How Heat helps Healing

10 weeks ago yesterday I broke my spine in a motorbike accident – you can read what happened here. Initially I was told I had broken my L1 vertebra and was prescribed a back brace, crutches and an unholy amount of cocodamol which I never took.

really needed the back brace and the crutches after the accident. I couldn’t walk on my own without the support of both. And even with those two to help me, I couldn’t make myself a cup of tea or run myself a bath for the first 2 weeks. I felt close to completely helpless. The only thing I could do was sleep, read, watch Netlfix (obviously) and practice copious amounts Yoga Nidra to hopefully boost my healing response. I knew I was one of the lucky ones, that I could heal, but it didn’t stop the difficult moments getting to me.

Sinead's feet relaxing and ready to heal

The accident was July 17th. It has taught me that I really am not someone to take this lying down (so to speak!). I did as much as I could whenever I could. As soon as I could make my own lunches and dinners, I was cooking. As soon as I could carry lightweight objects, I was putting the rubbish out. As soon as I could drive, or perhaps a little too soon before I could drive, I was behind the wheel.

So of course as soon as I could make any movement that resembled a physical Yoga practice, I was timidly rolling out my mat and making simple movements. With a big focus on regaining strength and stability.

By August the 20th, a month following breaking my spine, I was in the hot studio for a trial class for our new Teacher Molly. By then I was moving towards a Down Dog and taking slow and careful lunges. As my confidence grew, I started to try more and more practice in the heat and at home.

I found at home I would feel twinges quickly and not have much stamina. When I was in the heat I was still practicing very mindfully, but I felt less twinges, I had more mobility, more strength and stability, and didn’t ache at all for the rest of the day afterwards. In fact I felt fantastic!

Now 10 weeks in since the accident, I have just attended Aaron’s Fierce Furie class at 6:30am and have been practicing what felt like a pretty strong Bakasana (crow)!

Sinead in crow pose before her motorbike accident.
Taken before the accident, of course!

What is it about the heat that has helped me to heal so much? And is there something in this for everyone who suffers an injury?

Firstly I would like to point out that I’ve had years of studying anatomy and how the body moves, and on top of that I’ve had years of studying myself and how I feel and respond to sensations. So it’s very likely that my knowledge of my own body has really helped me along this path of recovery.

But I know that the heat has helped me, my subjective feeling is that it’s sped up my healing my process. I thought I would research to see if there was science to back up my claims.

Of course online we can find articles for and against any case of any thing – including heat and injury recovery! So I’ve been hunting for studies instead of articles.

Example of another student doing bakasana aka crow pose

One study published in 2013 looked at the effects of cold and heat exposure on both male and female subjects and found “heat is beneficial in increasing muscle and ligament flexibility and may help reduce athletic injuries, but cold treatment may have the opposite effect.”

Throughout my research I managed to find a critical review of the effects of Hot Yoga on health. The report stated that Hot Yoga “has been shown to improve lower body strength, lower and upper body range of motion, and balance in healthy adults”, furthermore that Hot Yoga “may, in some populations, improve glucose tolerance, bone mineral density, blood lipid profile, arterial stiffness, mindfulness, and perceived stress”.

This information is useful to me, as of course I have been recovering strength, and alongside that I have felt that adding bone density and putting the right kind of load stressors through the healing bones have been of the utmost importance.

Sinead teaching a hot class at Yogafurie

From my understanding of anatomy, when I broke the vertebra, that wasn’t the only thing that was hurt. I took a few big knocks and landed with speed and force, sending a force of compression through my entire torso. The impact of the landing, and the broken bone, would have caused damage to nearby organs and to surrounding muscular and connective tissue structures. It’s not only the bone that needed to heal.

Along the spine we have plenty of muscle groups, joints, ligaments and more, all working together as connective tissue. They support us and the spine through a wide range of motion and load bearing. Part of my recovery has been in regaining strength, stability and range of motion in the joints and connective tissue surrounding the injury site too.

Sinead before the accident happened in a side crow.

All in all I’m simply pleased. It was a rough ride but I managed to pick up a few gems along the way. I’m grateful and feel humbled that I have been able to recover with plenty of support around me from friends, family, Yogafurie staff and Yogafurie members! Also my personal take is that mindful hot yoga has really helped me heal.

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