The regular practice of hatha yoga can result in many health benefits, including increased muscle strength and flexibility and a reduction in stress and blood pressure. Hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga, is different. It is a more strenuous variation of Hatha yoga popularized by Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury, that can aggravate certain health conditions, including high blood pressure.
Hot yoga is a version of Hatha yoga that is practiced in a heated studio. Temperatures sometimes reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. This form of yoga is a more vigorous form of exercise that emphasizes holding and repeating a series of postures during a 90-minute class.
Blood pressure is a measurement of the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance the blood encounters as it flows through the arteries. The more blood that the heart pumps and the narrower the arteries, the higher the blood pressure. Practitioners of Bikram or hot yoga are expected to hold specific poses for extended periods of time to create what Bikram Choudhury calls a "tourniquet effect." The goal, as described the Bikram Yoga College of India website, is to alter blood circulation.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition that develops gradually. If left untreated or exacerbated, hypertension can lead to more serious health problems, including heart attack or stroke, according to MayoClinic.com. Most people with high blood pressure don't have symptoms, so they might not even know they have it. Signs of early stage high-blood pressure are dizzy spells and sweating, both of which are common and expected effects of doing hot yoga.
The Bottom Line
Healthy lifestyle changes, including healthy diet, reduction of stress and physical exercise are good for people with high blood pressure -- the key is to find the right kind of exercise, not one that will aggravate your symptoms. The practice of hot yoga places extreme stress on the circulatory system. People with high blood pressure, according to cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg for The New York Times, should not do hot yoga.
Aline Lindemann is a health, food and travel writer. She has also worked as a social worker, preschool teacher and art educator. Lindemann holds a Master of Liberal Studies in culture, health and creative nonfiction writing from Arizona State University.