• The Science of Sweat

    …by Sharon Linde, yogini blogger for Bikram Yoga St. Louis

    Those of us who practice Bikram Yoga know the benefits. They differ from person to person, but stand around us long enough and we’ll bore you silly with how awesome the results are, from body to mind to spirit. Yoginis will tell you about the flushing of toxins, deep stretching, increased strength and flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. They’ll brag about their better mental health, increased focus, more peaceful outlook, and sounder sleep. To listen to us, life without Bikram Yoga would be pretty miserable.

    There are some Bikram doubters floating around town, folks who think what we do is a bunch of hooey, my sister among them. She says things like ‘you’ve been drinking the Bikram kool-aid.’, and wants scientific proof it’s worth sweating 90 minutes of her life away. Life would be dull without the doubters.

    Well, cynics, get ready; the folks at Colorado State University recently ‘produced the first scientific evidence’ in a study detailing the benefits of Bikram Yoga, finding (drumroll please…..) the practice ‘has beneficial effects on fitness’.


    Researchers used a practice pool of 19 people between the ages of 18 and 40. All of the 11 women and eight men were seasoned yogis. The study focused solely on physical benefits, specifically calories burned, heart rate and internal core temperature. The participants were placed in a room simulated to Bikram standards, hooked up to a device to measure outcomes, and followed a tape of a certified instructor.

    Bikram Yoga Research Study

    Metabolic rate

    Although it may feel like you’re burning a zillion calories, researchers found the average man burned about 460, and the average woman around 330. To gain perspective, you’d burn the same amount of calories walking briskly about three and a half miles, or 90 minutes.

    Brian Tracy, the lead researcher, says the disconnect between calories thought to be burned and the reality of the number actually burned is due to increased heart rate during practice – your heart is beating more quickly, so you think you’re burning calories. Bur really, elevated heat in the Bikram studio is responsible for higher heart rates, not increased body work. Tracy goes on to say ‘This number of calories burned can still contribute to weight loss with regular participation.’

    Researchers acknowledged that many factors determine calories burned, including age, weight, body mass, and level of participation, so don’t let that number bum you out. A zillion is a really high number.

    Heart rate

    There are times in the studio when it feels like my heart rate may be at a dangerous level. Researchers found the participants showed elevated heart rates averaging about 160 beats per minute, a good target number during exercise. There are some high-tech formulas to figure out your specific target heart rate that I’m not going to pretend to understand. If you’re interested, check one out here.

    A good rule of thumb in the room, where fancy gadgets and counting heartbeats are frowned upon, is to keep your heart rate in check by taking long, deep breaths and even longer exhales.

    Core Temperature

    You’d think that being in a room heated to 105 and blasting humidity would make your temperature increase, but you’d be wrong. The study found core temperatures averaging 100.3 degrees F, well within a safe range. Sweating helps keep those temperatures down, which is why you’re encouraged to just let the sweat roll. Plus, as I’ll report on later this spring, new research confirms sweating helps remove heavy metals and toxins from the body.

    This study wasn’t Tracy’s first focusing on Bikram yoga. In 2008, his lab tested the physiological effects, finding improvement in muscle control, balance and strength. In 2013, Tracy co-authored a study showing improved spine, hamstring and shoulder flexibility.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t need the research to convince me how awesome I feel after yoga, but understand some people do. Even with the facts, though, my sister isn’t willing to give it a go. Sometimes, haters gonna hate.

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