Yoga Smarts: Is Bikram Really Safe?

I used to think hot yoga was completely crazy.

Kind of like sky diving or eating a mouthful of jalapenos. I mean, sure, you could hold poses in 105-degree heat while sweat soaks through your shirt, but why would you want to?

But hot yoga enthusiasts insist that the practice isn’t crazy at all. In fact, they say it’s perfect for beginners and it can be truly life changing.

Heat Improves Flexibility
The most well-known type of hot yoga is called Bikram, which involves a specific series of poses that is performed in the same pattern every class—in 105 to 108 degree heat.

Stu Getz, owner of Bikram Yoga in Evanston, says the reason for the heat is simple: “This thing called yoga, it wasn’t invented in New Jersey; Bikram is from Bombay.”

Getz says the heat helps your muscles burn fat more easily and dialates your capillaries, bringing more blood to your muscles. And most importantly, the heat can improve your flexibility.

“Take a piece of gum and drop it on the sidewalk when it’s 6 degrees out. It’s like a marble,” he says. “But a piece of gum in 100 degree heat is pliable.”

The same thing is true with our muscles, he says. By heating them up, they become more limber, allowing us to get into positions more easily and stay in them longer.

Mac McHugh, owner of Niyama Yoga in Wilmette, says she noticed many beginners in regular yoga classes were frustrated because they didn’t have much flexibility in their hamstrings and hips. So she invented her own version of hot yoga classes to help newbies loosen up.

Today, her practice, called Niyama Yoga, is taught in other yoga studios on the North Shore and does not include any advanced poses such as downward dogs, arm stands or inversions. And unlike Bikram, the poses vary from class to class.

Although some people believe that the extreme heat can cause people to over-stretch their ligaments, Getz says he’s never had a student hurt herself in his class. Getz says his own cholesterol level dropped 80 points after he started Bikram yoga, and he’s had other students whose health improved so much their doctors took them off of their medications.

Too Hot to Handle
Still, hot yoga isn’t recommended for everyone. Dr. Justin Levisay, a cardiologist with NorthShore University HealthSystem Medical Group, warns that it could be dangerous for anyone with a heart condition and says if you’re taking prescription medications, you should talk to your doctor before trying hot yoga.

Levisay also says it’s important to drink lots of water before class so you don’t become dehydrated, because as you sweat, you can lose a lot of fluids, which can cause an unsafe drop in heart pressure.

McHugh says newcomers should come with a full water bottle and an open mind, adding that there’s something powerful about pushing yourself to your limit as balls of sweat hang off your nose.

“There’s this transcendental thing that happens. About half-way through class, we’re all struggling to survive,” McHugh says. “At the end, there’s a lot of blissful feelings.”

Where you can do hot yoga

Aphora Day Spa
Glenview

Bikram Yoga Evanston
Evanston

Corepower Yoga
Skokie

Corepower Yoga
Park Ridge

Forever Om
Lake Forest

Niyama Yoga
Wilmette

Sanctuary Yoga
Highwood

Santosha Yoga
Libertyville

Sun and Moon Yoga
Park Ridge

Yogawerks
Barrington