Compared with some other forms of yoga, such as Iyengar, Bikram yoga has not been extensively researched by the scientific community. The reports about this type of yoga are largely based on the views of either Bikram fans or those who believe the claims about it are simply hype. However, Bikram Choudhury's system is undeniably yoga and, therefore, offers similar fitness benefits as other hatha yoga classes.
There are some incontrovertible facts about Bikram yoga. Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga champion, devised his 26 posture system based on his expertise in hatha yoga. He launched it in the 1970s and his organization's world headquarters are based in Los Angeles. The room in which participants take the class is heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. Choudhury says that this mimics the environmental conditions of his native India. A class lasts 90 minutes during which time the students move through the 26 postures twice. Bikram yoga is a copyrighted name and only teachers trained through the Bikram yoga organization are entitled to market classes with the name "Bikram yoga." Classes using the name "hot yoga" have similarities, but are not part of the Bikram franchise.
Choudhury, and Bikram fans, claim there are many advantages of practicing in heat. The primary claim is that the extreme heat warms the muscles allowing the student to perform deeper stretches. Choudhury also suggests that the excessive sweating during a class removes toxins in the body faster than in a standard yoga class. It also raises the heart rate, which may be a problem for some people, however.The heat is not suitable for pregnant women, people with heart disease or a history of heat-related illness such as dehydration or heat stroke. They should avoid Bikram yoga, or at least discuss it with a doctor before starting such classes.
Bikram's official website states that the 26 asanas are a systematic method of moving fresh, oxygenated blood around the body to restore health. It is also claims that the order of the postures is scientifically designed to "stretch and warm muscles, ligaments and tendons, in the order they should be stretched." The postures are dynamic and predominantly involve standing, or sitting and twisting. There is little time for lying down in Corpse pose in a Bikram class. The Mayo Clinic's view is that the postures are "lengthy, forceful and well-controlled," but that a healthy person should have no problems with a Bikram class as along as she stays well-hydrated.
Stress is a feature of contemporary living. However, people perceive stress and cope with it in individual ways. We now recognize the myriad effects stress has on our physical health not to mention our emotional and mental health. Yoga of any kind is considered a stress-reducer by the medical community. However, some people wonder if Bikram yoga's rigorous routine is more likely to increase stress rather than reduce it. Research at Boise State University Exercise & Sports Studies Department shows that after an 8-week Bikram program, participants reported a reduction in stress perception. According to the report, the results are consistent with clinical research by Woolery et al published in the March-April 2004 issue of "Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine" concerning the stress-reduction benefits of Iyengar. The Boise State report attributes Bikram's stress reduction benefits to the mental challenge of performing the postures in a difficult environment.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.