We speak to a sports scientist and yoga teacher about the benefits (and potential risks) of practising Bikram yoga.
By Anna Bonet
Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, may not appeal to everyone. The mind and body exercise class has all the vital elements of a standard yoga practice, but it’s taught in a much warmer room, so you can expect to get your sweat on.
But what are the benefits of this popular class and, most importantly, is it safe to practise yoga in extreme temperatures? We speak to Dawn Morse MSc, sports scientist, yoga teacher and founder of Core Elements about how to master the art of hot yoga:
What is hot yoga?
The clue is in the name; hot yoga is usually held in a hot and humid studio. ‘These classes are taught in a specialist yoga studio, but as portable infrared heaters are becoming more affordable, often these classes are now available in private halls,’ explains Morse.
‘Hot yoga is often taught using the format of Hatha (more relaxed or a slower paced class) or Vinyasa yoga (flowing yoga class),’ she adds.
What are the benefits of hot yoga?
One of the reasons Bikram yoga is proving to be popular is it’s said to come with a number of health benefits.
‘The warm environment has many reported benefits such as increased muscular relaxation, which aids flexibility and movement,’ explains Morse. ‘The reduction in muscular tension and increase in movement can lead to a reduction in muscular or postural related pain.’
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The warm environment has many benefits such as increased muscular relaxation and flexibility.
‘The warm environment can also increase the detoxification effects of yoga practice, which means that the practise will provide additional benefits for the condition of your skin and lymphatic system,’ she adds. ‘Many hot yoga practitioners also find that they experience weight loss due to yoga practise in a warm environment, which can be down to the body systems working harder while performing yoga asana in the heat.’
According to Morse, other benefits of hot yoga practice include the following:
✔️ Improved muscular strength and condition
✔️ Increased flexibility
✔️ Improved posture
✔️ Increased levels of confidence and body awareness
Is hot yoga really good for you?
Hot yoga is safe for most people, provided you drink plenty of water, but you will still need to proceed with caution when you first try it out.
‘It’s important though to remain hydrated during a hot yoga class as the room temperature will increase the risk of dehydration and heat stroke,’ says Morse. ‘Both will have a negative effect on your experience of yoga and ability to practise yoga during the class. In the latter case mild heat stoke may affect you for the next couple of days.’
💡 Ensure that you are hydrated before entering a hot yoga class and sip water throughout the class.
‘As you get used to hot yoga your body will learn and adapt to the environment, which may mean that you don’t need to sip water as often,’ she adds.
Should anyone avoid hot yoga?
Hot yoga isn’t suitable for everyone, so make sure you consult with your GP beforehand if you have any health conditions that could put you at risk.
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‘People who are prone to heat related issues or dehydration should avoid hot yoga,’ explains Morse, ‘along with mothers in the early stages of pregnancy and those who are in early recovery from chronic illness, as the heat may provide an additional challenge to the body.’
The verdict on hot yoga
If you are comfortable with hot yoga, then it is a great exercise class that will benefit you in a number of ways – particularly relaxation.
‘Many people new to yoga practice have found that yoga can be more comfortable in the early stages to practise within the heat. One of the reasons for this can be linked to increased levels of superficial and deep muscular relaxation which is experienced within a warm environment,’ says Morse.
Many people new to yoga have found it can be more comfortable to practise in the heat.
‘For instance, many of us will have a memory of laying on a beach, feeling the warm sun and sand around your body and feeling relaxed with little muscular tension. A similar response of the warm summer sun is often experienced when you lower yourself into a warm bath.
‘This type of relaxation response is achieved through a trigger in the nervous system. When the nerve receptors within the skin pick up warm external temperature signals, a relaxation response is experienced within the muscle. This leads to a more pleasant experience for the yoga practitioner – especially during the early stages of yoga when it can be uncomfortable to stretch and open up the body.’