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Bikram Yoga

Bikram yoga is a series of 26 hatha yoga postures, performed in 40°c heat, suitable for new and advanced practitioners alike. It was developed by Bikram Choudhury, who is the founder of the worldwide Bikram Yoga College of India™.

Bikram Yoga is an intense and challenging yet gentle form of exercise, suitable for all ages and all levels of ability. Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class consists of a set series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius. The heat allows the muscles and ligaments to relax, and will help you attain a deeper stretch and a more effective full-body workout.

FAQ's

Do I have to be flexible to do yoga? Can the heat be dangerous? Can I practice if I have a cold? These are some of the questions frequently asked by new students.

Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class will build up your strength and flexibility. The heat in the yoga room will help relax your muscles and ligaments, making it easier to stretch and bend. If you are very stiff, this type of yoga will be particularly beneficial. In the words of one senior teacher: "Saying you're too stiff to go to yoga is like saying you're too dirty to take a bath."

The yoga room is a carefully controlled environment, where we keep and even and constant temperature of 40c and we keep the humidity at 40%. Often when we perceive a temperature as being "vey hot" it is not just because of the high temperature, but because of the high humidity. In fact, the average outdoor humidity for Leeds is around 70%. Because we maintain the humidity level of the yoga room relatively low at 40%, most people do not perceive the heat to be "unbearable". And most people do not go into the yoga room fully clothed, but instead choose to wear light, skin-tight clothing similar to swimwear. When your body is not covered in clothes, the sweat your body produces will act as a natural cooling system, helping you to cool down as it evaporates. This is why you should not wipe the sweat off when you practice, as that will just counter-act the ability pf your body to cool itself down.

You don't need to be fit to start practicing yoga, practicing will MAKE you fit! It IS a tough workout, but we utilize a gentle range of motion, which means that even if you are elderly or recovering from an injury you will be able to join in with most of the postures. We sometimes say that "it never gets easy if you're doing it right", which means that as you improve your technique you will be able to go deeper into the postures. That means that the experienced partitioner who has been doing this for ten years will find the series of postures to be as much of a challenge as the beginner does.

On the contrary. The heat will dilute the blood vessels, which in turn will lower the blood pressure, making it easier for the heart to pump fresh oxygenated blood around the body. The exercises will help strengthen the heart and the heat will improve circulation.

It is very common to feel nauseous or dizzy during your first few classes, or to get a headache during or after class. This yoga is like a litmus test of the shape your mind and body are in at the moment. You may find that you need to start taking better care of yourself by drinking more water, changing your diet or rearranging your life to reduce stress. If you practice more than three times per week you might find that you need to increase your intake of kalcium, potassium, salt and magnesium. As you start taking better care of yourself, and as you start to be more mentally present in the yoga room you will find that you start to actually enjoy the heat. You may still have the occasional class where you feel dizzy or nauseous, and when that happens just stand still, take a break, if needed sit down on your knees, and when the feeling has passed join in with the class again.

Yes. Hot yoga strengthens the immune system and helps keep us healthy. Many viruses, bacteria and fungi are sensitive to heat, and prefer a temperature of 37c. The heat in the yoga room creates a hostile environment for these pathogens, inhibiting their ability to grow and reproduce. These pathogens also need to metabolize nutrients, but as your body utilizes more water during class, the pathogens are starved of water. The most important thing to do if you have an infection is to listen to your body. If you have a fever you may find the heat too overwhelming, and you may need to wait a few days before you practice again. If your sinuses are very blocked you could try just doing the standing series, and to just rest in Savasana during the floor series. Stay in the room. The relaxation and the heat will help you recover. Take extra care keeping your hands clean when you have an infection, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes with your hands, to avoid spreading it around.

That depends... how good do you want to feel? Most people who practice regulary typically visit the studio 2-5 times per week. If you are only able to practice once a week then that's preferable to not practicing at all. However most people find with time that practicing 3-4 times per week will keep their health and fitness at the desired level. The best way to achieve noticeable changes is to try practicing every day for 1-2 months. Because the stretch is built into the postures, and the training is not high impact, it is not necessary to take rest days.

Emmy Cleaves, now in her late eighties, has been practicing and teaching this yoga since 1973. This is the answer she gives: "People ask me if I ever get tired of doing the same posture flow. My answer is that the practice is never the same because I am continuously being changed by the practice. The daily practice challenges you on many levels. Concentration and attention are quickly sharpened. Character issues of patience and perseverance come up each time. The practice offers a chance to explore deeper levels of Self and develop awareness of the emotions and thoughts that the postures evoke."

"Please do not forget that all your appointments will be cancelled by your ill health."

