When the thermometer reads triple digits, most of us hunker down in an air-conditioned space and wait for the heat to break. But every day – winter, spring, summer and fall – hundreds of local people pay good money to spend 90 minutes working out in rooms heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
They call it hot yoga.
Cindy Glass, who owns the Bikram Yoga Raleigh studio in North Raleigh, says Bikram Yoga is the original hot yoga. Bikram Choudhury designed the practice back in the 1970s specifically for Americans “after he saw what our lifestyles were like – how we eat, what we call exercise, that kind of thing.”
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Every Bikram class is the same sequence of 26 poses, no matter what city, state, or country you are in, says Glass. The hot yoga room is kept at 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity.
“We are warming our muscles so they are pliable, we are sweating out toxins, and increasing our heart rate so we get a really good cardiovascular workout as well,” Glass said.
North Raleigh resident Skip Kurz is beginning his seventh year of practicing Bikram Yoga. He attends at least three classes a week and even seeks out a Bikram studio when he travels.
“I hate it. I can’t emphasize enough how much I hate it.”
What does he like about it? Being finished.
“When I am done, I feel great. I get sick so much less than most people I know, and I am able to manage my health better.
“I started because I travel a lot and I had lower back pain. A flight attendant told me I should try yoga,” Kurz said. “The next day I was driving by the Strickland Road shopping center and I saw the sign that said ‘10 days for $10’ and I thought why not?”
He has tried yoga classes that aren’t in swelteringly hot rooms, but he said that enduring the heat is like having a fever for an hour and a half. “I feel like it burns the germs out of me.”
North Raleigh resident Denni Haywood is newer to the practice. A month ago, after being repeatedly told yoga could help alleviate her lower back pain, she took the plunge and purchased the introductory package, which is now $20 for one week of unlimited classes.
“I am 56 years old and I had never taken a yoga class in my life,” Haywood said. “I didn’t ask how hot it was. It is hot!
“It was just a matter of getting through that first class. I made it through, and I felt like I’d climbed a mountain. I went back the next day. I just fell in love with it. I love the challenge.”
After her third class, she joined for the year and has been attending at least three classes every week.
Haywood, who trained for and completed a marathon a few years ago, said hot yoga “is the hardest thing I have ever done physically.”
The growth of Bikram
The growth of the Bikram Yoga franchise indicates that Haywood and Kurz are only two of thousands of devotees.
Choudhury opened his first studio in Beverly Hills California in July 1973. Currently, there are more than 350 studios in the United States alone, plus hundreds more across the globe. And the growth shows no signs of slowing.
Choudhury trains 600 to 800 new teachers each year in two nine-week sessions. Glass, who attended the training 2007, says the training is intense: nine weeks of 12-hour days, including two 90-minute hot yoga classes, plus anatomy class and lectures. You have to remove yourself from your life for those nine weeks, plus come up with the $10,00 tuition fee.
“It’s total immersion,” Glass said. “It’s a really big deal to be a true certified Bikram teacher. We are trained by Bikram himself.”
North Carolina currently has six certified Bikram studios in Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Wilmington and Asheville.
Raleigh has boasted a certified Bikram studio for more than a decade, but in recent years other local studios and gyms have begun offering yoga classes in a heated room.
The newest, the Indigo Hot Yoga Center, opened Saturday at the Oberlin Court complex on Oberlin Road and will feature the Barkan Method.
Arrichion, at 8606 Jersey Court, offers five different 45- to 60-minute classes designed to “strengthen and stretch every area of your body.” The room is heated to 100-105 degrees with about 60 percent humidity. Co-owner Quinn Reynolds said their classes are very different from most hot yoga classes because they are very athletic. Reynolds played soccer and her brothers were wrestlers, so they created classes based on the training a collegiate or Olympic athlete would do to get conditioned.
Open Door Yoga, 745 W. Johnson St., offers 60- and 90-minute heated hatha yoga classes based on the system of 84 poses developed by Bikram Choudhury’s teacher, Bishnu Gosh.
The North Raleigh Rapid Fitness location on Falls of Neuse Road offers five different 60- to 70-minute classes in a room heated to 85-95 degrees.
If you decide to check out a hot yoga class, wear as little clothing as you are comfortable in and bring a towel, lots of water and a change of clothes. And plan to sweat. Profusely.