Does Bikram Help With Getting in Shape?

Hundreds practice Bikram yoga in the hot summer temperatures in Times Square.
i John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Of course, in a studio heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with at least 40 percent humidity, Bikram yoga will make you sweat. But getting in shape is more than just sweating. It’s about getting your heart rate up, burning calories, building strength and increasing flexibility. Bikram yogis claim the technique’s 90-minute sequence of 26 poses and two breathing exercises do all of those things to help you get in shape.

About Physical Fitness

    Getting physically fit isn’t about one form of exercise over another, but usually a combination of different types of workouts. For the health benefits of getting in shape, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get a bare minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities per week. For higher fitness levels, the CDC recommends adults get one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and two or more days of muscle-strengthening exercise per week.

Strength Building

    Yoga counts as a muscle-strengthening workout, according to the CDC. Bikram yoga’s hot room means your body warms up almost instantly. That means you build strength during the entire workout, according to Bikram Yoga Richmond. The technique builds the body’s strength through its 26 different poses. Focusing on the entire body, the stretch-and-hold poses often mean you are tightening and balancing many muscle groups at once.

Is Bikram Yoga Cardio?

    Any activity counts as cardio if you are breathing harder, your heart rate is faster, your intensity is moderate to strenuous and you sustain the workout for at least 10 minutes at a time, the CDC reports. By that definition, Bikram yoga will increase your heart rate above a restful rate and you will burn calories depending on how intensely you practice the poses. Bikram Yoga Portsmouth estimates you can burn at least 600 calories in a 90-minute class. For maximum weight loss benefits, however, you have to burn a lot of calories (3,500 calories equals one pound). Running at a moderate 6.7-mile-per-hour pace could burn between 405 and 855 calories per hour, for example, according to an article in “The Huffington Post” by fitness expert Ben Greenfield. To burn the same 800 calories in yoga class, you virtually have to perform your Bikram yoga at the same intensity as running 6.7 miles per hour, Greenfield said. So, yes, your heart rate may be higher and you may be sweating more, but that just may be your body's response to cooling itself -- not because you are burning more calories, Greenfield said.

Increasing Flexibility

    Even if you might not burn more calories per minute in Bikram yoga as you would running at a moderate pace, Bikram provides flexibility benefitsm and flexible muscles can prevent injuries, the Mayo Clinic reports. Also, flexibility is a component in overall fitness and health. The 26 poses of Bikram were developed using traditional Hatha yoga techniques by the practice's namesake Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s. The poses aim to develop better flexibility by stretching and holding your body in challenging ways. For example, you may not be able to completely straighten your leg in a standing bow pose, but practicing the pose regularly could eventually contribute to greater flexibility.

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