Bishnu Ghosh

Benefits of Bikram Yoga

There is a considerable amount of scientific research on the benefits of Bikram yoga. We have collected and summarized most of the research results that have been produced to date.

When Bikram Choudhury was growing up it was a common practice in India to visit a yoga teacher if you had a pain or ailment that just wouldn’t go away. The yoga teacher would prescribe one or more yoga postures and/or breathing exercises, to be practiced daily. Modern medicine was not yet widely available, or affordable, and Bikram witnessed how a great many people were helped by his guru’s ‘prescriptions’. Bikram tells the story of how his and his guru Bishnu Ghosh’s ‘yoga clinic’ became so popular that in the end they just couldn’t cope with the number of people queuing down the street for an appointment. So he had the idea of putting together a series of postures, all of which had proved especially beneficial for achieving and maintaining a good level of physical and mental health. And this is how the series of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises was born. From the 1970 and onwards, as this practice was made available to an increasing number of people, there have been thousands of stories of how people have been helped by practicing Bikram yoga. Ligament, tendon and bone injuries that had persisted for years, finally healing. Sufferers of irritable bowl syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, finally finding relief for their symptoms after years of suffering. One could argue that the traditional use of these postures would be enough to show the benefits of a regular yoga practice. But our western minds have been conditioned to place more faith in things that have been scientifically proven, and in recent years a number of studies have been made showing with empirical data just how beneficial the practice of Bikram yoga can be.

Researchers at Colorado State University have undertaken two studies of the benefits of the Bikram yoga series, one in 2008 and one in 2014. The first study had a group of test subjects taking three classes per week for eight weeks, and showed that even this relatively short program produced significant improvements in balance, and also improvements in leg strength and muscle control for the less-steady subjects. [1] The second study, in which the research subjects were all healthy young adults leading a relatively sedentary lifestyle, showed significant gains in spine, hamstring and shoulder flexibility and improved whole-body strength. [2]

Anecdotal evidence has showed Bikram yoga to be a highly effective treatment for sufferers of depression. There is now a study underway at Massachusetts General Hospital, where a team of psychiatrists will study the effectiveness of Bikram Yoga as a means to reduce the symptoms of depression in a group of patients who are new to this practice. Maren Nyer, PhD, director of Yoga Research in the MGH Depression Clinical and Research Program at MGH says: “Hot yoga, practiced by a growing number of people, appears to be a promising treatment for depression. It provides intensive exercise and mindfulness, both shown as effective treatments for depression. Regular practice of hot yoga may regulate certain physiological functions that could contribute to the reversal of a depressed state.” [3]

However, the heated environment is a completely understudied domain with regard to its healing effects for depression. “Although there is only minimal empirical evidence, heat has traditionally been used to promote wellness,” says Maurizio Fava, MD, director of the MGH Depression Clinical and Research Program and professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “The heated environment may enhance the antidepressant effects of this form of yoga.” As of April 2015 the study is still ongoing. [4]

A recent study presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s 2015 conference provided empirical data showing Bikram Yoga to be effective for treating anxiety, depression and stress in women. The study examined a number of at-risk women who were suffering from mildly elevated anxiety, moderate depression and high stress. These women had not practiced yoga for the past year, and were randomly assigned to take two Bikram yoga classes per week. The results showed that the women taking the yoga classes presented greater decreases in anxiety, stress and depression than the test subjects who didn’t do any yoga. "Clinicians treating women who are stressed, anxious, and depressed should consider investigating some form of yoga therapy," said Dr Hopkins DeBoer, lead researcher for the study. "I think yoga pairs nicely alongside psychotherapy for a depressed mood, anxiety and stress in women." [5]

The longest running study of Bikram yoga to date is the 5-year study of Bikram yoga as a counter measure to bone loss and osteoporosis. Over the last decade it has been established that the best way to take preventative action against bone loss, and thus to prevent fragility fractures, is to engage in physical activity. However, the type of high intensity activities that may be the most advantageous for increasing bone density are not always viable options for the elderly and aging, because many of them already have osteoporosis and are incapable of such vigorous movements. Weight bearing exercises have shown to increase the risk for this group to develop joint-related disorders such as osteoarthritis, and most low-impact forms of exercise fail to ameliorate the problem of decreased bone density. [6]

The osteoporosis and bone loss study was undertaken at the Bone Density Clinic at the Los Angeles Orthopedic Hospital, and it included a number of women between the ages of 30 and 59. The researchers measured the bone mineral content of the proximal femur and lumbar spine in their subjects at the outset of the study, and then again, five years later. The results showed that the practice of Bikram yoga may preserve or even increase bone density, if practiced three times per week or more. The conclusions of the study indicate that Bikram yoga may be an effective countermeasure for preventing osteoporosis. [7]

