I have a friend with rheumatoid arthritis who swears by Bikram yoga—she says it’s the only exercise she’s tried that loosens up her stiff ankles. Bikram is performed in a room at a whopping 105°F. That heat gets joint fluid flowing and can loosen stiff ankles, knees, and hands.
Below are 3 more reasons why people with chronic inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis can benefit from Bikram yoga.
1. It’s a great way to monitor your condition over time
The 90-minute classes consist of a fixed series of 26 poses, each done twice with a short rest in between. No matter what Bikram yoga studio you attend, the class is essentially the same.
Because every class presents the same poses performed in the same order, participants are able to monitor their joints’ flexibility and function over time. People who attend class typically report that they notice slow and steady progress towards increased flexibility.
2. It gets your heart pumping
Bikram requires students to hold each yoga pose for 30 to 60 seconds while breathing through their noses and maintaining stillness. It’s physically and mentally demanding and gets hearts pumping fast. Research suggests that performing these types of yoga poses benefits the cardiovascular system.1,2 This is especially important to people with rheumatoid arthritis and other types of inflammatory joint arthritis, because they are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disorders.3,4
3. It’s easy on the hands and wrists
Many other yoga classes require participants to frequently put weight on their hands. For example, downward dog pose requires people to rest much of their body weight on their hands. Bikram yoga avoids poses like that—in fact, the last 30 minutes of class is spent doing poses while sitting, kneeling, or lying on the floor. (And if you can’t kneel or sit on the floor, don’t worry. A good instructor will help you or give you other options.)
If you are new to Bikram, tell the instructor about your joint problems ahead of time; he or she can help you come up with alternative poses when things get too challenging. And trust me, it will get challenging. In fact, teachers tell new students if they can’t keep up with the poses, that’s okay—their job is to stay in the room and breath deeply. Lie on the mat and breath? You can handle that.
- Hunter SD, Laosiripisan J, Elmenshawy A, Tanaka H. Effects of yoga interventions practised in heated and thermoneutral conditions on endothelium-dependent vasodilatation: The Bikram yoga heart study. Exp Physiol. 2018
- Hunter SD, Dhindsa MS, Cunningham E, et al. Impact of Hot Yoga on Arterial Stiffness and Quality of Life in Normal and Overweight/Obese Adults. J Phys Act Health. 2016;13(12):1360-1363.
- Renjith AS, Marwaha V, Aggarwal N, Koshy V, Singal VK, Kumar KVSH. Prevalence of left ventricular dysfunction in rheumatoid arthritis. J Family Med Prim Care. 2017;6(3):622-626.
- Castaneda S, Gonzalez-juanatey C, Gonzalez-gay MA. Inflammatory Arthritis and Heart Disease. Curr Pharm Des. 2018.