Yoga is a form of fitness training that a lot of people participate in. And you can’t pinpoint just one group of people who gravitate toward yoga either. You might find a professional fighter downward dogging it next to a soccer mom with surprising regularity. But outside of improved flexibility and muscular endurance, I’ve always wondered about its benefits.
In a study published this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers took a look at the changes in a variety of exercises after study participants did yoga training three times per week for eight weeks. Some of the exercises might not be what you’d think to check, like the deadlift and grip strength. They also checked the participant’s cardio, flexibility, heart rate, blood pressure, and body fat. The style was Bikram yoga – you know, the one in the hot room.
[bikram yoga, yoga, yoga benefits, benefits of bikram yoga, bikram yoga science] After retesting each trait at the end of training, some of the results were surprising. Most surprising for me was the absence of improvement in cardio. Neither maximal aerobic ability nor any of the other cardiovascular measures changed. Grip strength also remained unchanged, but that I could see. Improvements were noted in every other area.Deadlift strength was perhaps the biggest surprise, but they tested an isometric deadlift, which is more yoga’s forte anyway. The participants burned some extra fat, which should be expected. And big shocker on the flexibility front, yoga improved flexibility. (That was sarcasm, in case it didn’t come through effectively.)
Now, I need to mention one important aspect of fitness that takes some of the wind out of these yoga sails. That aspect is called General Physical Preparedness (GPP). One of the components of GPP training is what we often term “beginner gains.” In other words, you could spin in circles in your living room holding a Shake Weight and you’d hit a personal record on your deadlift the next time you went in the gym. (I don’t know why my mind went there, but the point still stands.) These sorts of improvements can’t be discounted when looking at research like this.
With GPP in mind, I’ll reiterate the surprise in that yoga didn’t improve cardio at all. I’d have thought just standing in the hot room for that long might have helped lower heart rate, but maybe all the participants are from Florida and they unwittingly practice Bikram yoga every day just bending to pick up the newspaper.
Ultimately, the advantage of doing Bikram might be a bit overstated by research like this. I don’t think competitive powerlifters will be pulling record numbers by hitting the studio instead of the gym, but note that the participants had a big jump in flexibility. This is probably because something a little beyond GPP is going on in that realm, and it’s something many athletes can benefit from.
Bikram is to yoga what Tae-Bo is to kickboxing. Like Billy Blanks, Bikram Choudhury took a long-existing practice and modified it to create a uniquely-packaged fitness franchise. According to the 66-year-old Indian-born yoga guru, the precise sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises must be performed within 90 minutes in a heated (100-degrees-plus) room to allow the body to stretch, detoxify, relieve stress, tone, and heal chronic pain such as arthritis, joint aches, knee injuries, back problems, and more.
If you decide to try a class, don't expect your instructor to demonstrate the moves. In Bikram, they're trained to talk you through the flow as part of a moving meditation (listening to thesedirections forces practitioners to stop thinking and be in the moment). No matter where you practice in the world, the dialogue between the teacher and the student stays pretty much the same (seriously, they're following a script).
Another constant: the sweaty smell! Every studio has a soft carpet, which is more forgiving to joints than hardwood floors. "These days many studios have an anti-bacterial carpet that gets cleaned regularly,” assures Maria McBride, owner and founder of Bikram Yoga Natick in Massachusetts and Lululemon Athletica ambassador. “So if it stinks when you walk in that's good! It's not dirt, but just sweat, which is what we want,” she says.
Hot yoga—whether it's Bikram, Moksha or an independently run studio—has become hugely popular across North America. Find out more about the benefits of hot yoga and whether it's right for you
By Meredith Dault
[The Benefits of Hot Yoga]
The sweat starts almost instantly, dripping onto my mat before we’ve finished the first exercise. Lying on my back in a windowless, mirrored room at Moksha Yoga Halifax, I feel like a melting glacier trying to resist global warming. Our teacher walks through the room, offering gentle encouragement and the odd adjustment. “Embrace the heat,” she says warmly, and I do my best, even as sweat pools embarrassingly in all my crevices.
