Although you can work up a sweat in many styles of yoga, Bikram yogis take perspiration to the extreme. A 26-posture series developed by Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga requires students to practice in a studio heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit with elevated humidity. It's not uncommon for a Bikram practitioner to sweat out 1 to 3 pounds of water weight in a 90-minute class -- water that takes with it electrolytes that contribute to muscle function.
Electrolytes -- minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium -- help regulate the fluid balance in your body and, when present in proper amounts, ensure that your muscle fibers contract efficiently and powerfully during exercise. They also help regulate your blood pressure, blood pH and nerve function. If your electrolytes are out of balance, you may experience symptoms such as muscle cramps, twitching, heart palpitations and weakness. Sodium and potassium are the electrolytes most subject to imbalance as a result of sweating during intense exercise.
A water bottle is standard equipment for Bikram yogis, although more advanced students sometimes choose to do yoga without drinking fluids. Bikram teachers usually recommend that you sip plain water over carbohydrate-containing beverages during class, and a study in the "Journal of Sports Sciences" confirms that the presence of carbohydrates in a beverage slows gastric emptying and the subsequent availability of fluids to your body. There is no prohibition against drinking electrolyte-enhanced beverages during class, and some students choose sports drinks, water mixed with electrolyte/vitamin powders or coconut water, which is naturally high in potassium.
Before and After Class
The best way to maintain proper electrolyte levels during Bikram yoga is to hydrate yourself before you come to class. The Bikram Yoga website recommends drinking an extra 64 to 80 ounces of water above normal consumption supplemented with sodium and potassium as needed. Because individual physiology varies, so will your need for supplemental electrolytes. The USDA specifies an AI -- adequate intake -- for adults of 4.7 grams of potassium per day from all sources and 3.8 grams of sodium in the form of sodium chloride, or salt, to support basic metabolic needs as well as losses during exercise or hot weather. If you find yourself suffering cramps or other symptoms of electrolyte imbalance despite consuming adequate amounts, check with your doctor.
During the first 20 minutes of class, Bikram students may not drink anything at all because they must build heat in the body -- all the more reason to hydrate yourself before beginning. Although sipping between postures is allowed anytime after eagle pose, students who drink too much or gulp their liquids often find themselves nauseated, particularly during back-bending postures, like camel, or those that require balancing on the stomach, such as bow pose.