If you love the heat, Bikram may be the ultimate muscle-toning exercise for you. It provides a full-body workout, sculpting muscles without adding bulk. As one of the more active styles of yoga, you'll work harder in the Bikram studio than with gentler yoga forms like Kundalini or Iyengar. Created by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram stretches muscles, tendons and ligaments in a precise order. The temperature makes this workout ultra-intense, so Bikram may not be suitable if you're a yoga newbie.
A punishing workout, Bikram is taught in 105-degree Fahrenheit classrooms dialed to 40 percent humidity. Each session lasts a full hour and a half, during which you'll push your body into 26 postures while practicing two different breathing exercises. During class, you'll hold poses for extended time spans, forcing prolonged muscle contractions and therefore serious toning. Your heart rate will rise due to the heat and intense activity, and your muscles will feel tired by the end of class.
Bikram for Muscles
If your weary body isn't proof enough, there is also scientific evidence of Bikram's strengthening effect on muscles. In a study published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" in 2012, scientists observed young adults who performed Bikram three days per week, as well a control group. After eight weeks, the Bikram group exhibited greater strength while performing deadlifts. The control group did not. In addition, the yoga group showed improved flexibility in shoulders, hamstrings and lower back. Unfortunately, there were no cardiovascular benefits.
Health benefits of Bikram go far beyond muscle toning. Yoga joins mind and body to improve mental well-being and combat stress. Think of Bikram as an escape from everyday reality, allowing you to focus only on your own movements. This calming effect not only makes you feel better, but it can also help ease insomnia and depression, improving overall health. If you need to lose weight, Bikram can help change your mindset to prevent binging and other poor lifestyle choices.
Bikram is fantastic for muscles and more, but as an intense exercise it also poses some risks. All of that sweating means a higher chance of dehydration, so drink up before, during and after class. Bikram can be dangerous if you're pregnant or have a heart condition, so stay away if these apply to you. Never force yourself into poses that cause discomfort, and leave the room promptly if you begin to feel dizzy or nauseated.
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.