CSU professor researches effects of Bikram yoga

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, it was incorrectly stated due to a reporting error that individuals involved in a health study participated in SOMAX fitness test. In fact, they participated in a “submax” or submaximal exercise test. It was also misstated that Katie Drobnitch is a CSU graduate student. In fact, Drobnitch is a university alumna. It was also misstated that the current yoga research found cardiovascular benefits. In fact, it was past research that identified increased flexibility, strength and balance. The Collegian regrets its errors.

Stretching for 90 minutes in a room hotter than any day in Fort Collins history isn’t the most popular form of exercise.

An ongoing study at CSU is finding that it’s certainly beneficial, though. Its objective is to document the physiological responses to a single session of Bikram yoga. Researchers could then use that data as a platform to launch future, more definitive research on the longterm effects of the unique wellness practice.

Junior heath and exercise science major Dawn Christensen starts the bend of the wheel pose while practicing Bikram Yoga Sunday. Christensen took third place in the Colorado Yoga Asana Championship and is training to become a Bikram Yoga instructor.
Junior heath and exercise science major Dawn Christensen starts the bend of the wheel pose while practicing Bikram yoga Sunday. Christensen took third place in the Colorado Yoga Asana Championship and is training to become a Bikram Yoga instructor.

“The thing about exposure to heat stress is as long as it’s not extreme heat stress … the body can acclimate to that,” Brian Tracy, an associate professor at CSU and head of the study, said.

Bikram yoga, a trademarked form of yoga, has some strict guidelines one must follow to be considered a true practitioner of Bikram. The requirements state that the room must be the same temperature and humidity every time, the same 26 postures must be performed in the same order and fashion, the instructor must use the preset dialogue word for word and the session must last 90 minutes total.

The founder, Bikram Choudhury, set the brand of yoga up this way to work every muscle, organ, and part of the body in extreme heat, which loosens the body.

Those interviewed only had good things to say about Bikram yoga and professed it benefits.

“I like that it incorporates strength in order to gain flexibility; which, other types of yoga just have you relax into the flexibility,” Katie Drobnitch, a CSU alumna.

Before the study, those who participated did a submaximal fitness test, and a DEXA body composition scan to characterize their fitness levels. Those selected are experienced Bikram practitioners, and were paid $30 for their time.

The study put a participant in a heated room following the Bikram guidelines, with the instructions on CD every time, doing Bikram yoga. The participants had a breathing apparatus, a core temperature monitor on a fanny pack-like belt and two metabolic monitors under their armpits.

Core temperature was determined by participants swallowing a pill the night before that monitored their temperature from their intestines and relayed the information to a monitor on their hip.

The study is unique in the sense that no one else is really researching the effects of Bikram yoga.

“The first part of the series is the standing postures, and those are arguably the most demanding from the cardiovascular and metabolic effect,” Tracy said. “So we see during the first half of the yoga, heart rates that go as high as 150 or 160.”

One participant observed reached a heart rate just over 190 at the peak of their practice.

Previous studies have identified greater flexibility, increased strength in most muscle groups, better balance and cardiovascular health improvement.

Individuals interviewed recognized benefits to their health.

“I started doing Bikram yoga about 12 years ago because I had a lot of pain in my lower back, I had numbness in my feet and calf muscles and the yoga really helped me, I’m out of pain and no more numbness,” Bridget Baxter, director of Bikram yoga studios in Fort Collins and Greeley, said.

The study is not yet done, but the last participant was monitored  Feb. 14 and the study will conclude soon. Three-fourths of funding for the study was provided by The Bikram Yoga of College and the rest was given by the Pure Action Foundation.

Although the study is mostly funded by the owner of Bikram yoga, Tracy said agreements on intellectual freedom were signed that don’t bond the research results to the funding.