Is Bikram Yoga safe?
That was the question behind the American Council on Exercise’s sponsored research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the results of which were published in the April 2015 issue of the Gunderson Medical Journal.
The study found “alarming” heart rate and core temperature levels among 20 healthy participants followed during a recorded Bikram Yoga class. These levels raise the risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the study says.
The results showed heart rates fluctuated depending on the difficulty of the poses performed. Seven of the 20 participants had a body temperature that reached above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and one man reached 104.1 degrees by the end of the 90-minute class. The risk for heat-related illnesses increases at 104 degrees, the study notes.
For Bikram Yoga teachers, the study stresses being aware of the signs of heat-related illness and encouraging proper hydration among participants.
“Nothing is gained from withholding water in any setting,” argues Dr. John P. Porcari, head of the University’s Clinical Exercise Physiology program.
The practice of breaking for active hydration might conflict with the philosophy of some Bikram Yoga purists. The study also recommends shortening the class to 60 minutes (from 90 minutes) and lowering the room temperature from the standard 105 degrees to lower risk factors.
Cedric X. Bryant, chief science officer at ACE, says Bikram Yoga is likely “here to stay” given its proven benefits but advocates for safe participation.
The study offered these tips to Bikram and other ‘hot’ yoga teachers:
- Create a class culture that encourages adequate hydration.
- Offer students time and space to acclimate.
- Remain present in teaching and recognize signs of heat-related illness.
- Embrace the process of sweating and encourage students to do the same.
The study monitored the body’s response to practicing Bikram Yoga in its traditional hot and humid environment during a single session. The study recruited healthy volunteers ages 28-67 who regularly practice Bikram Yoga, and tracked their core temperature and heart rates.
Club Industry contacted Bikram Yoga for its reaction to the study and is awaiting comment.