It’s the 90-minute yoga class where everyone walks out dripping in sweat. Bikram yoga is a hot topic in the health and fitness industry, with legions of fans swearing by it and just as many critics arguing that it’s way too dangerous.
Here we list the pros and cons and let you decide whether you can handle the heat.
Bikram yoga — also known as hot yoga — has been at the centre of heated debates since Bikram Choudhury invented it back in 1974. While yoga instructors, practitioners and doctors the world over are still arguing about its benefits and flaws, one thing is for certain: This is one super challenging workout. Held in a sweltering 40-degree room, the class consists of a series of 26 “asanas” — or poses — and two breathing exercises. Each move is done twice and an hour-and-a-half later, yogis leave the room having sweated more than they thought possible. Bikram yoga has its pros and cons, but whether you will like it or not all boils down to personal taste. After trying a class, you’ll soon find out if you like it hot, or if you’d much rather stay cool.
Sweating releases the toxins in your body, so the promise of detoxification is perhaps the biggest drawcard for Bikram. Thanks to the humidity and heat of the room, Bikram forces your body to sweat bucketloads in order to cool itself down. Think about how good you feel after some time in the sauna, and then multiply the feeling by 10 — that’s what you can expect when your Bikram class is over.
Many hot yoga instructors argue that Bikram uses the heat to prevent injuries that usually happen when your body hasn’t warmed up enough. Even though you’re pushing your body and working new muscles, the heat works as a kind of safety guard against injuries. Bikram yoga has also helped people recover from back and muscle pain and increase their flexibility. Just make sure you stretch beforehand and take the time to cool down afterwards — no matter how badly you want to hop in a shower!
Hot yoga increases your heart rate, meaning that your body then has to work to regulate it, burning huge amounts of calories in the process. In fact, an intense Bikram class can burn anywhere from 700-900 calories! While high intensity spurts of running or other cardio activities can blast just as many calories, Bikram will not put as much pressure on your joints. While you’ll be lighter after a class because of all the fluids you’ve lost, proper weight loss will only happen along with a great diet and exercise regime.
Exercise, deep breathing, and meditation are all known for reducing anxiety, and Bikram yoga combines all three. Over time, practitioners claim they feel more relaxed and level-headed. Lower stress levels also lead to better, deeper sleep, an improved immune system and reduced heart rate and blood pressure. Best of all, less stress will lift your mood, leaving you feeling rejuvenated after a class and happier as you go about your everyday activities.
Risk of overstretching
Many traditional yoga instructors believe that the unnaturally hot conditions of Bikram yoga allow students to move and push their body past its limits without even realising it. Because practitioners have a much bigger range of motion thanks to the warmth of their muscles, they run the risk of “overstretching”, which can be very uncomfortable immediately after a class and cause health issues in the long term.
Students are told to drink at least two litres of water before a class and another litre or so afterwards. However, many don’t take this advice and end up dehydrated, which can result in them feeling lightheaded, dizzy, nauseaus and seriously unwell. During hot yoga, you will sweat like crazy — to give you an idea of how much, students are asked to bring two big beach towels to mop it up — and those fluids need to be replaced. The golden rule? Listen to the experts and drink plenty of water before, during and after your class.
Not so spiritual
To be honest, the biggest problem that traditional yoga teachers have with Bikram is that it lacks the mind, body and spirit connection that yoga is supposed to promote. In a way, they’re right: Bikram is an intense workout that focuses on the outward, fitness side of things. While there are some deep breathing exercises, the focus is definitely on moving your body and working each muscle group. If you’re looking for a class that is spiritual and reflective, Bikram probably isn’t for you.
Compared to other forms of yoga, Bikram can be very dull and monotonous after a few sessions. While Hatha, Ashtanga and Iyenagar mix up their movements, every Bikram class is the same. Yoga teachers will perform the 26 asanas in the exact same order every time, so you’ll always know what to expect. If you’re disciplined and focused, give Bikram a go. If you like variety in your workouts, you might find it a little too repetitive.