Bikram yoga is the original, infamous hot yoga sequence, made up of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. It takes place in a room heated to around 38 ºC with 40% humidity, which makes practicing Bikram yoga a very sweaty experience! Your first class is usually the hardest, but very quickly you adapt to the heat and begin to love what it does for your mind and body.
A key, defining feature of Bikram yoga is it’s set sequence; every class is made up of the same postures, all done in the same order each time. This is great for getting to grips with the postures and allows you to clearly see your progression, especially if you are new to yoga. The sequence is designed to help you build energy, stamina, and flexibility, and does this by incorporating strength, balance, and most importantly, the tourniquet effect. This technique stretches, squeezes and massages the internal organs, flushing out the cardiovascular system and stimulating the endocrine and nervous systems in order to release deficient hormones and enzymes.
Bikram yoga can be used both as preventative medicine and also for reducing symptoms of chronic physical injury, as the heat helps to improve much needed blood flow around and through the injury site. Furthermore, the sequence is made up of static postures rather than fast, continuous movements from one pose to the next, placing greater emphasis on alignment and the modification of postures to suit your body, which enables you to work with the injury in a healing way.
Recent times have also seen science become fascinated by hot yoga. Evidence has shown that being exposed to high temperatures increases your circulation and has a relaxing effect on your muscles, which is helpful for those not naturally flexible. Practicing yoga in a heated room also increases the flow of lymph, which assists the immune system and helps the body to repair and heal. Hot yoga is awesome for the same reason hot tubs are awesome- they both make you feel great.
A common misconception about Bikram is that all the sweating turns hot yoga studios into germ-laden places. But fear not! Science has shown that there is a natural antibiotic released in your sweat called Dermcidin. Dermcidin is antimicrobial and it’s release is a defence mechanism that supports the immune system. Because of this it is currently being studied as a treatment for powerful superbugs like tuberculosis and MRSA. Dermcidin is most effective when sweat does not evaporate quickly and is allowed to pool on the surface of the skin (think of a hot & humid room). Even more reason not to wipe away your sweat during your Bikram session!
Perhaps the most interesting developments in hot yoga science involve something called hyperthermic conditioning, or exercising in the heat. Studies conducted by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a biomedical researcher, have proven that acclimatising to heat through the use of hot rooms increases both endurance and the capacity to build muscle. Early evidence is suggesting hyperthermic conditioning improves production of human growth hormone and heat shock proteins—both of which lead to enhanced muscle growth and healing. As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Patrick argues that it is this acclimatisation to heat that produces what is known as the “runner’s high.” Lovers of Bikram yoga will recognise that a good hot class produces a significant yoga buzz!
Above all else, the great thing about Bikram is that it’s for everyone, from beginners to experienced yogis. Over time, not only does the body and physical practice improve, but you can begin to find more focus, breathe more deeply, and ultimately learn how to find calm in not-so-calm situations. This training and practice in the safe-space of the studio provides hugely valuable lessons that are even more relevant and helpful in the world off of our mats.