Dear Aunt Yoga,
Is there any truth to the idea that you can "sweat out toxins" by doing Bikram yoga? Since I live in the most humid place on Earth (Houston, Texas), shouldn't my toxins be all sweated out by now?
Sweaty in Texas
"Sweating out the toxins" has become quite the popular catchphrase lately. To their credit, I don't believe official Bikram yoga makes this claim, though other hot yoga styles may. Let's break this down, shall we, to what toxins we are talking about and how they may, or may not, exit the body.
Our bodies are exposed to all sorts of chemicals each day through environmental pollution, pesticides and preservatives in the food we eat, household cleaners, and those ingredients in cosmetics with too many consonants, to name just a few sources. Are these things bad for your body? Undoubtedly. The best way to detox is to take steps to minimize your regular exposure to all these chemicals by eating organic food, using natural cleaners, and wearing a portable air filter when you bike in heavy traffic. (Okay, that last one is a joke, but if you do it you can probably own that trend).
Your body is a pretty sophisticated little unit, so it has a system to get rid of things it can't use or doesn't need. After being broken down by your liver, toxins are excreted as either blood or bile, which are ultimately filtered by your kidneys and intestines, respectively, and leave the body in urine and feces, respectively. Sweat really isn't part of this equation.
The function of sweat is to cool your body down when it is overheated. This can happen during a vigorous exercise session (such as hot yoga) or by 9 a.m. on an August morning in the Bayou City. The cause of the sweat does not significantly affect its content, which is primarily water with traces of minerals, though not enough to merit the term detoxification.
Now, when it comes to sweating out the toxins in an exercise class, it's possible people are talking about last night's martini(s) and chili cheese fries. Small amounts of alcohol can be eliminated in perspiration, so if it feels good for you to sweat buckets with a hangover, go ahead. (Many find applying more chili cheese fries a more appealing solution.)
So, toxins issue aside, if you do hot yoga or Bikram, you will sweat. A lot. If that makes you feel cleansed, great. After hot yoga, be sure to drink a lot of water, since that will help your body rehydrate and move blood through your organs so they can continue to do one of their most important jobs: detoxification.