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Bikram Yoga & Serotonin

By Sirah Dubois

Bikram, or hot yoga, is a modern form of an ancient system of postures and breathing that developed many centuries ago in India. All forms of yoga are meant to increase your flexibility, regulate your breathing and put your mind into a meditative mode, which may stimulate serotonin release in your brain and help you combat anxiety and depression. Bikram yoga is a gentle, low-impact type of exercise, but it is practiced in a very warm environment in order to induce perspiration and a higher heart rate. Ask your doctor if Bikram yoga is safe and appropriate for your physical condition.


Serotonin is a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, that sends messages within your brain and throughout your nervous system. Most serotonin, at least 75 percent, is located in the tissues of your gastrointestinal system and is involved in the movement of food through your intestines, but the remainder resides in your brain and is made primarily by neuronal cells of the pineal gland, according to the book “Human Biochemistry.” Within the brain, serotonin is involved in many processes such as regulating your mood, appetite and sleeping cycle.

Serotonin and Depression

There are many neurotransmitters and hormones in your brain that contribute to how you feel and how you respond to certain situations, but serotonin is one of the most essential mood-regulating substances, according to the book “Human Physiology: An Integrated Approach.” High levels of serotonin are associated with happiness or contentment, whereas low levels are associated with anxiety, agitation and depression. Serotonin synthesis is influenced by numerous factors including emotional trauma, exposure to sunshine, eating certain food and exercising.

Exercise and Serotonin

Studies have shown that most forms of exercise increase the release of serotonin in your brain, according to the book “Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance.” Aerobic exercise increases serotonin levels in two ways: it directly increases the rate and frequency at which serotonin is released in your brain, and regular exercise increases tryptophan amino acid levels, which stimulates serotonin production secondarily.

Yoga and Serotonin

Bikram yoga was developed by yoga master Bikram Choudhury, who developed a set series of 26 poses that are performed twice within 90 minutes in a room maintained at temperatures between 95 to100 degrees Fahrenheit. Although no scientific studies have looked at the relationship between Bikram yoga practice and serotonin production directly, many others have concluded that yoga is associated with reduced levels of schizophrenia, anxiety, stress and depression, which are linked to serotonin. Further, yoga also stimulates the pituitary gland to produce endorphins, which are your body's natural pain relievers.

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