If you are an adherent of Bikram yoga, or are thinking about starting these exercises, or have been held back by the thought of exercising in a room heated to about 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), well, there’s news for you. The temperature of the room has no bearing at all on the health benefits of Bikram yoga.

Popular across the world, Bikram yoga involves 26 postures (asanas) that are performed in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius. Doing these exercises in their stipulated environment is supposed to have numerous health benefits, but a new study by researchers from Texas State University and University of Texas, Austin, was the first to test those claims.

To its credit, the researchers found Bikram yoga to be effective in reducing changes to the lining of blood vessels, which could prevent the development and progression of heart diseases. They also found that practicing Bikram yoga could possibly delay the progression of atherosclerosis, a disease in which the build-up of plaque inside arteries can cause heart attack or stroke.

But they also found that these effects were completely independent of the temperature of the room, and that additional heating did not add to the benefits in any way.

“Bikram yoga practiced in thermoneutral conditions improved endothelium-dependent vasodilation in healthy, middle-aged adults. These novels findings highlight the effectiveness of hatha yoga postures alone, in the absence of a heated practice environment, in improving vascular health and are of clinical significance given the increased propensity toward heat intolerance in aging adults,” they concluded in the study.

Bikram Yoga
People walk past the headquarters of Bikram Yoga in Los Angeles, California, on April 1, 2015. Getty Images/AFP/MARK RALSTON

For the study, the researchers recruited 52 participants aged between 40 and 60 years. They were split into three groups of 19, 14 and 19 people respectively. The first two groups practiced 90-minute Bikram yoga classes three times a week, for a period of 12 weeks, with the first group in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius and the second group at 23 degrees Celsius, or room temperature. The third group, with 19 people, was a control group.

A noninvasive measurement of changes in the endothelium-dependent vasodilation (endothelium is a layer of cells that lines the interior of blood vessels, and vasodilation refers to the dilation of blood vessels) between the first two groups, each of which performed yoga for 12 weeks, showed no significant differences. The control group showed no change at all.

“The new finding from this investigation was that the heated practice environment did not seem to play a role in eliciting improvements in vascular health with Bikram yoga. This is the first publication to date to show a beneficial effect of the practice in the absence of the heat,” Stacy D Hunter from Texas State and corresponding author of the study, said in a statement Thursday.

Titled “Effects of yoga interventions practiced in heated and thermoneutral conditions on endothelium-dependent vasodilation: The Bikram yoga heart study,” the research paper appeared online Thursday in the journal Experimental Physiology.

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