Get Your Heat On

Bikram yoga, otherwise known as hot yoga, is designed to strengthen the body while also releasing stress.

Celebrities swear by it. Clothing companies are inspired by it. Yes, hot yoga has taken the Western world by storm, inspiring men and women of all ages to embrace Eastern-inspired movements. Some practitioners are seeking improved muscle tone, while others are searching for spiritual peace — and Bikram yoga can help people find both when practiced properly.

The Temp

Inspired by the steamy environment of yoga’s birthplace, India, Bikram yoga classes are heated to between 103 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 percent humidity. The climate is intended to raise heart levels and challenge muscles.

The Movements

During a traditional Bikram yoga class, students practice a series of 26 postures in 90 minutes. The sequence, which always remains consistent, is organized to challenge ligaments and muscles systematically, warming, and stretching and strengthening the body.

The Risks

Because of the high temperature, you should consult with your physician before incorporating Bikram yoga into your exercise routine. The heat can be dangerous for people with certain conditions, such as eating disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, injuries or pregnancy.

“The heat can sometimes give students false perceptions of their actual abilities,” says Rebecca Slemmons, fitness center manager at Texas Health Outpatient Center Willow Park. “For example, they may risk overstretching a muscle or aggravating an injury because they think warm muscles can perform better. My best advice is to listen to your body. If a pose hurts or you feel dizzy, your body is trying to tell you something.”

The Benefits

The long list of Bikram yoga’s positive side effects may be divided into two categories: those that have been scientifically proven and those that have not. Among the accolades are decreased disease activity, increased flexibility, less stress and smaller waistlines. So how do you know what to believe and what to take with a grain of salt?

“The heat offers perceived benefits of increased weight loss, detoxification and increased cardiovascular work, but none of these benefits have been scientifically proven,” Slemmons says. “That being said, just the perception that you are taking steps to benefit your health can put you in a happy mindset. Bikram yoga is a great motivational tool, and it has been proven to improve flexibility and lower stress. The feeling of accomplishment after a class is extremely rewarding.”

To learn more about the fitness centers at Texas Health Resources, visit TexasHealth.org/Fitness.

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