Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout of the month’s breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise. This month we’ll be taking a look at a recent study from the American Council on Exercise on the safety of Bikram Yoga and what you need to know about it.

The Safety Of Bikram Yoga

Bikram Yoga is all the fitness rage these days and this form of yoga consists of twenty-six postures in a heated environment. According to the Bikram Yoga website, “these 26 postures systematically work every part of the body, to give all the internal organs, all the veins, all the ligaments, and all the muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function. (1)”

The average Bikram yoga session lasts about sixty minutes along with the twenty-six poses and takes place in a yoga studio heated to 105 degree Fahrenheit temperatures with forty percent humidity – which is part of the big draw as people who regularly do Bikram yoga say that part of the challenge is having the mental toughness to deal with the heated environment.

The health benefits of yoga are many which include increased flexibility, an increase in strength and muscle tone, a release of stress, and peace of mind. Recently, the American Council on Exercise took a look at the health risks associated with Bikram yoga because of the increase in hot and humid environment that Bikram yoga takes place in.

The Safety Of Bikram Yoga Study Design

The American Council on Exercise took twenty healthy volunteers (seven males, thirteen females age twenty-eight to sixty-seven) who all regularly practiced Bikram yoga. Each volunteer wore a heart rate monitor and swallowed a core body temperature monitor during a class led by a certified Bikram yoga instructor. An initial temperature was taken prior to class and every ten minutes during the yoga session and heart rates were recorded every minute.

What The Results Showed

-Average heart rate for men was eighty percent of the max heart rate
-Average heart rate for women was seventy-two percent of the max heart rate
-The highest max heart rate for men was ninety-two percent
-The highest max heart rate for women was eighty-five percent

-The highest core temperature reached was 103.2 degrees Fahrenheit for men
-The the average high core temperature for men was 102 degrees Fahrenheit for women
-One male had a high core temperature of 104.1 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the class
-Seven women had a high core temperature of over 103 by the end of the class

None of the healthy volunteers showed symptoms of heat intolerance however, once the sixty minute mark of the class was reached, that is when the dangerous core temperatures hit their mark. The study also shows that sweating was insufficient enough to cool down the body.

People Who Should Use Caution With Bikram Yoga

While Bikram yoga can be safe for the seasoned person, much like anything else, one should use common sense if you’re not feeling well. When talking about the safety of Bikram yoga, these following people should use caution:

-People at risk for rhabdomyolysis (you can read more about rhabdomyolysis here)
-If you’ve been out drinking all night, using drugs, or are already dehydrated
-If you’re sick – a slight fever is a good thing for the body but raising the core temperature to dangerous levels for long periods of time can weaken your immune system even more and lead to worsening illness
-Hydrate before and after
-Use an electrolyte replacement drink after a session to replace lost salts
-Use caution if you’re older – older adults have a harder time recovering from dehydration and electrolyte loss
-If you’re new to Bikram yoga, give yourself time to acclimate

When Bikram Yoga Might Not Be Safe

If you exhibit any of these following signs:

-weak, rapid pulse,
-low blood pressure
-dizziness
-fatigue
-headache
-paleness
-cool, clammy skin
-excessive sweating
-elevated core temperature greater than 14 degrees Fahrenheit

Immediately: stop exercising, move to a cooler more open area, hydrate, monitor your temperature, lay down and raise your feet above your head. If your symptoms persist or worsen, head to the emergency room.

For further reading, I’ve outlined the dangers of working out in hot and humid environments here.

Tips For Finding A Safe Bikram Yoga Studio

Getting certified to be a yoga instructor can be as easy as getting on online certification. Make sure your yoga instructor has the experience and common sense to know that not every single person is the same and that they will be able to recognize when someone isn’t tolerating a heated environment. A good yoga instructor will be able to be aware if you have any health concerns that may limit the way you’re able to participate in a Bikram yoga session. Remember: just because you’re sweating does not mean you’re getting a good workout.

Sources:

1. N.a. Bikram Yoga. Bikram’s Yoga College Of India. 2015. Web. 1 May 2015.
2. Felix, M., Foster, C., Green, D., Porcari, J, Steffen, J., Quandt, E. “ACE-Sponsored Research Examines Heart-Rate and Core-Temperature Responses To Bikram Yoga.” American Council On Exercise. May 2015. Web. 1 May 2015.