energy before unrolling my new Yogitoes towel instead.
I spent the next 75 minutes dripping sweat as I flowed from Sun Salutation to Sun Salutation, stopping only to refill my water bottle. I've taken plenty of hot yoga classes before, but I have never in my life experienced anything like infrared yoga. Initially, I felt a sense of calm wash over me as my body immediately relaxed into forward-facing bends and runner's lunges.
My instructor, Cheri, was upbeat and bubbly, constantly encouraging the class to push themselves to go even deeper. As I contorted my body into Twisted Tree Pose and Happy Baby, I couldn't help but feel a sense of camaraderie with the dozens of scantily clad strangers around me. As Cheri instructed us to lay down for Savasana, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I did it! I survived an infrared yoga class! I was already making a mental list of friends to call on my drive home to boast about my latest accomplishment when I had an epiphany.
We were only halfway through class.
OMG, seriously? I swore under my breath while trying to regain my composure. Every yoga class I have ever taken has saved Savasana for our final resting pose. It's like the reward for pushing yourself to your physical limits. That said, I really did need the break, so I wiped the sweat off my brow then forced myself back on my feet for another 40 minutes.
And, let me tell you, it wasn't easy. I huffed and I puffed and nearly blew the house down! Not only was I drenched in sweat by the end of the 75 minutes. I could barely even stand up anymore. Plus, I was so thirsty. This class challenged me in a way I literally haven't been challenged in years. It was a-m-az-ing!
I loved getting lost in the pop-rock soundtrack, which helped me flow through Sun Salutations while purple and orange lights flashed in time to the music. There was also a Himalayan salt wall, which acted as both tantalizing room decor and a natural air purifier, detoxifying the space so that we could all breathe a little easier. I'm not sure whether it really worked or not, but, regardless of whether or not it was a Jedi mind trick, I really did believe my body was detoxifying. And, really, that's half the battle, isn't it?
Despite my initial trepidation, I felt relieved in more ways than one when the class finally ended. Not only had I accomplished something difficult, but I stuck it out all the way until the end. Truth be told, I didn't drink enough water before class, which left me with a raging headache that day. I was so miserable I actually had to take a nap at 4 in the afternoon. But, once I replenished with more H2O at home, I can honestly say that I felt better than I have in ages.
That's not to say I'll be trading my regular yoga practice for an infrared pass anytime soon. I had a love-hate relationship with the class. Yes, it worked wonders, but the journey was definitely a little more intense than I like my yoga. But, on days when I need an extra challenge — or have just indulged in a giant bowl of pasta — I definitely won't be afraid to turn up the heat again.