The key to weight loss is burning more calories than you eat each day. This can be done by altering your diet or boosting your exercise routine. Some people swear by Bikram yoga for weight loss, but the evidence is mixed on whether this high-heat practice can actually lead to healthy and maintainable weight loss.
Bikram Yoga: Calorie-Burning Potential
As in all activities, the number of calories burned during a 90-minute Bikram yoga session varies according to many factors, including size, amount of muscle mass, weight, sex, fitness and level of exertion or effort. However, Bikram is the most rigorous form of yoga and most practitioners burn between 600 and 1,200 calories per 90-minute session. In comparison, Power yoga burns about 300 calories per hour, or about 450 for 90 minutes, while Vinyasa yoga burns about 445 calories per hour.
The Connections Between Sweat and Weight Loss
Bikram yoga is done in rooms heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit with very high humidity. These sauna-like conditions encourage sweat, and most practitioners are dripping within the first few poses. Some people believe that more sweat equals more weight loss, but no correlation actually exists between sweat and weight loss. Burning calories requires expending energy, but sweat can be caused just by high temperatures and requires no real exertion in a hot room, such as saunas or those that host Bikram yoga sessions.
Bikram Yoga and Water Weight
Most of the weight lost during Bikram yoga sessions is actually water weight. Sweat is a combination of electrolytes and water. When it is shed, weight loss shows on the scale, but that weight is nearly instantly replaced when fluids are added back to the body. This means that you may technically lose weight during a sweaty Bikram yoga session, but you will gain it all back when you rehydrate following the workout. It is not the type of weight loss that leads to a real change in your body.
The Bottom Line
Bikram yoga, like any workout, can certainly help you lose weight because it burns calories, but the practice alone will not result in serious weight loss. To lose weight and keep it off, you must adopt a healthy, well-balanced diet and pair it with regular exercise that includes both cardio and strength-training components. Although Bikram yoga is fast-paced and intense, it does not take the place of a true cardio workout like running, aerobics, cycling or swimming. Like other types of yoga, the practice should instead be seen as a strength-training exercise that increases flexibility, balance and muscle tone.
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.