People have reaped the benefits of yoga training for over 5,000 years. Currently, nearly eleven million Americans practice yoga to experience its variety of health benefits. When people think of yoga, people often think of psychological as well as physiological benefits, which usually focus on stress relief and improving physical fitness. A recent study was performed which aimed to examine the effects that Bikram yoga had on general physical fitness.
Most Westernized yoga forms focus on various poses and breathing techniques, and focus solely on relaxation of body and mind. Bikram yoga is a specific type of program that consists of a series of twenty-six postures, which require lengthy, forceful, and well-controlled contractions of all major muscle groups. This form of yoga is quite vigorous and is performed in a heated and humid studio. Consequently, it is often referred to as hot yoga.3
Twenty-one, healthy, young adults participated in this study, and each lived a relatively sedentary lifestyle, and had no experience with yoga exercise for at least four months prior to the study. Isometric deadlift strength (tested with an electronic load cell device), handgrip strength (tested with handgrip dynamometer), lower back/hamstring and shoulder flexibility (tested with a standard sit-and-reach test and shoulder elevation test), resting heart rate and blood pressure (tested with a standard sphygmomanometer), maximal oxygen consumption (tested on treadmill with an electrocardiogram), and lean and fat mass (DEXA tested) were measured before and after training.4
Eleven subjects were randomly placed in the control group, while the remaining ten were randomly placed into the yoga group. Both groups were asked not to change their physical activity level or diet during the study period. The yoga group participated in a total of 8 weeks of training, for a total of 24 classes. This included three 90-minute class sessions per week. The first 60 minutes of class focus on standing and balance postures, while the last portion of class focused on seated postures.5
The results of the study revealed there was a significant increase in the isometric deadlift strength, lower back/hamstring, and shoulder flexibility in the yoga group, which was considerably higher than the control group. The deadlift alone showed a 13.1% increase in strength. Grip strength was similar between both groups, and there was no difference in cardiorespiratory/blood pressure. The yoga group experienced a 1.1% decrease in body fat percentage, whereas the control group remained unchanged.6
Based on this study, Bikram yoga training had a very positive effect on physical fitness in a short period of time (8 weeks). Not only did yoga participants experience various forms of strength and flexibility increases, but they also managed to improve their body composition as well. This was the first published description of the effects Bikram yoga training had on physical fitness, and as a result larger, more controlled studies will probably be conducted to further determine those effects.7