Bikram is a popular style of yogic practice performed in a demanding, 105 degree Fahrenheit studio environment. A strenuous Bikram session can help improve your cardiovascular fitness, but it can also present health risks due to dehydration and overexertion. Knowing your limits and monitoring your heart rate during class can help you maximize exercise benefits without experiencing adverse side effects.
Bikram yoga's patented 26-pose system is designed to gradually increase the body's demand for oxygen. As your body's oxygen requirements increase, your heart must work harder to pump enough blood to your muscles. During Bikram class, or any other cardiovascular activity, it is normal for your heart rate to rise a certain amount. With consistent Bikram practice, your heart will strengthen and become more efficient at distributing blood, resulting in a lower resting heart rate and greater capacity for exercise performance.
Dehydration and Heart Rate
Exercising in the strenuous, hot environment of a Bikram studio causes lots of fluid loss via sweat. If you don't drink enough water before class, you may find yourself dehydrated during or after class. Dehydration is dangerous for the body because it diminishes the body's ability to maintain an appropriate core temperature. If your body's temperature begins to rise toward unhealthy levels, you may experience a number of mild symptoms, including dizziness, nausea and dry mouth. Excessively elevated heart rate is another particular common indication that the body is dehydrated and approaching the heat illness danger zone.
Maximum Healthy Rate
Since Bikram yoga provides strenuous cardiovascular exercise, it is perfectly normal for your heart rate to increase a certain amount over the course of a class. On the other hand, the environment and intensity of the Bikram class can also result in unhealthy heart rate increases. Knowing your target exercise heart rate is key to distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy heart rate increases. Since target heart rate varies based on fitness and age, consulting your doctor is the best way to determine your healthy heart rate range. According to the American Heart Association, you can roughly estimate your maximum safe heart rate by subtracting your age from the number 220; for example, the average 50 year old person's maximum safe heart rate is about 170 beats per minute.
The easiest way to keep track of your heart rate during Bikram class is by using a heart rate monitor. Most heart rate monitors strap around the chest and transmit heart rate data to a specially designed wristwatch. One advantage of a chest monitor system is that you can program an alarm to sound if your heart rate exceeds the target rate. Finger heart rate monitors are typically less expensive and don't need to be worn on the body, but they require you to stop exercising and administer the test manually. If you don't want to purchase a device, you can estimate your heart rate the old fashioned way, by finding your pulse on your wrist and counting the number of beats in 15 seconds. Multiply the numbers of beats that you count by four to determine your heart's current beats per minute.
Dan Howard is a sports and fitness aficionado who holds a master's degree in psychology. Howard's postgraduate research on the brain and learning has appeared in several academic books and peer-reviewed psychology journals.