Though I’ve practiced a fair bit of yoga in the past, this is my first hot yoga class. And just a few minutes into it, one thing is very clear: they aren’t kidding about the heat. The class is held in a room that’s been heated to 37°C. If you can imagine a tropical island with no breeze, you’ll start to get the picture.
The benefits of hot yoga
Those who are devoted to the practice say hot yoga has all kinds of benefits. The one that’s touted most often is detoxification: heavy sweating is said to help flush toxins from the skin. “The heat also allows you to go a little more deeply and safely into the postures,” says Joanna Thurlow, the owner of Moksha Yoga Halifax, “so you know you’re really warming up the muscles and you can really approach the postures from a safe place.” According to Isabel Lambert, director of Tula Yoga Spa in Toronto, working in a heated room also elevates the heart rate, which makes the body work harder. “It’s really for people who want a more intense workout—those who want to develop strength, flexibility and tone along with a cardiovascular workout.” She also says working in heat helps the body relax, improves breathing (which helps conditions like asthma) and focuses the mind, which develops better mental concentration.
Hot yoga styles
Like with "regular" yoga, hot yoga comes in all kinds of different styles. Bikram yoga, which is practiced at certified studios right across the country and the world, is still considered the original incarnation of the form. Those classes follow a set sequence of 26 postures and focus on endurance. Moksha Yoga was founded by two yogis from Toronto who wanted to integrate an environmental component to their hot yoga practice. All Moksha studios, found across Canada and the United States, adhere to "green" principles—incorporating things like energy-efficient heating and sustainable flooring. Others, like Lambert, teach their own versions of hot yoga, in classes like “hot power flow.”
How to prepare for hot yoga
The key to enjoying hot yoga is to go in prepared. (Read our guide about the Dos and Don'ts of Hot Yoga.) “You have to be super aware of your own health,” says Thurlow. She says it’s important to be well-hydrated before taking a hot yoga class, and recommends drinking “litres and litres of water throughout the day” in anticipation. Thurlow recommends not eating too much before a class, and replenishing lost minerals and electrolytes with a fortified drink afterward, such as Gatorade, Emergen-C or coconut water. And both Thurlow and Lambert stress that because yoga isn’t competitive, everyone should take a class at their own pace. “If you feel weird, you take a break,” says Thurlow. “There’s no ego in yoga, so you just do what you’re capable of.”
Some cautions about hot yoga
But some, like Halifax-based naturopathic doctor Sandra Murphy, regard hot yoga warily. “There’s a chance of getting injured,” she says, citing improper supervision and a tendency to over-stretch in the heat. “You could be going beyond your end point, because you’re losing the ability to know where your edge is... so you’re artificially stretching the muscle.” Murphy, who is a huge proponent of infrared sauna-therapy for detoxification purposes, and who readily recommends regular yoga as a form of exercise, says she simply doesn’t believe the two should necessarily go hand-in-hand. She adds that even in India, yoga would have traditionally been practiced in the early morning, to avoid the intense heat of the day. “I just don’t think it’s safe,” says Murphy.
Though Lambert says she’s never seen anyone suffer from heat stroke in a class, she does advise people who suffer heart problems to consult with a doctor prior to attempting any kind of hot yoga class. She also suggests that women should not practice hot yoga when pregnant. People with high or low blood pressure are advised to try an easier form, and to limit the amount of time they spend in the heat. But generally, she says hot yoga is safe and gentle for everyone from children to seniors. “That’s one of the benefits,” she says, “it’s is more challenging and intense, but everyone can get something from it.”
How you feel after class
Lying on my back near the end of class, I have to admit that I’m feeling well-stretched and surprisingly relaxed. I’m also feeling more sweaty than I’ve been in a long time. My cotton tank top is drenched. But clearly, embracing the sweat is the secret to hot yoga. “A lot of people tend to feel self-conscious about the fact that they’re sweating a lot, so they’re wiping it constantly,” says Thurlow. She says it’s better just to let the sweat flow. “When you wipe it, you close your pores, and that means your body has to produce that sweat again to cool that area. It’s best just to let it flow and realize that everyone around you is sweating just as much.”
Read more at http://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/yoga/the-benefits-of-hot-yoga#S8K3AkKaFsAF7Q5C.99
Check out this article on Bikram Yoga from Forbes Click here