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Aches & Claims

Questions About Bikram, or 'Hot' Yoga

IT'S ONE OF THE HOTTEST trends in fitness--literally. Hot yoga, officially known as Bikram Yoga, involves twisting into 26 postures with the heat cranked up to more than 100 degrees. It's now being offered at hundreds of Bikram schools, called Yoga Colleges of India, with claims that it can help alleviate everything from migraines to multiple sclerosis. There's no quesetion that hot yoga can be a great workout. But medical experts say it may not be safe for everyone and that most of the health claims are, well, hot air.

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Bikram yoga has been around for more than 30 years, mainly in California. Now it's spreading across the country, as mkore instructors complete the nine-week certification course offered by Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga. (Hot yoga instructors who train elsewhere can't use the "Bikram" label.)

During the 90-minute classes, rooms are typically heated to 105 degrees, sometimes up to 120 degrees. In every session, students assume the same 26 postures in the same order, each one twice. That's in contrast to ther types of yoga, which usually vary the routine. It's not uncommon for people in hot yoga classes to experience nausea and dizziness, especially at first.

Mr. Choudhury says the heat improves flexibility and removes toxins from the body. What's more, his Web site includes testimonials from followers who say hot yoga has improved or cured all kinds of ailments, including anorexia, insomnia, asthma, back pain, diabetes, Lyme disease, hepatitis and PMS.

Medical experts agree that extreme heat can loosen muscles, allowing people to stretch into poses more easily. They also say some research shows that sauna-like conditions may help certain conditions like back pain and heart and circulatory problems. But they say there's no scientific evidence that hot yoga is the cure-all claims. And they reject the idea that it "detoxifies" the body.

Doctors say hot yoga may not be safe for children or people over 60 because of an increased risk of heat stroke. For most others in relatively good shape, it's probably fine. But be sure to drink lots of water--before, during and after class--to avoid becoming dehydrated. If you start to feel light-headed or sick, stop and rest. If necessary, leave the room to cool off. And go in with realistic expectations. You'll get ore out of hot yoga if you see it for what it is: a novel way to get a vigorous workout--not a medical cure.                                                       --Robert J. Davis

 


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