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Bikram Yoga is Idiotic and Dangerous, Pt. 3

Posted July 18, 2012 by

This is the third and final article in my critical series focused on Bikram or hot yoga. In the first part of this article series, I talked about the flawed logic behind the purported benefits of “loosened muscles” and “deeper stretching,” while in the second article I discussed how spinal flexibility isn’t necessarily a desired outcome and that the main premise behind hot yoga—that it burns more calories than exercise in a room of normal temperature—is completely false.

To wrap this series up, today I’m going to finish by touching on the subjects of joint lubrication and body detoxification. In order to discuss my issue with the claim that Bikram yoga significantly increases joint lubrication, first it’s important that we discuss what joint lubrication specifically entails. Joints are made up of many different kinds of tissues, both hard and soft. Obviously one of the components of the joint is the bone itself, which are lined with cartilage and a joint capsule for smooth movement, and which are surrounded by muscle, tendons and ligaments which control the stability and mobility of the joint.

Within the joint capsule is a structure called the synovial membrane, which contains cells that secret fluid called synovial fluid. This viscous, slippery fluid coats the cartilage lining the joint, fills all of the empty space within the joint cavity and as such is responsible for the so-called lubrication of the joint structures.

More is not better with synovial fluid. Typically, the body produces the exact correct amount of fluid needed by the joint. In the rare case that too much fluid is produced, an inflammatory response will take place and this condition can even lead to degenerative joint issues. Now that being said, the body doesn’t usually fail to produce enough synovial fluid, so a lack of fluid isn’t really ever an issue, and even if it was, yoga in a heated room wouldn’t be of any benefit. Thus I think we can agree that the concept that hot yoga provides better lubrication than regular exercise doesn’t really make sense biologically (or hell, just plain logically for that matter).

To add to this, I’d like to point out that a simple warm-up routine is all that is needed to maximally lubricate the joints. In other words, a few simple movements that take about 10 minutes of time to perform will provide exactly the same amount of joint lubrication as an hour and a half of suffering in a hot room that smells like cheesy feet and hippy armpits.

Now I went ahead and saved my favorite for last—body detoxification. Detoxification is a go-to power phrase in the quack industry these days—nearly every shady chiropractor, “holistic” nutritionist, homeopathic snake oil salesman and juice-fasting, raw-food-dieting vegan (as well as the hordes of ignorant masses who follow these charlatans) uses this term as a near catch-all for any purported solution to any common issue. Got a headache? You need to “detox.” Have a lot of acne? You need to “detox.” Suffering from a genetically-inherited disease? You definitely need to “detox!”

Detoxing can take many forms—from squirting coffee up your rear, to putting your feet in a “detox foot bath,” to drinking a bunch of lemonade spiked with cayenne pepper, or of course, to spending 90 minutes sweating balls in a stinky room performing yoga moves. All of these various methods of detoxing have at least one thing in common: none of them do a damn thing! I could spend all day going into each of the methods of detoxification and explaining why they are nonsensical, but I’m going to stick to the topic at hand here and explain why hot yoga doesn’t detox your body.

Sweat isn’t a method our body uses to release toxins from our bodies. There is no scientific basis to this inane theory. Sweat’s purpose is to cool our bodies down, and that’s it. The argument that sweat releases significant levels toxins has been refuted by studies on this exact subject, such as those performed at St. Louis University by Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, who happens to also have founded the International Hyperhidrosis Society, a medical group dedicated to the study and treatment of heavy sweating—and their stance is in line with Dr. Glaser’s—although trace amounts of toxins have been found in sweat, it’s an insignificant amount and could be due to external contamination anyway. Now seriously, this is a medical group who’s main area of study is heavy sweating… who on earth is going to be more credible than them on the subject of, well, heavy sweating?

Our bodies have organs specifically designed for detoxification—our liver and kidneys. These structures have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to help us survive contamination of the blood stream by filtering out the bad stuff and excreting it through our urine and feces. Ironically, one of the best ways to screw up our natural detoxification defense system is to become dehydrated (like, by sitting in a swelteringly hot room for an hour or more), which places stress on the kidneys and impairs their ability to function properly. So once again, something that was claimed to be a benefit provided by hot yoga is in fact the opposite.

