Bikram Yoga, Benefits or Cause of Injury?

Hot Yoga

Safely Lose Weight and be Limber with Hot Yoga

A popular form of yoga, Bikram Yoga (Hot Yoga) created to cleanse both body and mind, uses external heat. No warm up is needed as the scantily dressed participants go through the 26-poses.

Traditional Yoga vs. Bikram Yoga: Heating the Body Externally vs. Heating from within by Warm-up Exercise

Choudhury Bikram created this form of yoga to detoxify the body and discover well-being. Ideally, injury is prevented by enabling the body to heat immediately. The hot room is the warm up. The increased fluidity of movement that develops within the body heated internally by warm-up exercises such as calisthenics and running prior to playing football or the plies at the barre prior to a ballet performance are bypassed in Bikram yoga.

Bikram students quickly experience increased suppleness in otherwise stiff joints and muscles. There is a false sense of looseness in both the beginner and experienced yogi. Overstretching muscles by sitting back on knees and lying back in a pose such as suptavarasana (reclining hero) can risk cartilage tears. The full locust pose incorrectly done in an improperly warmed up body can cause neck or shoulder strain.

Weight Loss Yoga vs. Dehydration Risk

The extreme sweaty workout has evolved into weight loss yoga as droplets of perspiration permeate both the air and the sticky mats it is practiced on.

Fat burns when the body is warm. The exercises increase the metabolism so pounds seem to disappear. Without proper preparation prior to class, dehydration is a risk for the novice yogi.

Sweat is a Body Fluid with its Inherent Risk of Disease in Hot Yoga

Bikram theory is the increased sweating detoxifies the body. Shared body fluids in the case of flying droplets or unclean mats are an unwelcome side effect of hot yoga. Hepatitis B has been found in sweat but that extreme contact isn’t usually present in yoga unless partnering. Moist heat invites fungal infections and athlete’s foot, or prickly heat. Infection of the sweat glands (hidrandenitis suppurativa) can be an unanticipated aspect of Bikram yoga. Germs spread more easily in the warm moist heat.

Breathing Difficulties in Hot Rooms doing Hot Yoga

Those with breathing difficulties such as asthma, COPD, bronchitis, or early influenza, may find shortness of breath a side effect of the hot overheated room. Those with respiratory problems breathe easier in cool air. Obesity can cause breathing difficulties in extreme heat.

How to Have a Safe Bikram Practice

  • Hydrate before class
  • Dress in non-binding cotton or natural fabric
  • Listen to cues from own body
  • Poses can be modified for each body’s potential
  • Use footwear in all areas outside yoga room and in showers
  • Discuss this type of yoga with health care provider when there is a history of any breathing problem such as COPD, asthma, or an immune deficiency disease
  • Do not practice if pregnant
  • Don’t take class on a full stomach
  • Hydrate after class but not ice water
  • Do not compare self to others but to one’s own personal best
  • Take a break if there is pain or shortness of breath
  • Personal towels and mats are a must
  • Maintain a balanced diet

Begin Where You Are, Listen to the Body

Most practitioners push their bodies slightly beyond what they can do but some attempt to push up to or beyond what their neighbor on the next mat can do, risking injury. With the further incentive of weight loss, the drive to improve may override a warning of a slight pull or pain. Normally, the body gives painful cues of its limits. Hot yoga silences some of those cues. A good teacher watches the students and creates and modifies. Each yoga practitioner must become his/her own best teacher of his/her own body in order to achieve that body’s personal best but not beyond.