If you're looking to trade in the athletic shoes for a yoga mat, you're in luck; Bikram yoga is a form of strength training, and can replace weights without shorting you on health benefits. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes yoga as a muscle-building activity, and recommends performing such exercises at least twice weekly. One of the more vigorous forms of yoga, Bikram is performed in 105-degree F studios set to 40 percent humidity.
If you've been to Bikram class, you probably don't need anyone to tell you that this exercise gives your muscles a workout. With 26 poses, each repeated twice, every muscle group in your body will be tired by the end of each 90-minute session. There's also scientific evidence of Bikram's muscle-building power. In a study published in "The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research" in 2012, researchers found that subjects who performed Bikram three times a week for eight weeks had increased deadlift strength.
Just like lifting weights, Bikram can strengthen more than just your muscles. Weight-bearing exercises also help build stronger bones by placing pressure on them, prompting them to conserve calcium stores and even build more mass. This is especially important for women, as more bone mass means a lower risk of osteoporosis later on in life. Other bone-building exercises include walking and running.
Yoga is a gift for your body that keeps on giving. In addition to strengthening, Bikram also helps reduce anxiety, thereby lowering cortisol levels in your body. Cortisol, called the "stress hormone," contributes to diabetes and hypertension as well as the buildup of visceral fat around your abdominal organs. As your stress diminishes, you may also feel less of an urge to overeat. Bikram will also increase your balance and flexibility, which may spare you from accidents in everyday life. What's more, Bikram can elevate your mood, helping you overcome depression and enjoy life to the fullest.
Bikram is serious yoga, and it's not for everyone. If you're not in tip-top shape right now, it's a good idea to start with a gentler yoga style. If you have a heart condition, dehydrate easily or have a history of heat exhaustion, Bikram is also out. If you do brave the heat, bring a large bottle of cold water with you and use it often. Wear clothing that allows you to sweat, since that's how your body cools down to prevent overheating.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- MayoClinic.com: What is Hot Yoga?
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Bikram Yoga Training and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adults
- Yoga Journal: Bone Up
- Harvard Health Publications: Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- MayoClinic.com: Yoga: Tap into the Many Health Benefits
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.