If you like your yoga hot and steamy, Bikram is for you. Blazing conditions are the norm in Bikram studios, where instructors crank up the heat to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and keep the humidity hovering around 40 percent. Although these are considered ideal conditions for Bikram, the practice's website says there is some wiggle room: instructors can raise the temperature in lower humidity, and cool it in more humid rooms. All sessions last 90 minutes and run through 26 poses. (See Reference 2)
The high humidity and heat set Bikram apart from other forms of yoga. The reason for the tightly controlled environment? Bikram aims to transform your body, and the theory is that you must be softened to be able to change. This means steaming your bones, muscles and skin, allowing them to be "reshaped." Bikram also encourages sweating, claiming that it flushes toxins from your body. (See Reference 2) However, research conducted at the Institute of Public Health in Taiwan in 2002 revealed that sweating does little to remove impurities, unless you are experiencing kidney failure. (See Reference 3)
Humidity and Heat
When your body gets too warm, it sweats to cool down. The catch? This only works if the perspiration evaporates from your skin, which doesn't happen as well in humid conditions. That and the fact you exert effort to form the yoga poses is why heat feels magnified in the Bikram studio. If your temperature gets too high, you risk heat exhaustion, which can be fatal. (See Reference 4) To play it safe, exit the studio if you start feeling overheated.
No matter how much water vapor is floating around the studio, your body can easily dehydrate. You sweat more during Bikram than other forms of yoga, so don't forget to bring your water bottle. Drink about a cup for every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise, even if you don't feel thirsty. By the time you start craving water, you are probably already dehydrated. And remember, hydration should start before you ever lay down the yoga mat; guzzle two to three cups of water in the three hours before your Bikram session. After your workout, down another cup. (See Reference 1)
Hot, humid conditions are not just ideal for Bikram; germs love it, too. Yoga studios are breeding grounds for athlete's foot, plantar warts and even staphylococcus, the bug behind dreaded staph infections. Protect yourself by using your own mat and washing your hands before and after your practice. Also, steer clear of Bikram studios that do not use disinfectant regularly or do not require students to remove their shoes. (See Reference 5)
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.