Bikram Yoga: The Amazing Benefits of Heat Conditioning

As a teacher, over the years, I’ve noticed the amazing anti-aging benefits that seem to come with a regular Bikram Yoga practice. In fact, I’ve watched my regular students bodies transform so much in this sense, they begin to radiate beautiful, smooth and soft skin. With continued practice, I even see them looking younger. It’s like gazing at a snapshot of how they looked in their younger years. Recently a student who’s been practising for about a year told me that her friends and family have been asking why – and how – she looks so healthy and youthful. The only thing she’s done differently is to add Bikram Yoga to her routine. It’s a story I see playing out time and time again.

So, when a friend sent me an article by Rhonda Patrick, PhD, who did some research on the benefits of heat acclimatization on endurance athletes, I was intrigued. Could this be connected to the “fountain of youth” factor I’ve observed as part of a regular Bikram Yoga practice?

 

According to Dr. Patrick, despite the fact that “for the most part, people don’t like to get hot,” there are tremendous health benefits to “heat acclimation through sauna use,” i.e., “hyperthermic conditioning,” i.e., “increasing your core temperature for short bursts … whether its done in conjunction with your existing workout or as an entirely separate activity.”

Roxana Mavai, a BYV teacher who is also a doctor, broke down Dr. Patrick’s findings for us …

Essentially there are three main benefits of heat acclimatization that have been shown through some physiology research. These can help to explain the so-called “anti-aging” benefits of Bikram Yoga (performed, of course, in a hot room):

1. Improvement of Endurance

 Includes the following three mechanisms, all of which relate to circulatory enhancement:

  • Increased blood flow to skeletal muscles, which increases the delivery of glucose, fatty acids and oxygen.
  • Increased blood flow to the heart muscle, which reduces cardiovascular strain during the same workload.
  • Increased blood flow to skin, which improves thermoregulatory control (maintaining body temperature).

 2. Improvement of Acquisition of Muscle Mass

 Includes the following three mechanisms:

  • Inducing production of heat shock proteins, which are produced by cells in response to stressful conditions and released during wound healing and tissue remodeling (essentially, they repair our cells)
  • Boosting growth hormone levels. Growth hormones, secreted by the pituitary gland, stimulate growth, cell reproduction and regeneration in humans. They build up tissues in the body, increase height in children, promote the breakdown of fat, stimulate the growth of all internal organs (except the brain) and play a role in maintaining the stability of the body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions. Growth hormones also help to maintain blood glucose levels and stimulate the immune system.
  • Improving insulin sensitivity, i.e., improved regulation of blood sugar.

3. Improvement of Brain Function & Chemistry

 Includes the following main mechanisms:

  • Positive effects on the hypothalamus and neuroendocrine system.
  • Impact on brain function and increasing neurogenesis (regeneration of nerve cells).

 

The bottom line: hyperthermic, a.k.a., heat conditioning, such as what you achieve every time you step into a hot Bikram Yoga class, yields a plethora of benefits, many of which seem to possess an anti-aging quality or effect. It gives new meaning to the well-known quote, “Never too old, never too bad, never too late and never too sick to start from scratch once again.” You just may find yourself getting younger doing it!

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