Bikram Hot Yoga & Stress Relief

While stress relief may not *immediately* be  be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a Bikram Yoga class – which involves a really hot room, is pretty humid, and in which you then do one and a half hours of fairly strenuous exercise – many people who practice it report back to us that’s exactly what they do experience. And it’s not just a wishy washy notion that they have of reduced stress levels: many tell us they discover that their heart rates have lowered, they sleep better at night, they’ve lower blood pressure as well as lower cholesterol levels. So, it seems that appearances can be deceptive….

But why?

Well… there are many reasons; obviously our health overall tends to improve, plus we have a tendency to make better food choices when we practice regularly – as discussed in our guide on Bikram Hot Yoga, Fitness & Weight Loss, but some of the other main factors that contribute to making Bikram Yoga the great stress-reducer that it is are:

The importance of understanding the mind body connection

Bikram’s guru Bishnu Gosh said “Mental stress and strain is the cause of all diseases, even infectious ones.” Fundamentally, this is one of the biggest things to be aware of when we’re considering stress; it’s usually not coming from one cause, and it’s very much a catch-22 of how our bodies feel, affects our minds, which affects our bodies…. and so on.

Whilst we are in class, the sequence of the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises turns off the fight-or-flight response (explained more in the Bikram Hot Yoga, Fitness & Weight Loss Guide) and a feeling of balanced well-being replaces it. Its the combination of calming our bodies *and* our minds, that provides the overall relief from stress. In other words; one will struggle to exist without the other…. however, having said that – we’ll try to break it down into the different actions that take place in the body and the mind; which results in the overall benefits….

Physical stress relief actions:

Hormone release via toxin release

We were fascinated by this one at BBHQ; as it’s a really interesting one not one that you’d immediately think of…. it’s kinda well known is that Bikram makes you sweat – a lot – and during all the sweating you release toxins… but the really cool part is that some of the toxins that get released are excess amounts of the hormone cortisol that you might have in your system.

Cortisol plays a huge part in stress management: as too much and you get locked into the fight or flight mode discussed here. Basically, if you reduce your cortisol levels, you reduce the fight or flight response; which results in a calmer body (and mind – see how they’re all pretty much linked…)

Breathing

In class, there are two breathing exercise called called kapalbhati and pranayama – one is performed at the start of class and the other at the end. These practices of proper breathing encourage you to release tension; thus reducing stress. Because they’re ‘controlled breathing’ exercises, you also have to concentrate on them; which also brings the added benefit of clearing your mind…. that mind/body thing again….

Mental stress relief:

Being present & letting go

When you’re in a hot room, doing a series of fairly demanding postures, you have little choice but to remain focused and present to get you through the class – and the more you practice, the more this spills over into life outside of the hot room. This skill of learning to become fully absorbed into what we’re doing in the present moment – and learning to appreciate that any worries will still be there if we want to pick them up again after class – can help us realise how much time may have already spent worrying about a particular problem – with little reward for the effort that may have already put into worrying about it! Through learning to let go on the mat, we get more and more practiced in letting go of things in day to day life… literally learning not to sweat the small stuff… ;-)

The release of feel good brain chemicals

This one is fairly well known, but worth repeating as it’s so well researched and proven: regular exercise causes the release of endorphins in the brain such as dopamine – which produces that fabulous “feel good” mentality…always a winner!

Mental health benefits

With regular practice Bikram Yoga can synchronise the nervous and endocrine systems – both of which play key roles in hormonal and emotional balances.

Many of us have, at times, found it difficult to do our normal daily tasks without feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or blue. Anxiety and stress both feed into these feeling of imbalance – and Bikram Yoga helps us to create more balance and less stress, both mentally and physically. When we practice frequently, Bikram Yoga helps give us a better and more stable mood.

…. in short, a regular practice can lower cortisol levels, calm the mind, improve sleep, increase mental clarity and release and reduce both physical and mental stress and tension…. We’re in – are you?