Bikram is a popular style of yoga that seeks to strengthen the body and spirit through high-intensity practice in a hot, strenuous environment. Since one goal of Bikram is to eliminate bodily toxins through excessive sweat, there is a serious risk of dehydration if you don't take appropriate precautions before and after class. Due to the intense nature of Bikram, you should consult your doctor prior to joining a class or if you experience any warning signs of dehydration during practice.
Bikram yoga studios are set to 105 degrees Fahrenheit in an effort to encourage emission of toxins through sweat. Performing athletic activities in such a hot environment causes most people to sweat 10 to 12 cups of water during a typical 90-minute session. If you step on the scale before and after a Bikram session you will likely find that you lost a pound or two; unfortunately, this weight loss is almost entirely due to dehydration and the weight will reappear as soon as you drink fluids and rehydrate your body.
Bikram's very hot exercise climate is one of several classroom factors that contribute to dehydration. Yoga studios must follow specific rules to market themselves as Bikram yoga, and some of those rules encourage short-term dehydration that may not be safe for all participants. The original rules devised by founder Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s completely prohibited participants from drinking water during class. In recent years, the official stance on drinking during class has been relaxed, although drinking is only encouraged during specified points of the class. Bikram studios also strongly discourage leaving the room for any purpose during class, unless required for a medical reason.
To maintain a safe level of hydration during Bikram you must prepare your body before class for its upcoming sweat. Drink at least eight cups of water about two hours prior to class, drink as much water as your instructor allows during class and drink at least eight cups of water immediately after class concludes. You can weigh yourself before class and a few hours after class to determine whether you have rehydrated enough; if you have lost more than a half pound during the day then you haven't consumed enough water to rehydrate successfully.
When you sweat your body emits more than just water. Sweating flushes out electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium and potassium that help your cells maintain proper ionic balance. When rehydrating after Bikram you should ingest mineral-rich water to replace the electrolytes lost during your session. Sports drinks, electrolyte mixes and certain juices like celery juice, apple juice and coconut water are also effective for restoring your mineral balance.
Bikram Choudhury referred to his studio as a "torture chamber," and the rules of Bikram yoga create a great deal of social pressure to continue through discomfort. Unfortunately, if your body becomes dehydrated in a hot environment it can lose the ability to cool itself properly and serious heat illness may result. People in the beginning stages of heat illness feel dizzy, lightheaded and nauseated as their internal body temperature increases. Strongly consider taking a break from class if you experience consistent nausea or dizziness. Signs of serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke include vomiting, cramps, trouble breathing and increased heart rate. You should leave the heated area immediately, drink fluids and seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms associated with heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Dan Howard is a sports and fitness aficionado who holds a master's degree in psychology. Howard's postgraduate research on the brain and learning has appeared in several academic books and peer-reviewed psychology journals.