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FACT OR FICTION: HOT YOGA NO MORE BENEFICIAL THAN NORMAL YOGA?

FACT OR FICTION: HOT YOGA NO MORE BENEFICIAL THAN NORMAL YOGA?

How many of you heard or read this headline in the news this week? These news stories were the result of the publishing of the findings from this study: Effects of yoga interventions in heated and thermoneutral conditions on endothelium-dependent vasodilation: The Bikram Heart Study.

So I needed a bit of help here. Here’s what I found: “The endothelium is a thin monocelular layer that covers all the inner surface of the blood vessels, separating the circulating blood from the tissues…In this way it modulates the vascular smooth muscle cells producing relaxation or contraction, and therefore vasodilatation or vasoconstriction.” Thanks, RJ Esper.

Vasodilation is the dilatation of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure. Hot Yoga and Normal Yoga

The Guardian described the study in layman’s terms as looking at the benefits of Bikram yoga (also termed hot yoga) in “improving the function of the inner lining of blood vessels – problems with which are linked to increased risk of fatty plaques building up inside arteries.” For argument’s sake, from hereonin, let’s call this vascular health.

What’s disappointing about the news headlines reported in the last week is that they have somewhat distorted the facts of the study (what!? The media just grabbing a headline to sell news. Never!). Here’s what it actually uncovered:

WHAT IS BIKRAM YOGA?

Now, before we start, for those of you that don’t know, Bikram is the original hot yoga. 26 yoga postures and two breathing exercises performed in 40 degree heat and 40-60% humidity. The postures performed are basic yoga postures (often referred to to as hatha poses when performed without the heat). This exceptionally popular form of yoga has been purported to cure various ills, getting the science community interested in testing what it is actually good for. Our Sweat Hot Yoga sequence includes most of the Bikram yoga poses and is taught in the same heat/humidity conditions. For the purposes of the study, both groups performed three 90 minute classes a week for a 12-week period and all participants were told not to alter their diet and other physical activity over the period.

HOT OR NOT YOGA IS GOOD FOR VASCULAR HEALTH

The main aim of the study was to investigate whether it was the heat or the sequence of postures that had the positive impact on vascular health. So the study compared people performing the set sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in the hot and humid conditions with those that simply did the same exercises in heat neutral conditions. Interestingly, both groups saw improvements in vascular health, leaving the conclusion to be drawn that it was the poses that were delivering the benefit, not the heat/humidity. The scientists note this as very encouraging: As there is a high propensity towards coronary heart diseases in “ageing” (their words not mine!) adults (which the study proved yoga can work to prevent), combined with a tendency towards heat intolerance, it meant that even those who couldn’t handle hot yoga, could get all the benefits without the heat. Key message here: Get your yoga on whether it’s hot or not and make your heart healthy!

HOT YOGA DOES MORE TO REDUCE BODY FAT THAT NON-HOT YOGA

Across the two groups, the body fat percentage of those performing yoga in the heated conditions was significantly lower in comparison to the other group. This, they state, is likely due to the greater energy expenditure when performing the exercises in a heated room. In the spirit of full transparency, I will note here that they did say that no significant weight loss occurred. Still an interesting fact none the less and sadly one not reported by the media.

 

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