When I read this review of studies on Bikram yoga by Hewett, et al., I couldn’t help but think about when I began this line of research in 2008. At that time, there was but one publication on Bikram yoga in PubMed: a case study of someone having a psychotic episode while practicing. Soon, other publications began popping up here and there, intervention studies done by Dr. Tracy’s Neuromuscular Function Laboratory at Colorado State University in healthy adult populations showing improvements in strength, flexibility and other indicators of physical fitness. We went from one case study to one case study and two intervention studies and here we are now in 2015, with enough studies on Bikram yoga to have an entire literature review paper devoted to the topic.
Yoga research has come a long way over the last decade and Bikram yoga research, in particular has made huge strides. There are now 13 publications in PubMed alone, with more likely in review for publication now, including two of my own. I first want to commend those of my colleagues who had the audacity to go where very few had ventured prior, studying a topic with very little background research upon which to even begin to generate research questions, much less hypotheses. Each publication represents hours upon hours, months upon months and sometimes even years of continuous effort including the recruitment, screening and testing of participants, data analysis, writing and everything else along the way. That enough scientists have now put forth this effort to study Bikram yoga speaks volumes not just to their dedication, but also the allure and potential salubrious qualities of the practice.
Bikram yoga has now gone from an anecdotal to a research-based practice in just the last 7 years. As stated in the article, “The Effects of Bikram Yoga on Health: Critical Review and Clinical Recommendations,” while more controlled studies are needed at this time (which will require even more time and continuous funding), studies now show that Bikram yoga improves strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness and cholesterol levels, glucose tolerance (lowering the risk of diabetes), vascular compliance, sleep quality and stress levels. While the studies until this point have consisted mostly of non-randomized trials not of the highest scientific rigor as early studies often are, these early findings are very promising and set a firm foundation for future studies with larger sample sizes and more rigorous (and more expensive) methodologies.
This article nicely summarizes the current evidence on the benefits of Bikram yoga and is a must read, especially for practitioners, instructors and studios owners alike.
Dr. Stacy D. Hunter, PhD
December 3, 2015