Bikram Hot Yoga, Fitness and Weight Loss

People talk about weight loss benefits and Bikram hot yoga often, but does hot yoga really help with weight loss, and if so, why?

Well – the short answer is: YES! But perhaps not for the reasons you think…

People assume its all the sweating that helps you lose weight during Bikram; and whilst this inadvertently is part of the reason* – most of any immediate weight you lose through sweating will be water…. that’s the “bad” news…

The good {flippin’ brill, actually} news is that there are lots of other reasons that yoga helps you to lose weight; including;

It naturally mimics High intensity Training or HiT

You might have heard that more recently it’s been discovered that running 10k or your favourite Spin class is actually more likely to cause the bit of belly fat you’ve been trying so hard to shift, not shed it…. if not, briefly speaking, its because prolonged exercise, where we keep our heart rate elevated for longer periods of time, is actually a stressor on the body – and not really what our bodies were designed to do.

I don’t want to blind (bore?) you with loads of info on cortisol levels and adrenal health and so on; so will keep this kinda simple… if you think about it, way back when, we would have mostly been ambling around at a relatively steady pace; and the only time we would have run or done similar higher intensity cardio “work outs”, would have been when we were either hunting our food, or running away from being hunted.

This would have been in short bursts and possibly only a few times a week (unless we were having a really bad week!). So trying to go for a 5 mile run every morning is certainly admirable, but possibly not all that great for weight loss…. why?

Because it pushes into “fight or flight” (chase or be chased) mode way more than our bodies were designed to handle…. which is not only stressful for our bodies, it also causes all sorts of other delights such as causing our digestion and immunity to shut down, and encouraging us to hold onto any fat around our middles (because when we’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode, our body shuts down all the “unnecessary” parts of our system to deal with the “emergency” – and stores the any calories as fat to help give us easily accessible energy (the belly is the quickest place for the body to release and convert fat to energy when it needs it!) to continue to cope with the emergency… clever bodies – but not necessarily the goal).

The more stressed our lives are outside of this type of exercise, the more we’ll experience these frustrating “side effects” of these traditional types of weight loss exercise routines.

The good news (see, I told ya it was coming!) is that hot yoga naturally mimics what is now understood to be the more beneficial forms of exercise, which is high intensity training…. you may have heard about it in the forms of interval sprint training or similar, but Bikram naturally has the same effects on elevating our heart rates, then letting it recover… with a whole host of other benefits that other types of HiT don’t offer (we’ll get into those more a bit later).

Thats because each posture in Bikram is designed to elevate your heart rate, hold it for no more than 60 seconds, with a pause to rest, then another 60 seconds maximum, then a longer rest gap in-between; so it doesn’t overly stress the body and push it into an extended fight or flight mode and is the perfect cardio workout that, most importantly, your body will respond well to.

This type of short, cyclical elevation of the heart rate, then resting it, encourages the body to burn fat, as opposed to store it – which is happy news if weight loss is your goal.

Better sleep = More weight loss

Sort of a continuation from above; is that people often find that their sleep dramatically improves once they start regularly practicing Bikram yoga. Better sleep means a less stressed system; which again means the body is less in fight or flight mode, and happier to release fat rather than store it.

Better moods = Better food choices

Lets face it; when life is sucky it’s super easy to reach for the chocolate / ice cream / pizza {insert your comfort food of choice here}. Again, there’s a reason for that (know that our bodies are always working towards helping us feel better) – but I’ll not get into the science of things like the opiate effects of some of these foods and so on… suffice to say, regular practice replaces the need for those kind of “hits”, as the high you get from regular practice simply means you don’t experience the lows of life so much.

Plus a Bikram class makes you feel so clean (you’ll know what I mean when you try it) that you just don’t want to go eat rubbish after…. so I’m not promising you’ll never leave a yoga class feeling like you want to drown yourself in something a little on the naughty side from time to time – but I’m pretty sure you’ll find that you want those things less, and will find yourself searching out your local juice bar more… :-)

Better breath = Less stress

In addition to all the other amazing stress-reducing related benefits, the more you practice, the more you’ll notice your breathing improves dramatically – which in turn also allows you to handle stress so much more effectively. And less stress = well, you know the answer to this one by now… ;-)

*Sweating does the trick too

Although I mentioned at the start of this guide that the immediate “weight loss” that you might see if you step on the scales straight after class is more likely water than fat; there are still many amazing benefits to sweating it out during your practice.

Not only does it make your skin super glowy, it’s also a damn good detox. One of the most significant benefits of this; particularly if you’re focusing on weight loss, is that it helps get the lymphatic system moving – which is the system that helps filter out the toxins in our bodies. A clogged lymphatic system has been linked to cellulite – and thus a clear lymph means a lighter and less dimply body.

Extra tips

Practice at least three times a week

Any amount of practice you can get in is going to be better than none – but coming at a pace of about every other day or so keeps all the aforementioned benefits ticking over nicely. The bigger the gaps between practice, the more your body has to “reset” and catch up again.

You can encourage additional calorie burn

…during your practice by keeping your abdominal muscles tight when holding the postures; it encourages additional calorie burn, builds core stability/muscles and helps you stay focused during your practice.

Similarly; pushing yourself that little bit deeper

…into the posture each class will help you build upon your practice and continue to strengthen and tone. Think of lengthening your muscles that little bit farther, locking the thighs a little more, lifting that tiny bit higher… you get the idea… :-)