The Sweat Factor in Bikram Yoga

Abstract It is common ground that the practice of hatha yoga will yield many health benefits, both physical and mental. Much of the recent research on hatha yoga has focused on Bikram Yoga, which differs from other forms of hatha yoga by virtue of it being practiced in an elevated ambient temperature which occasions profuse sweating, and is generally referred to as ‘hot yoga’. Much of the recent research tends to be negative about this form of yoga, for instance Bikram yoga doesn’t assist in removing impurities from the body, doesn’t increase aerobic fitness and doesn’t yield any more benefits, physically or mentally, than other schools of hatha yoga.

This article reviews the sweaty rituals that have evolved throughout human history, principally the Buddhist and Hindu practices, the Greco-Roman baths, the Finnish Sauna, Russian Bania, Islamic Hammam, Japanese Mushi-Buro, the African sweat huts, Irish sweat mounds and the Native-American & Eskimo sweatlodge, and it is shown that most of these sweaty traditions have a purification, rejuvenation and spiritual significance, and that human beings have a primary and primeval need to sweat. The fact that Bikram yoga resonates with this primeval need elevates it to a higher level than other schools of hatha yoga. The health benefits (both physical and mental) of profuse sweating are also presented, in particular that it rids the body of toxins such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury and some pesticides and thus is a cleansing and rejuvenating process. But over and above the health benefits profuse sweating as a purification ritual is a major morale booster; it is a natural way to make us feel good and to make us feel good about our lives.

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