Bikram Yoga is a relatively recent trend that combines the meditative exercise of yoga with the heat of a sauna. Sweating it out in a room of about 105 degrees with 25 or so other Yogis, it’s not uncommon to experience what feels like the workout of your life paired with extreme dizziness and fatigue. We all think it’s time for a serious debunking of Bikram Yoga—is this trend as hot as some yogis say? Or is it more hype?
The Truth About Core Temperature
Sweating it out during yoga often makes you feel like you’re working harder, provides a greater challenge or leads you to believe you’re experiencing greater muscle flexibility or weight-loss. What could be so bad about that? Well, a recent study the American Council on Exercise found that Bikram yogi’s were reaching a core temperature of 103 degrees or higher during their practice. Yikes! This over-the-top body temperature puts you at risk of exertion-related heat illness and heat stroke, with the likelihood of both increasing drastically when body temperatures reach 104 degrees.
Heat Doesn’t Equal a Harder Cardio Workout
A common misconception when it comes to Bikram Yoga is that the heat in the sauna-esque studio will provide a more challenging cardio workout, thereby resulting in a higher-than-normal caloric burn and weight loss. Based on the above study by the American Council on Exercise, this isn’t exactly the case.
“Despite the subjects’ perceiving the workout to be so much more challenging, in terms of the heat’s effect on heart rate and core temperature, it really wasn’t much different than a class performed in a thermally neutral environment,” says Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer for ACE.
Flexibility and Stress Relief
While the perceived benefits of calorie-burn or weight-loss from practicing Bikram Yoga have been largely debunked by scientific studies, flexibility and stress relief remain two strong-standing benefits. The studio’s heat helps muscles to warm up, loosening ligaments and joints for greater flexibility. In addition, like all forms of yoga with instructed breathing practices, stress relief can also be gained from Bikram Yoga.
That said, this increased flexibility can mean you push yourself harder than you usually would, which can lead to strained muscles, or worse, pulled ones. Listen to your body and don't let the instructors, who can be intense at times, push you further than what feels right.
Ultimately, if Bikram Yoga is your workout of choice, it's not any better or worse in terms of weight loss or fitness, so you do you! That said, as with any exercise, be good to your body and don't do things that don't feel right or make you feel uncomfortable. If you push yourself to the point of injury, you won't be able to do any exercise at all—trendy or not!
Behind the hype, when it comes to down-warding your dog in a Bikram studio, these findings suggest that perhaps it’s best to take the sauna out of your practice and opt from some meditative exercise in a room-temperature atmosphere. Namaste.