The History of Bikram Yoga and Its Health Benefits

Bikram Yoga is something many have heard of, but few know much about. Bikram Choudhury established this particular form of yoga from traditional yoga techniques and began making the concept popular in the 1970s. What Bikram yoga consists of is a 90 minute course that covers a system of 26 different yoga poses and two different breathing exercises. The difference between this yoga class and your everyday yoga class is the fact that this form of yoga is practiced in a room that’s heated to a very warm 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is turned up to 40 percent. You probably know Bikram yoga as hot yoga, which is what it is frequently called.

Not just anyone can conduct a hot yoga class. All hot yoga instructors are required to participate and pass a nine-week training course that is endorsed by Bikram Choudhury. The class is used to certify those who teach it. It’s imperative that hot yoga teachers understand the concepts associated with hot yoga, the health risks the exercise imposes and the proper technique for working out in such tremendous heat and humidity. While each of the hot yoga instructors that go through the certification are taught a standard speech to give while teaching the 90 minute course, they are highly encouraged to personalize their courses and make them unique to their teaching methods. What this creates is a highly different experience from one hot yoga class to another.

The History of Bikram Yoga

To understand the history of this form of yoga, it’s important to understand the founder and creator of the practice. Bikram Choudhury is a man born in 1946 in Calcutta. He began practicing yoga when he was only 4-years-old, which is not something many children bother with. His love of yoga was something that carried him through his adolescence as well as his adulthood. As a child, his practice hours lasted anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, and the reason he felt the need to practice so long each day was his deep spiritual feelings and the contentment he felt when practicing yoga. He was only 13 when he won a national India Yoga Championship, which is an important win in his culture. He retired from yoga as a sport three years later after winning the championship every year and retiring as an undefeated champ.

He began to open up yoga practices around the world, developing his hot yoga practice when he was in his young adulthood. He managed to open thousands of yoga studios all over the world, including his Bikram studios. In his adulthood, he was able to write books, create a successful singing career and even found a college; Bikram’s Yoga College of India. This is the college to attend if you are serious about the art of yoga and its practices.

Many of the poses that make up Bikram yoga are not associated with traditional yoga. Some might be used in some traditional yoga courses, but for the most part they are designated specifically for the Bikram purpose. Some hot yoga poses include the toe stand, corpse and the wind removing pose.

Health Benefits of Bikram Yoga

Many wonder why yoga lovers would subject themselves to an hour and a half of hot yoga in a room that’s heated and more humid than a summer day on the West Coast, and it’s because of the sheer number of health benefits associated with hot yoga. As you may already be aware, yoga is one of the most beneficial forms of exercise imaginable. Not only does it create a stronger, healthier body, it also helps to improve mental states, emotional states and the relationship many people have with themselves. It’s a very spiritual practice, though it’s not always viewed as such. Some who practice yoga in any form are not spiritual people, they simply appreciate the health benefits of the exercise.

Yoga in any form is a huge form of stress relief. Studies prove that people who practice yoga regularly experience less stress and anxiety, a more relaxed state of mind and even better overall health. When you participate in Bikram yoga, you will see even more health benefits. However, there is a bit of controversy as to the fact that the additional benefits of hot yoga are purely perceptual and personal.

The American Council of Exercise did perform a study that showed there were no added benefits as far as health is concerned when you consider both regular yoga and hot yoga. However, if people are more motivated to remain healthy and feel better about themselves because of Bikram yoga, it poses no threat. The study was performed in 2013, and it did show that adults who practice hot yoga three times every week are more likely to have better flexibility and deadlift strength, but that’s it. As far as cardiovascular health is concerned, the study shows not significant improvement between regular and hot yoga practices.

Bikram himself is a staunch believer in the fact that his yoga poses are designed to help people clean out veins and arteries, though no scientific evidence of such has been found. What has been proved, however, is that the release of toxins when one practices hot yoga does increase. Sweat is a proven way to release many toxins from the body, and the heat that hot yoga requires helps to amp up the release of said toxins. That’s why it’s considered a better, healthier form of yoga. A study performed in 2012 proves that the “Induced perspiration may be useful to facilitate elimination of some potentially toxic phthalate compounds including DEHP and MEHP. Sweat analysis may be helpful in establishing the existence of accrued DEHP in the human body,” which essentially means that sweating that’s induced by heat in hot yoga can release dangerous toxins from the body of those who practice.

Other health benefits of Bikram yoga include stress and anxiety relief. Each of the poses requires a great deal of concentration and deep breathing. This is not an exercise you perform while running and listening to music, so it inspires a great deal of concentration and reflection. It helps people relieve their stress and lower their levels of anxiety, which has been proven to increase health.

