THE FIT FACTOR

The Benefits of Bikram Yoga

Wed. April 3, 2013 12:00 AM
by Michael Elder

There are not many occasions when I will say that have experienced a "first". However, last week that is exactly what happened. I enrolled in my very first Bikram Yoga class at Bikram Yoga Andersonville. Now, I am certainly no stranger to yoga. I used to take power yoga consistently and I have always been a huge believer in the many benefits that yoga has to offer. But this was my first experience with Bikram, which is also called "hot yoga", and for very good reason: the room is heated to 105 degrees. The class itself focuses on 26 poses (asana) which are designed to address common physical, emotional, and psychological ailments found amongst people in Western society. Many people have concerns as to whether this form of yoga is safe. Studies have consistently shown that Bikram yoga is indeed safe for people of all different ages and backgrounds and heat exhaustion is a very rare occurrence. Also, the benefits are a plenty.

1) Weight loss. Bikram yoga can indeed assist in weight loss. Granted, some of the weight that is lost comes from water loss. Believe me when I tell you that I have never sweat that much in my entire life (and I have been in some pretty sweaty situations). Bikram yoga is known for burning anywhere from 500 to 1000 calories a session, which is in part due to the extreme heat. Your digestive system and metabolism will improve, normalizing your appetite and diminishing unhealthy cravings. You may still want that one cheat day a week and that is fine.

2) Arthritis. Many students experience quick relief from arthritis after only a few classes of Bikram Yoga. A combination of the heat and the moving, twisting, extending and compressing of every joint can alleviate arthritis. A regular practice is necessary for continued relief.

3) Blood pressure. Unstable high blood pressure can respond very quickly to a regular Bikram Yoga practice. Consult your doctor and don't push too hard for your first few classes. If you are tested about a week after starting Yoga, you may see a slight rise in pressure. Don't be alarmed. By the second week, that pressure will be normal or close to normal and will stay there as long as you continue your yoga regimen. Many students who maintain a regular practice are able to stop taking blood pressure medication.

4) Back pain. Bikram Yoga has helped countless numbers of people with back pain, stiff necks, headaches, scoliosis, herniated disks and many other back problems. The Bikram Yoga series is designed to work the spine in every direction with many beneficial backbends, creating a healthy spine and thus a healthy nervous system. Make sure to tell your instructor what type of back pain you suffer from in case modifications are necessary.

5) Depression. On those days when you don't feel like doing anything, going to Bikram Yoga class is key. You just have to show up and the yoga takes care of the rest. After each session your mind will become more balanced and depression will be lifted. The more you practice, the better you will feel. Many students come off antidepressants and other medications after establishing a regular Bikram Yoga practice.

6) Stress management. When performing the 26 postures and two breathing exercises, the fight-or-flight response is turned off and a feeling of balanced well-being is replaced. A regular practice can lower cortisol levels, calm the mind, increase mental clarity and release and reduce stress and tension.

7) Respiratory problems. Bikram Yoga will be good for your breathing problems in several ways. The heat promotes relaxation of the muscles and nerves, and you can work with as much intensity as appropriate for your needs. Bikram Yoga will relax your mind and help let go of tensions, toxins and negativity. It strengthens your heart and lungs, improving your lung function. You will breathe easier and deeper than you ever have before.

8) Thyroid regulation. Many of the postures in Bikram Yoga compress and work the thyroid thus helping to regulate the gland balancing thyroid levels. Along with thyroid regulation comes increased energy, weight loss and better metabolism.

9) Preventative medicine. Bikram Yoga acts as anti-aging and preventative medicine keeping the body young and healthy. Many athletes such as Colby Bryant and celebrities such as Lady GaGa swear by Bikram Yoga.

10) Balancing emotions. Bikram Yoga helps balance the emotions in several ways. Physiologically a regular practice harmonizes the nervous and endocrine systems – two systems which play a large part in emotional well-being. Practicing Bikram Yoga cultivates the mental faculties of self-control, concentration, determination, and patience.

One thing that I do need to mention is that once you begin a class, the instructors do typically request that you not leave until the class is complete. The sudden change in temperature can cause adverse effects. If at any time you begin to feel dizzy or light headed, you are free to take a break from the postures, sit at the edge of your mat, and breathe deeply. Nine times out of ten, this will alleviate any negative effects. Once you feel ready, you are encouraged to resume the class. It is also advisable to drink plenty of water after the class to avoid dehydration. When I finished this class, I felt great. While I am still a fan of other yoga practices, I did feel as though the heat in this brand of yoga helped to clear my mind. But don't take my word for it- go try it yourself! You may find that you love it; you may find that it's not your thing. But one thing is for sure; it will definitely be a "first", and one that you won't soon forget.

Thanks for reading. Be healthy!

Michael Elder has been working as a fitness professional in Chicago for the last fifteen years. He comes from a background in gymnastics and is certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He can be contacted directly through his website, www.MichaelElder.com.

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