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BEVERLY HILLS – 1982: Founder and teacher of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury assists actress Carol Lynley with the ‘Camel Pose’ at his yoga studio in Beverly Hills, California. (Joan Adlen/Getty Images)

The American Council on Exercise states you burn more fat, burn more calories and can exercise longer when doing so in warm temperatures.  So yes, fatty acids are burned for energy in the muscles and since you burn more fat when the muscles are warm and can exercise longer, more fat will be burned in warm temperatures.  However, the American Council on Exercise does not recommend exercise in excessively hot temperatures. Bikram yoga is considered excessively hot.

This brings me to Bikram’s next claim that the body burns fat more effectively while exercising in hot yoga.  He also states that metabolism increases which accelerates/speeds up the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids in a hot yoga room.

With this being said, I am gonna break this down…

In order to burn fat and calories for accelerating weight loss, one must participate in physical exercise for a long enough time to create a situation where the pancreas secretes glucagon which signals for fat to be used as the next energy source.  Yoga is encouraged to be practiced on an empty stomach and for 60 – 90  minutes (preferably 90 minutes of a vigorous practice), thus making it a ideal stimulating the release of glucagon for accelerating weigh loss.

Research published by the American Council on Exercise revealed that hot yoga burns about the same amount of calories as a unheated yoga class.  The study measured heart rate and core body temperature of 20 yoga participants who practiced 60 minutes of yoga in either a room maintained at 70ºF and in a room that was 92ºF with both room maintaining 34% humidity.  Participants in both yoga rooms had nearly identical heart rates and core body temperatures. These results suggest that yoga performed in an unheated room and a hot yoga room is the same in their strenuousness and, therefore, fat burning.

So, why do yogis think that excessive sweating in a hot yoga room is better for them?  In the ACE study,  participants believed hot yoga was better for them for two main reasons. The first reason, stretches feel easier in hot yoga. Yes, a warm room will warm the muscles because your blood vessels are dilating to maintain a healthy core body temperature.  Warm muscles are more flexible.  Warm ligaments are also more flexible.  Ligaments aren’t meant to be more flexible unless targeting specific tight ones due to poor posturing/injury/dysfunction.  Participants are likely practicing while maintaining their poor posturing. This only encourages their muscles and ligaments to open more unhealthfully.  This false sense of flexibility and increased range of motion creates an association of better results.  The second factor is that hot yoga causes the body to secrete more sweat (to maintain our body temperature).  Many participants feel that sweat is a sign of progress when it comes to fat burning because it makes us feel like we got a better workout!  Remember, excessive sweating is due to the excessive hot temperature in the room not from physical exertion!  One would likely sweat in svasana in a room heated to 92ºF – 105ºF.  In fact, the excessive heat likely causes participants to not push themselves as hard because they physically can’t. This is likely why there is no difference between a hot yoga room and unheated yoga room.  One can push themselves much harder in an unheated yoga room.

This above study data was conducted with a room heated to 92ºF, but Bikram yoga classes are performed in temperatures that start at 105ºF with 40% humidity.  Well, studies have shown that the negative consequences of dehydration and overheating outweigh the likelihood of burning more calories.  The ACE Chief Science Officier, Dr Cedric Bryant confirmed that many people do not even realize that they are symptomatic until it has become a problem.  If practiced safely, meaning you are hydrated and stay hydrated throughout the practice, excessive hot yoga may offer a slight advantage over regular yoga in terms of its fat burning potential.

Moral of this blog, if you are practicing excessive hot yoga, any signs of dehydration or overheating such as thirst, dizziness, nausea or faintness should be taken seriously. Replace fluids with electrolyte water, coconut water, fruit in your water or cell salts while drinking water to steadily hydrate yourself.  If you feel faint or sick, stop right away and seek a cooler place to lower your body temperature. Failing to practice Bikram yoga healthfully will lead to a drop in blood pressure, fainting or even a loss of healthy brain function.

A better way to burn fat that does not involve excessively heated environments is weight training.  The bigger and stronger your muscles are the more calories you need to sustain them and the more calories you burn at rest!

Let’s create a conversation!

Please ask questions or comment!

Namaste,

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