Standing in a sweat-soaked room heated to 105 degrees, I’m trying to pretzel-twist my arms and legs into another pose.
But my skin is so slippery that my limbs just slide. From a little stage a woman instructs the class in a style that's not too different from a drill sergeant at boot camp, urging us to focus only on one thing--her words.
Other scantily clad bodies bend in close proximity, but I confront myself in the mirror and count down: just eighty more minutes until I’m out of here.
Welcome to , otherwise known as Yoga Hell, a studio that has become increasingly popular, with classes that are packed on most days.
“It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, self-control, patience and compassion for yourself while you’re in that room. So when people walk in the door, we want to make them smile,” says owner Lynn Whitlow.
“It’s not what people think a yoga studio is going to be: chimes and incense and soft music. We’re the opposite. We make it fun and playful because the yoga itself is very hard.”
Whitlow, 55, has been teaching for 15 years. The colorful studio is her seventh with co-founder Jeff Renfro, who designed each one. His late father, Ed Renfro, an illustrator who worked in New York advertising, painted the whimsical caricatures depicting yoga postures on the walls.
You may have seen the red van around town adorned with a cartoon devil and flames, and often, a dog inside. (Jeff and Lynn own several dogs, who can often be seen napping in the foyer of the studio.)
“Bikram says you have to go through hell to get to heaven. You have to be suffering in that room so that when you leave it you feel strong,” says Whitlow, a marathon runner and surfer who embraced the intensity of hot yoga as her new challenge.
Bikram Choudhury, born in Calcutta, India in 1946, developed the sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. Each posture is preparation for the next in the series, which keeps the spine flexible and the muscles around it strong in order to support the central nervous system.
“You are changing the construction of your body as you perform these postures,” he says in his book Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class.
The heating system, which automatically cycles in fresh, oxygenated air and maintains 40 percent humidity, helps you stretch. Bikram used the metaphor of a blacksmith heating up the metal to make the shape.
“We heat up the room and the teacher with the microphone pounds you into position,” Whitlow says with a smile, “until the body starts to bend and flow with more ease and grace.”
The intense temperature also makes you sweat, and forces you to drink more water. And that’s a good thing when you’re compressing, squeezing and stretching inner organs. Sweating naturally irrigates the cells and helps them detoxify. Water keeps everything clean by flushing out the waste byproducts from your body, according to Whitlow.
It isn’t uncommon to feel dizzy or even nauseous in class, especially for beginners. But Whitlow says those symptoms are your body’s reactions to what’s happening internally, and they’re temporary. She recommends not eating for at least two hours before class, and hydrating plenty beforehand.
After attending half a dozen classes, I've learned that progress comes with repetition. No matter how challenged I am in each pose, my body is strengthened and my mind more balanced. And that's what keeps me coming back for more.
“No matter how hard it is, how hot it is, or how miserable you are, when you’re done, you always feel good,” Whitlow says.
Have you tried Bikram?