There have been numerous testimonials on the effectiveness of a regular Bikram yoga practice to counteract the symptoms of diabetes. Some diabetics have even reported controlling their blood glucose levels without having to use insulin. A pilot study was undertaken in 2012 at the University of Texas, in Austin, Texas. The results of this study showed that adults at risk of Type 2 diabetes reduced their blood glucose levels as a result of a regular (three times per week) Bikram yoga practice. The test subjects had a mean age of 46 and were classed as ‘obese’. The study results showed that only eight weeks of practice noticeably lowered their blood glucose levels. [8]

Multiple studies have showed improvements in glucose response to traditional exercise (i.e. treadmill walking), but very few have shown the same with yoga. What makes Bikram yoga beneficial for metabolism could be the heat, as other studies have found similar benefits of heat-therapy over time. The authors of the research paper concluded that: “The findings of the current investigation unveil Bikram yoga as a new therapeutic tool in the amelioration of metabolic dysfunction with age and obesity. Bikram yoga may be an ideal alternative to traditional exercises, especially in older or obese adults, due to its low impact nature.” [9]

Another area where anecdotal evidence, testimonials and stories are overwhelming in their numbers, is the positive effect a regular Bikram yoga practice can have on sleep. Again and again we hear students who have suffered for years from insomnia and irregular sleep patterns saying that, even after their very first class, they “slept like a baby”. Many also testify that with a regular practice, they no longer need sleep remedies to help with insomnia, nocturnal awakenings and restless sleep patterns.

Again, this is an area where more research is needed. To date there is only one study on the subject, a pilot study on subjective and objective sleep parameters, undertaken by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since sleeping in a laboratory setting can be disturbing to sleep, and may provoke anxiety, the measurements were taken during home sleep monitoring. The testing period was relatively short (14 days) and the test subjects, who were all otherwise healthy young adults, were told to practice a Bikram class at least two times during the testing period, on days of their own choosing. Their sleep parameters were measured on “yoga days” and on “non-yoga days”. [10]

This was only a pilot study, with a limited number of test subjects (13 people), and the results were inconclusive for insomnia and total sleep time. However, the results showed that Bikram yoga was associated a significantly faster return to sleep after nocturnal awakenings. The conclusion of the study was that more research was needed, and that “Of particular interest is whether habitual performance of yoga would reveal an evolution of changes in sleep architecture, perhaps from acute (restricted to the day of yoga) to chronic (sleep assumes an improved and more stable architecture)." [11]

References:

[1]Brian L. Tracy and Cady E. F. Hart,

Yoga as Steadiness Training: Effects on Motor Variability in Young Adults,published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol 22, September 2008

[2]Brian L. Tracy and Cady E. F. Hart,

Bikram Yoga Training and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adults, published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol 27 No 3, March 2013

[3]Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry News,

Massachusetts General Hospital Testing Hot Yoga for Treatment of Depression, www.massgeneral.org, September 6th, 2013

[4]Ibid.

[5]Medscape Medical News: Conference News,

Hot Yoga Cools Anxiety, Relieves Depression, www.medscape.com, April 13th, 2015

[6]Sophia N. Sangiorgio, Arnob K. Mukherjee, Nicole W. Lau, Apurba Mukherjee, Prithwis Mukhopadhyay, Edward Ebramzadeh,

Optimization of Physical Activity as a Countermeasure of Bone Loss: A 5-Year Study of Bikram Yoga Practice in Females, Scientific Research Open Access, Vol. 6 No. 11, May 2014

[7]Ibid.

[8]Stacy D. Hunter, PhD, Mandeep Dhindsa, MBBS, Emily Cunningham, M.Ed.,Takashi Tarumi, PhD, Mohammed Alkatan, MS, Hirofumi Tanaka, PhD,

Improvements in Glucose Tolerance with Bikram Yoga in Older Obese Adults: A Pilot Study, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 2013

[9]Ibid.

[10] Ravi S.Kudesia, Matt T. Bianchi,

Decreased Nocturnal Awakenings in Young Adults Performing Bikram Yoga: A Low-Constraint Home Sleep Monitoring Study, ISRN Neurology, 2012

[11]Ibid.

  • “Since I started practicing Bikram Yoga at the age of 70 my life and health have taken a 360 degree turn for the better.”

    - Runis Brink
  • “As a regular long distance runner, I've noticed big reductions in muscle recovery time, plus a reduction in injuries.”

    - David Anderson