Bikram yoga, also called hot yoga, is strenuous. Unlike slow-moving yoga styles, the Bikram yoga student spends 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity level of 40 percent. Each session is comprised of a series of 26 asanas, the majority of which are standing postures. Bikram -- when taught by a qualified instructor -- does not pose a health risk to most people, but there are some pitfalls for beginners and those with specific health issues.
Imagine practicing yoga in a sauna and you have a good idea of the level of heat you'll be working out in. Dehydration is one of the more obvious risks associated with Bikram because of the heat, which is an integral element of the style's approach. Even without moving through the series of asanas, you will sweat. It is essential that you drink water before and during the class to replace your water loss. According to the Bikram yoga official website, you need to double the recommended daily water intake of two liters when you practice Bikram, particularly if you are a beginner. A research study at Universiti Sains Malaysia in 2002 showed that drinking fresh coconut water after strenuous exercise is a good method of rehydrating your body.
Some students experience dizziness, headaches, nausea and cramps while practicing Bikram. This is the result of losing salt and minerals through sweating, producing an electrolyte imbalance that is made worse by dehydration. Along with drinking more water, you may wish to supplement your diet with sodium and potassium: the two key minerals lost through exercise. In a 2011 article about hot yoga published by "Globe and Mail," it is recommended that you keep your electrolytes in balance by drinking coconut water or adding lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt to the bottled water you take into class. The Bikram yoga official site also suggests taking sodium and potassium tablets.
Physical therapist, Mark Plaatjes of Boulder, Colorado reports a rise in the number of yoga-related injuries he treats. Most of these injuries he maintains are due to people "overdoing it" in a hot yoga room. Bikram Choudury, the founder of this form of yoga, argues that the heat loosens the muscles, making the student more flexible. Plaatjes, however, suggests that while this may be true, it also encourages students to extend the limbs and muscles, especially as beginners, beyond what the condition of the person can really tolerate as the heat reduces the experience of pain. According to Dr. Robert Gotlin, director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at Manhattan's Beth Israel Medical Center, hot yoga increases your metabolic rate and this allows you to stretch more. But, he warns, when the muscles stretch past 25 to 30 percent of their resting length, damage can occur.
The heat in the Bikram yoga studio raises the heart rate automatically and the strenuous movements provide the student with the equivalent of a cardio workout. Those with heart conditions and people with low or high blood pressure are at risk in a Bikram class, New York cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg, told the "Globe and Mail." She also said that students' reports of feeling faint and blackouts are a concern, as her in opinion some Bikram classes underplay the significance of these symptoms and lead students to accept lightheadedness as a norm. Anyone with heart or blood pressure problems should consult a physician before starting a class. Some centers train Bikram teachers in first aid so they can recognize heart-related symptoms.
In addition to those with heart-related health problems, pregnant women should discuss the risks of Bikram yoga with both a physician and a certified Bikram instructor. Hot yoga may also pose a health problem for the elderly and children, and they are advised to seek medical advice before taking part.
- Vanderbilt University Health Psychology Dept. : Bikram Yoga; Its Claims, Benefits, Purpose and Treatment
- Journal of Physiological Anthropology and Applied Human Science: Rehydration After Exericise With Fresh Young Coconut Water
- New York Times: When Does Flexible Become Harmful?
- The Globe And Mail: Thinking of Trying Hot Yoga?
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.