Bikram yoga is a type of yoga that involves a sequence of set poses and is usually done in a hot room at or above body temperature.
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Bikram yoga, often called "hot yoga," is a form of yoga popularized by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s in California. Bikram yoga instructors go through a nine-week training program in which they learn a set practice and dialogue. Currently, there are more than 1,650 Bikram studios around the world.
The yoga practice involves repeating the same 26 poses in set cycles over 90-minute classes. In most classes, rooms are heated, often up to a sweltering 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius) and kept at fairly high humidity. Proponents claim the temperature improves blood flow and helps oxygen reach muscle tissue, which may make practitioners more flexible. Hot yoga advocates also say the practice can flush out toxins from the body and even help with weight loss.
Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice can help lessen back pain, sharpen the mind, improve mood and even lower blood pressure. However, no large-scale scientific research has backed up benefits specific to the Bikram practice. Toxins, for instance, are typically flushed out not by sweating, but by the liver and the kidney, and are removed through urination or bowel movements.
However, the practice does have some potential dangers. The profuse sweating involved in Bikram yoga can lead to dehydration if practitioners don't drink enough water. A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal Case Reports described a woman who developed seizures and went into a coma after losing so much salt through profuse sweating in a Bikram yoga class. And the increased flexibility can actually be a bad thing, because it can make practitioners prone to overstretching that can facilitate strains and sprains, according to "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards," (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
Hot yoga can also worsen the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart conditions should also steer clear, experts say.
Generally, if someone starts feeling nauseated, dizzy or otherwise ill during a Bikram yoga class, it's a good idea to have some water and take a break.
Still, there's little risk of developing heat stroke during a Bikram yoga class, at least if it's practiced in a room kept between 90 and 95 F (32 and 35 C), according to a small 2013 study by the American Council on Exercise. That study tracked 20 people practicing both hot and regular yoga found virtually no difference in core temperature or heart rate between the two groups. Those practicing the hot yoga, however, did perceive it to be harder, even if their bodies didn't register the increased difficulty.