Hot yoga, or Bikram Yoga, is a relatively new twist on an old discipline. In 1972, Bikram Choudhury, a native of India, set up his first three hot yoga studios in the United States. The technique, which involves contorting your body into a series of 26 poses in a room that's heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, has exploded in popularity. However, the extreme heat and challenging poses aren't suitable for everyone and in some cases could lead to serious health problems.
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The Choudhury's Yoga College of India website claims that, if performed properly, the 26 postures "give all the internal organs, all the veins, all the ligaments, and all the muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function." The high temperature softens up the body and provides flexibility. The site also claims that sweating in the heat clears toxins from the body.
Increased flexibility might not be desirable for everyone. Shirley Sahrmann, a physical therapy professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told "The New York Times" in a March 2004 article that "In my business, I have more problems with people who have excessive mobility than limited mobility.'' The hot temperature effectively loosens your ligaments, but once you've stretched them out, they won't retain their original shape. This could cause long-term problems with your joints.
If you opt for hot yoga, drink plenty of water. Exercise physiologist and yoga instructor Leslie Funk recommends at least 16 ounces of water two hours before you attend a hot yoga session, 20 to 40 ounces after the session and frequent water breaks during the session. Be alert to signs of heat exhaustion, including an increased heart rate, nausea, dizziness, headache and vomiting. If at any point during a hot yoga session something doesn't feel right, stop the exercise and notify your instructor.
People Most at Risk
Don't attempt hot yoga if you're pregnant because the increased temperature could cause hypothermia. If you're overweight, suffer cardiovascular disease, have respiratory problems, are sleep deprived or have a history of heat-related illness, hot yoga is a bad idea. Regardless of your health status, consult a health care professional before you attempt this extreme form of yoga.