Bikram ‘not as safe as yogis believe’…

There’s a study (sponsored by the American Council on Exercise and published in the Gundersen Medical Journal) that showed practicing yoga in a hot room “can raise internal temperatures and heart rates to levels that may be dangerous”.

I do get it. I really do. People go to saunas and steam rooms to detoxify. So why not do yoga in a hot room?

However, it seems there are a few things to take into consideration.

Bikram's Yoga College

“The dramatic increases in heart rate and core temperature are alarming when you consider that there is very little movement, and therefore little cardiovascular training, going on during class.”

(study author Emily Quandt)

In the study, researchers looked at 20 healthy volunteers between 28 and 67, all of them regular practitioners. What the test showed is that many of the volunteers’ core temperatures reached higher than 103° F. One man in the study had a core temperature that was over 104° F, and researchers note that heat illness and heat stroke can happen when core temperatures reach 104° F. 

I guess it does not mean it’s not safe. But what it really means is that it’s not safe for everyone. And the real question, I believe, is this: Is it healthy even if it’s safe?

You can read more here and check out the study here.

There’s even a VIDEO in which the study authors explain their findings – watch it here.

Have you practised Bikram yoga? How does it make you feel?

Please share your thoughts!

~ Andrea

Image credit here and here.

10 replies »

  1. I agree that many of the claims that Bikram makes are unsubstantiated. This bugs me to no end. But then just about every Yoga class I’ve taken, the teacher has made some kind of attempt to explain what we’re doing or stretching, and there’s flimsy “evidence” for pretty much all of it.

    The evidence in the practice of yoga is how each person feels because of it and how they change because of it. So I’m not all that interested in really proving any of this stuff in a scientific manner. Regardless, I’ll respond to a few comments here from my personal experience and understanding of Bikram.

    One, it’s certainly surprising to me that I get a cardio work out via Bikram. I don’t think the study’s claim that the increased heart rate is alarming because there’s little movement is all that valid. The postures are more static, sure. My explanation is that they are vigorous holds in a variety of positions that create a constant changing of blood pressure. It makes your system constantly adjust. My heart rate is raised and sustained during the standing series.

    Two, they have a pretty strong ethic to do the set up and only what you can do. There are constant reminders that it doesn’t matter if you can’t do the full expression. The dialogue states “a little the right way” and you get full benefits of the pose. I’ll readily acknowledge that it’s human nature to press. But I’ve seen that in every Yoga class I’ve ever taken, not just Bikram.

    Three, they ask practitioners to remain in the room and remain upright during the standing series (if possible) so as not to unduly shock the system. If you have to leave the room, you leave. But they’re rather you stand or sit out postures than go back and forth.

    Four, it’s important to make the distinction between “hot yoga” and Bikram. Bikram actively discourages anyone who’s pregnant and new to Yoga beginning with Bikram. They do feel that if you have a regular practice before pregnancy that you can continue. It’s one of the few places where they offer variations for certain poses.

    Five, for me, Bikram is very much about self-discipline and overcoming discomfort, be it physical or emotional. I’ve done a lot of Yoga in various forms. I’ve had wonderful teachers in all of them. But I return to the series over and over again. Many people dismiss the heat or the conformity. But I find it creates a structure for me to allow it all to be wrung out. The grace and fluidity comes in my real life…


  2. Hi Andrea!
    I practiced bikram for a year and incurred several injuries – which I learned to understand why during my teacher training. All about their friggin locking of knees grrr
    Personally, I prefer heated rooms. I looove to sweat and this brings me deeper in my own practice. I also teach in heated rooms. It’s my thing and works for me. But I have long banished bikram. I practice and teach flow and power classes in hot or warm rooms. It’s true that it’s not for everyone. But like I’ve said, it is my thing =)
    The only practice I do in regular temp is Mysore. I’ve done other flow or power classes in non-heated rooms, and I still sweat. I just love heat more lol xo


    • Here in Australia there’s a wide range of ‘heated’ classes. They might start at 26 degrees and go up to Bikram type temperatures. However, when it’s summer here and temperatures go up to 40 outside, practising at 26 almost has a ‘cool down’ effect 🙂
      Thanks for your comment!


  3. I tried it once and almost passed out from dehydration. That was fine, I should have been more aware of what it was before I took the class. The kicker was, halfway through class I went out into the anteroom to cool off and the teacher came out after me and said, “you can’t leave in the middle of the class!”, so of course I told her she’d better call an ambulance because I’ll probably be needing one. She then suggested I continue to lay on the floor until I felt better, and she left me alone.

    I mention this because I don’t see anything wrong, per se, with practicing yoga in a heated room on an occasional or periodic basis. However, and after some further exploration to Bikram style/practice in particular, the cult-like devotion to form, rules, and regularity (such as one is not allowed to leave if one feels ill due to the heat) can lead to poor health outcomes because followers seem to form a devotion-like following despite all health symptoms to the contrary.


    • In a way it really goes against what yoga is trying to teach us: Listen to yourself, to your own body, become aware of what you need and what’s good for you. On a side note: When I was pregnant not many hot yoga teachers had any objections to me practising in a hot room…


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