The Science Behind Bikram Yoga Might Just Be Hot Air

Natasha Ramirez

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To the dismay of yogis everywhere, Bikram yoga—a popular form of hot yoga—may not actually be as beneficial to your health as once thought.

Doctors often recommend adding yoga to a patient's exercise routine, especially when they are suffering from mobility issues or are recovering from an injury or surgery, as it can be a simple, safe way to practice spinal decompression. But their recommendations often don’t include more intense yoga practices like Bikram yoga—and for good reason.

Invented in the 1970s by controversial Indian yogi Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga consists of 26 different poses and two breathing exercises. These poses are performed in the same order every class, which lasts for exactly 60 minutes. The room this practice is performed in is heated to 105 degrees with 40 degree humidity. Choudhury often called these studios “torture chambers”.

These strict environmental rules are supposed to promote blood circulation throughout the body. And the controlled breathing methods supplement the process. Because certain postures from the lineup are designed to block blood flow, releasing from the asana should, in theory, send fresh blood cells throughout your body. Other often touted physiological benefits of Bikram yoga include improving blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatism.

In addition to the physiological benefits of Bikram, people swarm to this practice to lose weight, strengthen their core, increase metabolism, and to mentally and physically challenge themselves.

However, one study by Texas State University and the University of Texas has found that the heated environment used in Bikram yoga did not necessarily improve participants’ vascular health.

In this study, 80 participants were split into three different test groups: one control group, one room temperature yoga group, and one heated Bikram yoga group. For 12 weeks, those in the Bikram yoga testing group were asked to attend 3 Bikram classes per week.

At the end of the 12 weeks, the study’s findings showed that the heated environment didn’t play a role in improving patients’ vascular health. However, research did show that Bikram yoga can reduce changes in the lining of blood vessels, which could possibly delay heart disease. They also found that this yoga practice could also possibly delay atherosclerosis—a disease where plaque builds up inside your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. While these findings show the positive effects of yoga in general, you don’t have to be in a 105 degree environment to get those health benefits.

While the science behind Bikram yoga might not be completely accurate, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any health benefits. All the study showed was that it didn’t improve vascular health any more than traditional types of yoga taught at room temperature.

At the end of the day, as long as you’re moving your body, you’ll stay fit and healthy. If Bikram yoga encourages you to push yourself and you feel better afterwards, that’s really all that matters.

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Natasha is a writer, reader, and dog-lover. Her work has carried her from the bustle of New York at Inc. Magazine to the Santa Fe deserts at Outside Magazine. Natasha currently works as a copywriter, guest blogger, and freelance journalist. When she's not at her keyboard, Natasha loves spending her time outdoors hiking, rock climbing, and scuba diving.

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