Bikram yoga can help you get hot and heavy with your mat, thanks to studios in excess of 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity. And while Bikram has distinct benefits, each of those possible pluses happens at a different pace in your practice. Whether you're looking to drop a few pounds or you're unwinding at the end of a long day, you'll start getting the benefits of Bikram anywhere from within the first few minutes to a few months of practice.
One of the places you'll see almost immediate benefits is within your own flexibility and yoga practice. The increased heat and humidity in a Bikram studio helps to crank up your flexibility by supplying you with warmed muscles and ligaments. What's more, the constant repetition during class (every 90-minute class cycles through the same 26 poses twice) can give you the opportunity to improve each time you go. Just be careful -- it's possible to overstretch your muscles in class, especially when you feel more flexible than normal.
Expect to wait a little longer if your Bikram goal is to drop a few pounds. While it's true that Bikram can burn up to 700 calories per class in the average 150-pound person, but like any fitness program, you'll need consistency and time to see a real difference. However, as long as you're consistently burning more calories than you consume to the tune of 500 to 1,000 calories per day, you should be able to attain a weight loss rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Of course, Bikram can be made more effective with the addition of other fitness methods, including cardio and strength training.
Stepping into any yoga class can help you breathe a sigh of relief and the same is true for Bikram. Almost immediately, you'll benefit from stress relief in class. That's because Bikram places a hefty emphasis on focus and peace during practice. If you're looking for a way to bust stress at the end of a long day, you won't need to wait long for relief in class.
Many of the Bikram poses -- such as Standing Head to Knee and Standing Bow Pulling -- require a great deal of balance and strength to maintain. Because of this, you should see an increase in strength over time, dependent upon how often you actually go to class. The father of hot yoga, Bikram Choudhury himself, recommends at least 10 classes per month for the full effect. Allow at least six weeks to assess the changes in your body.
The heat in a warm and humid Bikram yoga studio can help you deal with pain, especially lower-back pain. A study published in a 2008 issue of "Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine" found that hot yoga helped produce a pain-relieving effect in lower-back pain sufferers. Since the heat is immediate, you should see an improvement almost as soon as you walk into the studio. While the heat can be soothing, it also dulls pain receptors so you can enjoy 90 minutes of reduced pain almost as soon as you start. Still, it's important to remember that hot yoga can aggravate other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and increased hear rate, so check with your doc before you sign up for a class.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.