Bikram yoga benefits the entire body, both inside and out. The practice's signature series of 26 yoga poses and distinct breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit, can reduce the effects of many afflictions and conditions while improving posture, flexibility, muscle strength and balance. In addition to these physical benefits, Bikram yoga can also reduce stress and increase mental clarity.
Bikram Yoga and Overall Physical Fitness
According to a study conducted by Colorado State University, participants who did Bikram yoga three times a week for eight weeks had increased lower-back, hamstring and shoulder flexibility, increased dead-lift strength, and decreased body fat compared to participants who did not do Bikram yoga during the study.
Benefits from the Heat
During a Bikram yoga class, rooms are heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of about 60 percent. These sauna-like conditions warrant excessive sweating, which helps increase flexibility. Excessive sweating is said to flush out toxins in the body. The intense heat also increases your heart rate, making the entire body work harder to complete a 90-minute session. The heat is also said to clear the mind, allowing for complete relaxation and improved breathing.
Yoga, including Bikram yoga, increases cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, resting heart rates and cholesterol, and slowing the progression of atherosclerosis. The meditative component of yoga, present in Bikram yoga's breathing exercises, may help stabilize the endothelium, the blood vessels' lining. Irritation of the endothelium is often caused by stress and is a major contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. The meditation and deep breathing in yoga practices, including Bikram yoga, can lower stress hormones in the body and reduce the risk for stroke or heart attack.
Chronic Back Pain
A study conducted by Seattle's HMO Group Health Cooperative found that people who practice yoga have greater and more long-lasting improvements with chronic back pain than people who rely on other therapies alone. Many of Bikram yoga's 26 poses increase flexibility and strength of the back, including the Standing Bow, Half Moon, Standing Head to Knee, Triangle, Tree and Cobra poses.
Researchers at New Delhi's University College of Medical Sciences found that diabetics who regularly practiced yoga had healthier blood sugar control than those who did not practice yoga. The Half Tortoise, Rabbit, Head to Knee and Separated Leg Head to Knee poses in Bikram yoga are purported to offer similar results for patients with diabetes.
A 2009 study conducted by researchers at Christian Medical College found that yoga poses and breathing exercises improved pulmonary functioning in patients with asthma. Bikram yoga poses that stretch the lungs may have the same effect, such as the Half Tortoise and Standing Bow.
Poppy Carpenter graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In addition to teaching journalism to junior high students, she also covers health and fitness for "PUSH Monthly" and Angie's List.