Bikram Yoga is a system of yoga that has been around since the early 1970s, and I see a few of their studios opening around London. The main benefits are weight loss, as between 500 and 1250 calories can be burned per session depending on the intensity of these cardio-intensive workouts and other factors. The other main benefit is mental well-being, as participants are required to detach from everything and focus on their breathing.
Classes are designed to run exactly 90 minutes and consist of a series of 26 Hatha Yoga postures and two breathing exercises. What makes Bikram Yoga different, and somewhat controversial, is that it is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of 40%, but it is the most popular form of hot yoga now practiced. Some therapists say that this excessive heat increases the risks of overstretching resulting in cartilage and muscle damage. But Bikram Yoga enthusiasts say the heated studio helps deeper stretching and actually prevents injury, while also reducing stress and tension.
The second aspect is the twenty-six Yoga postures and two breathing exercises. These series of postures have been designed to work every part of the body in correct order, with each pose designed for the body to take on the next pose. Fresh blood is delivered to the muscles, organs and joints in the body through a process of extension and compression. Poor blood circulation can lead to a great deal of distress to the general body health.
While you do a specific pose, a certain part of the body is stretched or compressed. This temporarily cuts off circulation to that area, causing the heart to pump more blood in reaction to the blood shortage. This pumping of fresh blood is called extension. Once the pose is complete, the new oxygenated blood is able to come rushing in, flushing the system of infection, toxins and bacteria. Furthermore, because of the heat and humidity promote sweating, which will help to detox the body naturally.
As with all yoga, this is meant to be an aid for the betterment of the mind as well as the body. It is done in a class setting, and the class I monitored ran the gamut from people in much better shape than I am to those that are more than a little overweight. Ages of people ranged from young adults to seniors. Everyone was working extremely hard, but there seemed to be a relaxed sense of companionship. It was described by people in the class as intense, friendly and not competitive.
Immediate results were better sleep, a mood that is more relaxed, and a more regulated appetite. Longer term they said that they had increased strength and flexibility, fewer aches and pains and greater stamina. Meditation is an important element to Bikram Yoga, which helps with the mental part. Many people have difficulty with the heat and humidity at first, but once the body gets more accustomed to the higher temperatures it becomes less of a problem.