When I attend Bikram yoga (a.k.a. "hot yoga") class, my body goes into survival mode. Twenty-six postures in a 104-degree room for 90 minutes is an intense -- make that extreme -- workout. So you can imagine my shock this weekend when a mommy yogi brought her 4-year-old into the studio. Really?! Was this a good idea?
Hot-yoga creator Bikram Choudhury calls these 104-degree studios "torture chambers" for a reason. It's the kind of workout where, during the practice, instructors repeatedly say that it's natural to feel nauseous, dizzy and even (depending on the amount of sleep you've had and the crap you've put into your body) black out. I say this only to set the scene, not to scare anyone who hasn't tried it: It's an amazing workout, and I am 100 percent addicted! No matter your physical health, Bikram yoga is a mental workout, too, and it requires extreme focus and meditation to reap the benefits. None of these characteristics do I normally associate with children -- especially 4-year-old children.
So when a mom brought her 4-year-old into my hot-yoga class this weekend, I was quite taken aback. I noticed that some of my fellow students looked questioningly at each other, but the instructor welcomed the child. At the beginning of the class, this little yogi was trying each of the moves, naturally having trouble holding any pose. By 15 minutes into the class, the poor thing was playing with her water bottle, spraying herself and rolling around on her towel.
I am in my mid-30s, and I can barely stay focused for the hour and a half. So I totally understood how this little one was bored out of her mind. As the class continued, she got up and down and tried more moves. Of course her mom kept trying to correct her, but the instructor insisted that she let her daughter learn on her own. Meanwhile, I was hot as hell and wondering, Is this healthy for the child?
So of course, back at work, I just had to get an expert opinion. Pediatrician and momlogic expert Dr. Alanna Levine said the following:
"I do not recommend that young children participate in Bikram yoga. Children handle high temperatures differently than adults. They have a higher surface-area-to-mass ratio, which means they absorb heat more than adults do. They also have a smaller blood volume, which makes it harder for them to dissipate the heat. Lastly, they have a slower rate of sweat production than adults, and sweating is a mechanism to cool us off. Children are not 'mini adults' -- and should not be treated as such."
I thought it was only fair to call up the Bikram Yoga College of India and talk to someone there. Jessica, 32, has been a Bikram instructor since 2008. Here's how our chat went:
ml: Does Bikram have a minimum age requirement?
Jessica: There are no strict rules, as long as the child is quiet and well-behaved. There's a youth category for the annual Bikram competition. Bikram, the founder, has three children, and they all started doing "hot yoga" at a very early age.
ml: How old was your youngest student ever?
J: I haven't have any younger than 9 or 10. Sometimes younger students wait outside during the standing series and come in for the floor series.
ml: How would you respond to our doctor's claims that Bikram is unhealthy for kids?
J: With any physical practice, you should have a doctor's recommendation. A decision to do Bikram should be taken person by person. It's case by case.