Forecaster Forum: Feel the heat with Bikram yoga

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Heat yoga is, in a word, hot – both literally and figuratively.

I tried it for the first time last week at Portland Power Yoga Studio. Although I have been practicing yoga regularly during the past year as a form of stress relief, this type of yoga, otherwise known as Bikram or Vinyasa Flow yoga, brings the art to a new level – and a higher temperature.

The yoga studio is heated to approximately 105 degrees and kept at 40 percent humidity to increase muscle stretching and heart rate, detox the body through perspiration and improve the cardiovascular and immune system.
Since this was my first time practicing power yoga, I was given free use of a special mat that doesn’t slip when covered with two liters of your body water weight. I also had a full bath towel to lay over the mat, which also becomes drenched in 90 minutes.

Then I was escorted by one of the studio’s personnel into the heated studio. She told me that if at any point I was feeling dizzy or lightheaded I should revert to child’s pose (balasana), a restful kneeling position where your “third eye” (located on your forehead) rests on the floor. I asked, just in case, if I could I leave if the heat became too oppressive? She said, of course, I could leave at any point, but she advised against it, warning how taxing it can be on the immune system. I began chugging my water, wondering how anything could be more taxing than power yoga for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees.

I acclimated quickly though, and after 20 minutes of “warm-up” and forward folds, I didn’t even feel that taxed. Comparing myself to the woman next to me, whose back was drenched in sweat, I thought, “I don’t even feel hot.” Then we flowed into our first downward dog, where the heels of the feet and palms of the hands touch the floor and the hips extend up and back. And I noticed that I was sweating out of my shins. I didn’t even know you could sweat out of your shins. Then I looked at my arms – waxy and covered in beads of sweat. Then they started to drip, like little tiny rain droplets, on my pink yoga mat.

Yet, this was nothing compared to the half-naked man in front of me, who was practically taking a bath in his own perspiration. In fact, everyone in the studio could have been mistaken for a pregnant woman whose water had just broken, based on the puddles surrounding each of them. But it was just pure sweat. The hair of this man practicing in front of me looked gelled by the end of the session, with sweat beads dangling from each hair tip.

The sweat bothers you at first – your mind resists it. You start thinking your body is working too hard and you should let it rest. But then your body transforms your thinking, and you start to think that this is, in fact, good for it. This is natural. This is how your body maintains homeostasis, the delicate balance your body strives for. So you move beyond the sweat, and realize everyone else in the room is experiencing the same primal transformation. The noises coming from the people around you remind you of this and the instructor tells you to “stretch like an animal – because you are one.”

Amid the heat and sweat, you need to remember to breathe. Breath-synchronized movement is the foundation of Vinyasa Flow yoga. The instructor reminds us to breathe, comparing yoga poses to ordering fries with a burger: “In yoga, we say, ‘I’ll have ujjayi breath with that triangle pose.'”

By the end of class, I have completely lost myself in the waves of my own ocean breathing, and the heat doesn’t feel oppressive. In fact, it feels comforting and cozy to be wrapped in my own wet skin. I feel cleansed, like all the toxins in my body have been flushed completely out of my system. I vow never to put anything non-organic to my lips again.

Of course, the first beverage I had was a beer at Bull Feeney’s with a group of college friends, when I should have been drinking two liters of water and electrolytes to replenish what I lost.

So I went back, to detox again.

Power yoga is not for the light-hearted, or light-headed, those who need personal space or those grossed out by pools of perspiration. But for those who want to find their physical and metaphysical core, for those who want to find “ujjayi,” for those who want to sweat – heat yoga is definitely hot.

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pnms-forum_hayes-070809.jpgKate Hayes lives in Topsham and is a former news assistant at The Forecaster. She is about to begin her second year of medical school at the University of New England.