Yet another health benefit of yoga is the sheer amount of exercise is provides the body. Bikram yoga works every muscle, uses your personal body weight to increase your strength and your muscle mass, and it also helps you to get fit and become stronger and more flexible. Even if you do not believe that Bikram yoga is more beneficial than regular yoga, it’s certainly not less beneficial to your body to practice this type of yoga.

Bikram Yoga Controversies

One of the biggest controversies that surround Bikram yoga is the fact that the practice promotes excessive sweat. While there is nothing wrong with a little sweat, excessive sweating promotes dehydration. What this means is that a person who sweats profusely is more likely to become dehydrated, and that can lead to a myriad of other health issues. Since hot yoga promotes excessive sweat, there is always a risk that those who practice will become dehydrated. However, the controversy is one that really has no leg on which to stand considering that this can be very easily avoided by drinking plenty of water. This is one of the examples of why hot yoga instructors are required to become certified.

During their nine-week course, hot yoga instructors are taught to recognize the signs and symptoms of dehydration, to encourage the consumption of water and to teach a class so that there is always time for a break so that there is always time to consume water so dehydration does not occur.

Hyperthermia can also occur when the body is excessively overheated. It’s something that is far less likely to happen, but it can happen during hot yoga. Those who practice hot yoga might begin to suffer from hyperthermia when they notice dizziness, nausea and even fainting. Instructors are taught to recognize these signs and symptoms so that they can seek medical attention for practicers right away. If left untreated, hyperthermia can cause heat stroke, which is exceptionally dangerous. However, all it takes to undo the symptoms of hyperthermia is getting rest and water.

The other controversy that surrounds some hot yoga classes is the effect that the practice has on those who suffer from other health issues. Those who suffer from epilepsy, cardiac complications and even MS are warned not to practice hot yoga because of the effect that excessive sweating and heat can have on their health as far as their pre-existing conditions are concerned. While it’s something that you can speak with your doctor about, he or she is very likely to warn you against the practice of hot yoga and encourage you instead to practice a cooler and less severe form of yoga.

Finally, anyone who takes any sort of medication for depression, insomnia and/or anxiety will need to speak with their medical professionals prior to enrolling in any hot yoga classes. The excessive sweating and heat could have a negative effect on the way certain medications work with the body, which is often detrimental to one’s health.


One of the biggest controversies surrounding Bikram yoga is the competitive nature of the sport in India. For more than a century, those of Indian descent have been practicing yoga competitively, and Bikram yoga joined the competition ring decades ago. However, this controversy does not surround Bikram in particular. It simply surrounds the entire practice of yoga as a whole. Many believe that the point of yoga in general is to promote good health, peace and serenity and that competing in the sport is something that detracts from that as a whole.

Training Camps

At the moment, there are several lawsuits ongoing against Bikram Choudhury. They do not denounce the excellent practice of Bikram yoga, more like the behavior of Bikram himself. Those who have attended training camps for Bikram yoga have done so to become certified to teach the practice in their classes and/or studios. While many people are happy with their teachings, some are not. There have been several women who have come forward to file complaints against the creator of the practice and have acknowledged that many of Bikram’s personal training camps are cult-like in that woman are forced to treat Bikram as if he is Jesus Christ or Buddha, and that they are taught that homosexuality, Americans and certain races are not good people, that they are not worthy of life. He’s also been accused of eliciting sexual favors from trainees on the belief that they will not pass their classes or be sent to Heaven if they do not perform these favors.

Additionally, Choudhury has been accused of telling people that his practice will cure cancer and that anyone who doesn’t want to learn the art will be diagnosed with the disease and die. At the moment, there are nearly a dozen women who have gone unnamed filing lawsuits against Choudhury on the grounds that he has discriminated against them racially, sexually and he even faces the accusation that he has raped several of the women in his camps. One of the accusers of discrimination and gender-bias is his former head of legal council, who claims she was abruptly terminated from the business after she questioned Choudhury’s sexual advances and his derogatory treatment of African Americans and women as a whole.

At the moment, all of the lawsuits filed against the creator of the practice are ongoing and being settled or tried. However, even if the founder of the practice is found to be a questionable person, the practice itself will likely remain popular. Those who try hot yoga love the practice, and it makes them feel good about their body and their overall health. So long as women and men are careful to keep hydrated and consider their health issues, there are no reasons they cannot participate in the sport and encourage personal health by use of hot yoga.

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)


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