So, we’ve effectively demonstrated that Bikram or hot yoga doesn’t provide ANY benefits over regular exercise, and instead offers a handful of dangerous risks with no payout. My advice is to avoid hot yoga studios like the plague and instead spend your time participating in scientifically-sound, safe and effective exercise such as a strength and conditioning class or athletic fitness training—your body will definitely thank you for it! After all, that’s the entire point of exercising, right?

Comments on Bikram Yoga is Idiotic and Dangerous, Pt. 3 »

  1. Brian

    One thing I’ve noticed in your articles is blatant name-calling. Generally people who are quick to refer to others as quacks as often as you do are doing so because in one way or another, they feel threatened. Understandably so, if you are another personal trainer who subscribes to the generally accepted “healthful” way of living i.e. USDA food pyramid, etc.

    Amongst all of your bickering, I’d encourage you to read into some of Dr. Joel Furhman’s work. He’s a real medical doctor who uses science-based evidence in his nutrition recommendations. Look him up.

    Of course, I’m sure you’ll refer to him as some kind of quack or snake oil salesman, because he doesn’t follow what is engrained in nutrition courses and books, and guidelines thrown together by the USDA, which by the way, has done nothing to make us healthier as a population. If you are inclined, you’ll learn that milk itself does nothing for our calcium absorption, and essentially nothing else other than promoting muscle growth and heart disease (and as doctors had found in the China Study, fuel the growth of certain types of cancers). Milk?? Then why would the government recommend it? Who knows, but we do know that the dairy industry is one of the 5 largest lobbyists in the nation. Yep, casein protein, the same stuff you probably recommend to your clients to increase muscle mass. If this is true about your dietary recommendations, you sir, are the snake oil salesman.

    And before you comment on others being part of the “ignorant masses following charlatans,” consider that you may be one of them yourself—just following the USDA and their sponsored studies like a duck, naive that they’ve got their own agenda, just like everyone else.

  2. Ajay

    I was born and brought up in the land of yoga. I always saw elders doing yoga on terraces and out in the open. Yoga is abt mind body co-ordination and thts it. All this hot yoga thing is just marketing. Some points here are correct, no dobut. But yes the way it is said is sad.

  3. Ajay

    And btw, i bet you cant do some of the poses yogis can do. Ive seen your profile,u r awesome fit. I still say u cant. Dont ask me. Im lazy as hell. Im not competing with u here. 🙂 no way.

  4. You’re absolutely correct Ajay, I can’t do some of the advanced yoga moves. Let me be clear: I LOVE yoga. It is a foundational part of my training programming. I am specifically criticizing hot/bikram yoga here, not yoga in general. Yoga has my deepest respect. Hot yoga is simply a trendy bastardization of a useful element of health and fitness.

  5. Interesting articles. I can’t answer for the scientific validity of the claims made by Bikram Yoga Instructors. However, I can share my experience of Bikram Yoga.

    I’ve ben practicing yoga of a variety of styles since 1996, seriously since about 2000. For awhile, Bikram was the mainstay of the classes I attended (I also had a fairly regular home practice that wasn’t Bikram).

    Over time, with consistent practice, my experience of BIkram and the 26 postures changed. My movement freed up and I experienced greater range of movement. It also worked wonders on my spine – I’d started yoga because I’d had a spinal fusion at L4/L5 when I was 16 and by age 25 was experiencing significant daily sciatic pain and back spasms. That’s all gone.

    Bikram also had a noticeable emotional impact on me. And this is a key point because Bikram Yoga is not ‘exercise’, although often it’s sold as exercise to entice people to give it a go. At it’s heart, like all yoga, it’s a holistic and spiritual practice that brings us into greater wholeness physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

    Everyone’s experience of the practice will be different, depending on what they’re bring to the mat. And their experience will shift and change over time as they shift and change.

    Do Bikram Studios and Instructor makes claims with no validity. Perhaps. Maybe even likely.

    Does regular Bikram practice change lives for the better? Yes, it can.

    Is it for everyone? No, it’s not.

