In collaboration with Lorna Jane at Huntington Beach, ScientiFIT brings you an informative lecture on
Published on March 12th, 2012 | by ScientiFIT12
The Truth About Bikram Yoga: Torture Chamber or Just a Fancy Cane?
Establishing the Basics:
Also known as “hot yoga,” Bikram is a 26-series of yoga poses that are performed in a room heated to at least 105° F with 40%-60% humidity.
Resource for This ScientiFIT Investigation:
A PubMed* search using the keywords “bikram yoga” (search performed in March 2012), returns two results (one positive, one negative)! Just by way of comparison, a keyword search of “hatha yoga” returns 69 hits.
Understanding the Little Dichotomy Known about Bikram Yoga:
“The Positive”: One paper (Hart and Tracy 2008 J Strength Cond) investigates the effect of an 8-week Bikram yoga practice (24 sessions total) on the contractions of a number of muscle groups, as well as on balance time. The data only reveal an increase in balance time of Bikram yoga practitioners.
“The Negative”: The second paper (Lu and Pierre 2007 Am J Psychiatry) suggests negative psychological effects associated with Bikram Yoga. This paper is a case-study of a 33 year-old man with a history of psychosis, who experienced severe hallucinations associated with practice of Bikram yoga. He reported seeing owls speaking to him, “cat-like slits” in people’s eyes, and a cross on his own forehead), paranoia, and a disturbing sense that there was “a battle for control of [his] mind” and that he had “betrayed God.” The patient was later hospitalized and treated for psychosis.
In the first paper, a multitude of other parameters (with known benefits in other types of yoga) were investigated, none of which showed even modest differences after practice of Bikram yoga. As well, the subjects of the study by Hart and Tracy were healthy young adults (with an average age of 27 years) and no previous history of health/psychological problems. It is not clear whether the modest effects observed in balance time would hold up in a an older population or those with health concerns.
In the second paper, the patient had a history of paranoia and psychosis. As well, he had been eating/drinking poorly in the days leading up to the episode. However, the patient had also been in full psychological remission for 10 years and mild/moderate under-eating/dehydration should not lead to hallucinations.
1) ScientiFIT finds the minimal amount of empirical evidence in support of Bikram yoga highly disturbing. Not surprisingly, the first paper is widely cited by many Bikram yoga websites. Perhaps not surprisingly, the paper by Hart and Tracy is the only evidence for a single benefit of Bikram yoga (i.e. increase in balance time). Again, just by way of comparison, there are hundreds of scientific papers regarding the multitude of beneficial effects in practice of other types of yoga, such as Hatha and Iyengar.
2) Based on the second paper, it can be concluded that Bikram yoga likely results in severe dehydration that may lead to psychosis, especially in patients with a history of psychological disorders. The effects of Bikram-based practice on the psyche of healthy individuals has not been studied.
Claims for the beneficial effects of Bikram yoga are almost entirely anecdotal and scientific data regarding this type of practice is close to nonexistent. Yet, Bikram yoga has gained significant popularity in the western culture and new “hot yoga” studios are on a rise.
To our knowledge, Bikram yoga has little to no known beneficial effects and even has a documented case of one severely negative outcome. While practice of Bikram yoga may cause release of endorphins (“feel good” chemicals in the brain) primarily caused by the excessive sweating, similar effects can be achieved in a sauna!
ScientiFIT recommends that a far more healthy, physically and psychologically effective, and well-balanced form of yoga is performed at temperatures not exceeding 80° F and with exercises that challenge the body and calm the mind instead of non-strenuous poses that may result in psychosis!
*PubMed is a search interface to Medline, a database consisting of over 12 million citations from over 4,000 journals indexed by the National Library of Medicine in the United States. PubMed is the most common “go-to” website for almost all scientists and is the primary resource used in the writing of all Scientifit articles.