Yoga in any form is an effective low-impact exercise that can have positive effects on your blood pressure, stress level and mood. Bikram yoga, also called hot yoga, is a series of yoga poses performed in a room heated to 100 degrees or more. It's not for everyone, but for those who give it a shot, hot yoga can have physical and mental benefits.
Doing yoga in a super-heated room is similar to sitting in a sauna. Heated environments increase your pulse rate and metabolism and allow your blood vessels to become more flexible. That makes circulation easier and increases blood flow to the limbs. Cold muscles become injured more easily than warmed-up ones, so the heat of a Bikram yoga class allows your body to move more freely. Although you will get hot, the act of sweating helps control your internal body temperature.
Flow-style yoga classes involve transitioning from one pose to another through a sequence called vinyasa, in which you move to plank pose, down through high-to-low pushup, and up to cobra pose and downward-facing dog. Vinyasa helps your muscles stay warm and flexible, but some people find the sequence tiring and would rather just do individual poses, one after another, without the transition. Bikram yoga allows this opportunity. Because the room is so warm already, there's no need to flow between poses.
All types of yoga are designed to relieve stress and promote mind-body unity. Practicing hot yoga, though, is a special case of mind over matter. Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is an accomplishment, and you may be surprised to discover that the upper limits of what your body can do under extreme conditions is higher than you thought.
Although sweating it out through hot yoga has its benefits, you should take some precautions as well. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your practice. Wear less clothing than you normally would for other kinds of yoga -- for example, a tank top and shorts instead of a T-shirt and long pants -- to allow your skin to breathe and sweat to evaporate. Stop and leave the room immediately if you feel any symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as dizziness, nausea, headache, confusion, poor vision or weakness. Get a doctor's OK before practicing hot yoga if you have diabetes, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, or a history of heat-related illness.