    Is it idiotic and dangerous? It can be, for some people, with some health conditions.

    Is there value in Bikram. Yes, for some people there is…

    Which leaves us where?

    Can we hold space for all the different ways people like to find health & wellness without creating divisions between some ways being right/wrong, better/worse?

    Can we simply ask:

    Does Bikram work for me, right now?

  6. ilearn

    Bikram yoga is absolutely innovative and thousands are practicing in US alone without any bad /side effects (publicly known fact). I guess people don’t accept innovations, and changes so easily.

    How come people accept drugs (as medicines), alcohol, smoking all of which are absolutely proven to be harmful and criticize a form of yoga.

    Also, if some people don’t like it, then don’t do it, just ignore it. Why would you be spending time and resource on negative propaganda? Just think!!!!

    all the best,
    ilearn

  7. Nathalie

    Bikram yoga is a style of yoga. It is a warrior yoga. Bikram himself has a certain character and he liked doing it this way. It is not attractive to all yoga practitioners nor all people. I am a yoga teacher myself and I would not recommend Bikram to total beginners. I would suggest that they learn outside of such a heavy routine some basics on yoga practice like moving the tailbone into the beginning of cat tilt before attempting a backbend and that dog tilt is generally before forward bends. Some understanding and experience with breathing, meditation and the practice of the basic yoga postures would be useful before entering the hot room to do Bikram. I took my first Bikram class after practicing yoga for eight years. I even found the military rigour of it somewhat heavy, not to mention the heat. But if the class is done using the breath properly and not competing with those around you, but simply flirting with your own limits, you should be fine. It is more about mindset than anything else, and listening to the instructions and not going further than you can. Bikram himself said he wanted to bring yoga to the West in a way that they can relate to it and it seems to be pretty much the most similar thing to body fitness and training under the name of yoga — power yoga too. Which is what Westerners often seem to be attracted to first, over the spirituality. In the end it’s all the same. Try doing your fitness program in a hot country and you’ve got Bikram 🙂
    Doing more yoga will still the mind and help you not to get all worked up about what others are doing. Remember, yoga body, yoga mind.

  8. bob

    Man,

    If you can get over your” like a trendy bastardization” way of looking at Bikram Yoga,you would clearly realize and admit how powerful this method is.

    If you are as respectful of yoga as you say you are,you have to understand where Bikram was trained,by who and from wich lineage he arose.

    And if you understand yoga and your body well you would acknowledge the importance of the heat in any yoga practice.

    Thankx

  9. Great articles! Very humorous too and I agree with all that you say because what people need are stable joints and balanced muscle actions not some idiot like Bikram standing on top of them or telling them things like, you have no knees!! He actually yells out people to lock out their knees !
    Something you may not be aware of is that other forms of yoga are dangerous too. YIN yoga is all about passive stretching of the joints. I know many yogis with flat lumbar spines and sacral platforms from reversing the sacral platform. Many yogis suffer from chronic SI joint pain from yoga and have no idea why they are getting back pain. The spine is put under a tremendous amount of stress by doing poses like plow and straight leg forward bends etc. I have been putting the yogalign system together for twenty years after I was injured doing yoga. there are no straight lines in organic nature and the human body is no different. Nobody should try and touch their toes ever without bending their knees. Any toddler can show ya that. Chairs are wrecking our body because we are not designed to be in right angles and YOGA POSES are FULL of right angle templates. Check out http://www.yogainjuries.com and please email me as I would like to send you my book.

  10. Jonathan

    Meh. Articles like this are a dime a dozen. I could find just as many talking about the benefits of Bikram.
    If it works for you, then do it. It’s not magic, people.

  11. Ulrike

    Glad I found out about these article series, not a friend of hot yoga either and many of the claims made on the bikram website are wrong or need at least more explanations. However the sequence of the bikram series is very therapeutic as all internal organ systems are massaged by compression and extension. That way the get stimulated and start to function better over time. Of course no external heat needed for that. Movement with breath awareness and internal focus as in yoga has many benefits for personal well being and developing mindfulness. i believe Bikram yoga contributes to that to some extend. So maybe give it some credit.

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