If you’ve seen anything about hot yoga online or talked with certain yoga teachers, studios, or students you’ve probably seen/heard claims that these heated classes remove toxins from the body through sweat. Here’s the thing…that’s bullshit.
Let’s start with an short anatomy lesson to understand how the body actually detoxes itself.
This is a large, meaty organ located on the right side of your body under your rib cage. The liver filters all the blood coming from the stomach and intestines, breaks, balances, and creates nutrients for the body to use. It also metabolizes drugs, making them easier for the body to use. Some of the others things the liver does – production of bile to help carry away waste and break down fats in the small intestine during digestion, produce certain proteins for plasma, store & release glucose, conversion of ammonia into urea which is major organic component of urine, clears the blood of drugs and other harmful substances. When the liver breaks down harmful substances they are released into blood or bile. Bile by-products enter the intestines and exit the body as poop. Blood by-products are filtered out by the kidneys and exit the body as pee.
Your kidneys are two bean shaped organs about the size of your fist located below your rib cage on either side of your spine. These organs filter your blood of by-products from the liver, waste from food you eat and normal breakdown of active muscle, and extra water. These are then exit the body as urine.
Basically, if your liver and kidneys are functioning properly and you are pooping and peeing then your body is removing toxins all on its own. It doesn’t need your help.
Right now you might be thinking, “But wait. What about sweat? Sweat isn’t mentioned in either of those descriptions. My yoga teacher says that sweating helps the body detox.” Let’s talk about perspiration.
Perspiration, aka sweating, in your body’s way of cooling itself. Clear liquid is excreted from sweat glands either due to increased body temperature (i.e. fever or being in a hot room) and/or the activation of your sympathetic nervous system (when you are anxious) resulting in the release of adrenaline.
Tada! That’s it.
Now, some people are going to argue that studies have found heavy metals in sweat. While this might happen, when you actually look at the levels of heavy metals they are so minuscule that there’s no benefit. And there’s really no proof that these heavy metals were “sweated” out, but could be found on the surface of the skin because we are constantly being exposed to heavy metals in many ways. However, for the fun of it let’s pretend for a second that the level of heavy metals found in sweat would actually be of benefit to the body. If you are someone who doesn’t rinse off or change clothes after getting sweaty, this means your body would be reabsorbing everything in your sweat and you would be undoing everything.
I have taught a lot of hot yoga classes over the last three years. Some students genuinely enjoy the heat, and I’ve had some students with arthritis tell me the heat makes their joints feel better. Those are valid reasons to be in a hot yoga class. However, a lot of students come to the practice because of the misinformation that is floating around. Hot yoga will not help you “sweat out” a cold or hangover.
Your body is actually quite an intelligent machine. Let it do its job. If you start to notice concerning changes, please contact a medical professional.