Bikram Yoga May Improve Fitness and Sleep

Several recent studies suggest Bikram yoga may be effective
at improving numerous aspects of mental and physical health, including improved
sleep, physical fitness, mindfulness, and reductions in perceived stress.
Bikram yoga refers to the practice established by Bikram Choudhury, renowned
for its 105-108 degree environment and trademarked 26-pose sequence.

The first study, conducted by researchers at the Colorado
State University, investigated the impact of Bikram yoga on
physical fitness in young, healthy adults
. Twenty-one participants were
randomized to yoga training or a no-treatment control group. The yoga training,
offered 24 times over eight weeks, was comprised of the standardized Bikram
sequence: 90 minutes of supervised postures performed in a heated, humidified
yoga studio. Yoga participants exhibited improved strength, lower back,
hamstring, and shoulder flexibility, and modestly decreased body fat in
comparison to control subjects. In contrast to other research, no changes in
handgrip strength were observed. In congruence with existent studies, the yoga
group showed no improvement on cardiovascular measures, or maximal aerobic fitness.
While interesting, this study had a very modest number of participants,
limiting our ability to determine how generalizable the results may be.

The second study, a pilot evaluation of Bikram
yoga on sleep
, was conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General
Hospital and Washington University.  Thirteen
participants were followed over a 13-day period to determine differences in
sleep on days where yoga was practiced compared to days yoga was not practiced.
The subjects’ caffeine and alcohol intake, other exercise, naps, and yoga
practice were not limited. To measure sleep, the researchers administered both
headband sleep monitors and diary reports. While they found standard measures
of sleep to be unaffected by yoga, they found yoga to be associated with a
significantly faster return to sleep following nocturnal awakenings. In other
words, people who awakened in the middle of the night—and had practiced yoga
that day—fell asleep more quickly. This study is also limited by its small
number of participants as well as the absence of a control group.

The third study, conducted by researchers from Australia and
Boise State University, assessed the impact of eight
weeks of Bikram yoga (minimum of 20 yoga sessions) in fifty-one university students
.
Participants demonstrated improvements in mindfulness, perceived stress,
cardiorespiratory endurance, flexibility, and balance. This study is limited by
its lack of control group.

Bikram yoga is especially well-suited to research due to
its standardized pose sequence and the constant of the physical environment. A
major issue for yoga researchers is the widely divergent posture flows and
sequences, inclusion of diverse components (asana, meditation, pranayama, shavasana,
philosophy) and varied environmental effects across lineages and teachers.
While Bikram’s
aggressive trademarking and standardization
 has made few friends in the
yoga world, it has rendered Bikram yoga ideal for scientific study.

Have you found Bikram yoga beneficial in improving your
health?

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