Bikram Yoga is HOT. As in 105 degrees with 40% humidity HOT. The heat has to be the single most consistent reason that I have heard from people as to why they haven’t tried Bikram Yoga, even if they want to. And I totally can sympathize with the fact that going into a hot yoga studio to sweat for 90 minutes can seem really scary. It certainly was for me when I first started. But my goal in this post is to explain why the heat is included to enhance the healing benefits of Bikram Yoga, rather than to make it a torturous experience.
Without further ado, here are 7 reasons why we use (and grow to love!) the heat in Bikram Yoga.
- Safe stretching. Imagine your muscles are like taffy. If you try stretch a piece of cold taffy, it’ll snap. But if you warm the taffy in your hands before stretching it, it will move easily the way you want. Your muscles react to the temperature the same way. The heat allows your muscles to stretch and move safely.
- Sweat, detoxification, and organ health. You will sweat a lot in a Bikram Yoga, which means that your skin is the organ doing the detoxifying. When this happens, your internal organs that are used for detoxification, specifically the kidneys and liver, get a break for the 90 minute class.
- Improved Circulation. In the hot yoga room, your veins dilate so that more, freshly-oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood can flush through them. We do a lot of compression and then release postures, so when that release happens, the blood flows easily to ares of your body where it otherwise may not flow so well (think knees, ankles, feet, and lower back).
- Concentration. The heat is a challenge – yes – and working in the heat and learning how to pace yourself builds tremendous mental concentration. I used to be skeptical of mental benefits of yoga, I just couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how yoga could improve the mind. But learning how to take care of yourself while at the same time challenge yourself does wonders for your mental concentration.
- Makes you drink more water. You’ll realize very quickly that the more water you drink out of class, the better you’ll feel in class. Staying well-hydrated creates optimal health whether you’re practicing Bikram Yoga or not, but when you know you will be sweating later on in the day because you’ll be at yoga class, you gulp down more water simply out of habit.
- Cardiovascular benefit. The heat helps to make Bikram Yoga an amazing workout. Another thing I never knew about yoga before I started was that it could be considered “cardio.” Your heart gets a workout at the same time your joints and ligaments receive therapeutic benefit.
- Improved Breathing. Dry air can exacerbate asthma, so deep breathing in a humid room (which is the very first thing we do in every Bikram Yoga class) relieves asthmatic symptoms immediately. If you suffer from asthma, you only need to push yourself as much as you’re comfortable with; in fact, you’ll still get so much benefit simply from doing a little bit. I have a student right now who, at 43 years old, has been suffering from asthma for nine years. During this time his medication has increased but his symptoms have not decreased. Until (of course!) he started practicing Bikram Yoga…. less than two months ago! He says, “No amount of medicine has helped me to breathe as clearly as 90 minutes in the hot room.”
The biggest thing to keep in mind with the heat in Bikram Yoga is that it’s one of the most challenging things at the beginning, but it’s also one of the first things you learn to manage. The heat is designed to be one of the elements that facilitates the healing effects of Bikram Yoga.
So what do you think? Does this make the heat seem less scary? To other Bikram Yogis, what do you love about the heat?