There's something absolutely magical about the blissful feeling you get after a yoga class. Equal parts calm and accomplishment, it sets the tone for a productive day (or closes one out).
While the ancient Indian practice has recently undergone some, ahem, quirky stylistic adaptations (see: goat yoga, naked yoga, drunk yoga), the benefits ranging from improving your cardiovascular health and easing lower-back pain to improving your self-esteem remain the same.
The latest variation to enter the scene? Cold yoga. Cue Brrrn, a New York City boutique studio that offers a chilly class they call "Flow," set in a 60-degree studio.
Before you say "WTH will they come up with next?" let's peek at the science behind cooler sweat sessions.
When you're cold, your body has to use more energy and work harder to maintain your core body temperature (shivering indeed burns calories). Cool environments could help better your sleep quality and can help your alertness—if you've ever tried to sleep without air conditioning in July, you know this is true. Some studies have suggested that exposure to colder temperatures be used as an alternative strategy for exercise, while others go so far as to claim that a lack of cold exposure is a contributing cause of obesity.
Being too cold, however, can do more harm than good. Research shows that although shivering requires energy, it can also impair skilled performance. But for the average person, if you're generating heat by moving your body, Brrrn's studio won't set your teeth to chattering. The class offerings vary in temperature—the coldest being for their strength-training class and the "warmest" at 60 degrees.
"Heat gets in the way of your workout performance," says Brrrn co-founder Johnny Adamic. "In cooler temperatures—anywhere from 40 to 64 degrees—your perceived rate of exertion is lower, which means you can work out harder and sustain your maximal best performance for longer."
In contrast, in ambient or hot environments, your perceived rate of exertion is higher (especially in hot yoga). This means that your body thinks it's working harder than it really is—in fact, a recent study found that Bikram yoga might not be as beneficial as it's hyped up to be. So what happens when the measure of success isn't how much you sweat, but how you feel once you tackle the mat? I went into Brrrn to find out.
First things first: The room is definitely chilly.
Usually, my go-to yoga ensemble is next-to-nothing—a sports bra and spandex shorts. This time around, I was dressed for success, wearing an Under Armour long-sleeve and full tights. I didn't think that 60 degrees would feel that brisk, but… yeah, it does.
The 50-minute class started off like most others in the category—a child's pose quickly turned into a vinyasa flow. Unlike other, more traditional options, no mats were used (the floor itself is made of a firm padding).
Before I knew it, the instructor was offering up modifications and advanced movements for attendees who've taken the studio's Flow class before, including extra push-ups during chaturanga. Toward the end of the class, we got into deeper stretches like pigeon and lizard. And of course, the whole thing culminated in savasana … and a side of heat.
"We do like heat, but just at the end of class in savasana," says Jimmy T. Martin, co-founder of Brrrn. "We turn on the infrared light in savasana because heat triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates our rest-and-digest physiologies. We essentially view heat as dessert, so it feels like a reward when we're lying still."
So, should you try it?
For what it's worth, I'll be going back. My triceps were on the sore side the following afternoon from those extra push-ups, and I liked that my hair was still in tip-top shape for the rest of the day. And while the lack of mats threw me off a tad, that definitely didn't change the effectiveness of the workout.
If you're concerned about safety, don't stress: Unless you're working at your absolute max, your muscles really perform the same way in the cold. In any temperature, dynamic stretching and light cardio (think: butt kicks, lunges, jumping jacks) are the best way to get your muscles warm and ready for action.
So sure, maybe we're running out of ways to make yoga fresh and entertaining for the people who aren't satisfied with a more traditional class. But if the workout is legit and you feel good after, then why not mix it up? I think cold yoga may be here to stay—and at the very least, it's a new trend worth trying out.