Is Bikram Yoga Safe to Practice?

Yoga student Tom Grant (of Los Angeles) sits on the floor and takes a break during Bikram Choudhury's yoga class in heated room, Beverly Hills, California, February 2, 2000.

Bob Riha Jr. / Getty Images

Twenty-six postures and two breathing exercises. That’s the formula behind the Bikram method. The teachers follow a standard script when instructing the 90-minute sequence. And, of course, you do it in a hot room.

Bikram Choudhury attempted to copyright in 2002 but lost the lawsuit. Choudry was also accused of several unethical or predatory practices including racial discrimination, gay slurs, harassment, and rape. He settled a number of lawsuits out of court, but according to media reports, failed to pay and fled the U.S. for India, resulting in a warrant for his arrest. According to ESPN, if he comes back to the U.S., he'll be arrested.

But his practice remains popular among those who love hot yoga. How hot? Well, the official required temperature is 105 degrees F with a humidity of 40%. For years, both insiders who swear by the healing powers of this sweaty practice and outsiders who look askance at it have wondered about the effects of this exercise done in heat and humidity on the body’s internal core temperature. Now researchers are starting to look into this very issue.

The Research

Two recent studies have used a similar methodology. Research subjects swallowed small thermometers to measure their core temperatures and wore heart rate monitors. Both studies were small, with only about 20 subjects each, and both used people who were experienced in Bikram Yoga.

The results of the first study came out in 2013. Lead by Brian L. Tracy, a professor at Colorado State University who conducted two previous studies on the effects of Bikram Yoga on strength and flexibility, this new research was focused on how many calories are burned during a Bikram Yoga session. The 19 participants practiced their yoga individually in a lab while listening to a recording of a teacher’s instruction.

They were monitored to determine their metabolic rate, heart rate, and core temperature. Their temperatures rose throughout the class and plateaued at an average of 100.3 F, which was determined not to be dangerous.

The men in the study burned an average of 460 calories per session while women burned 333, somewhat less than touted by Bikram enthusiasts.

The second study had a similar methodology, although the yoga was done in a Bikram yoga studio with a certified teacher instead of a lab. Twenty subjects were included in this research project, which was sponsored by the American Council on Exercise and conducted at the University of Wisconsin by Emily Quandt. Again, temperatures rose throughout the class. At the end of the session, the average highest core temperatures were 103.2 F for men and 102 F for women. One participant did spike up to 104.1 F and seven subjects went above 103 F.


Though both studies concluded that body temperatures rose during the class to levels above 100, it's a bit hard to compare the results since all we have from the first study is an average. It may be that some individuals did get into a more dangerous temperature range, as we see in the second study.

Because both studies are small, it’s difficult to make sweeping conclusions, but it does seem safe to say that elevation of core temperature varies by individual, putting some people at risk for heat-related illnesses.

It’s also important to note that all the study subjects were experienced in Bikram yoga and therefore somewhat acclimatized to the hot humid room. Therefore, new students should be particularly cautious and take breaks when necessary.

Bikram tends to have a one-size-fits-all approach, which can be dangerous if enforced so rigidly that it doesn’t allow for differences in each person's physical response to the environment. The American Council on Exercise, sponsors of the University of Wisconsin study, strongly suggest that students be allowed to hydrate as necessary during Bikram Yoga. Conventions around when to drink water during Bikram Yoga vary, but all hot yoga students should know that drinking water to replace the fluids lost as sweat is crucial to the body's ability to function in a healthy way.

1 Source
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  1. Fagan, Kate. Bikram yoga's moral dilemma. ESPN. May 18, 2018

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.