You can usually bet that if something has stood the test of time there’s a reason, and with a speculated date of conception standing at 3000 B.C, yoga has a pretty good track record. Having developed in the 1970s however, hot yoga is becoming an increasingly popular phenomenon with a serious divide between those who think it’s Bikram’s gift and just a lot of hot air … Editor Bonnie Friend went along to see what all the fuss is about.
So, what exactly is hot yoga? Well, it’s regular yoga but in a humid, heated room (generally around the 40⁰C mark), which if you have ever tried to move much beyond your sun bed while on holiday you can imagine is quite a sweaty undertaking.
Taking my class was Nina Sebastiane – television presenter turned yoga guru and owner of Feel Hot Yoga in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Sebastiane ‘s hot Hatha class is ninety minutes of bending, stretching, focusing, breathing and pose holding, and while no individual point is overly energetic in itself, twenty minutes in and even my scalp was perspiring.
Clearly there is more to this than heat however – a mum of two, Sebastiane is a good ambassador for the yoga cause. Like many of its followers she is lithe and toned, but more than that she seems happy, and has a lot of energy. A keen runner and generally healthy human being, she experienced her own yoga miracle when it saw her go from a prognosis of never having her own children to mother of two – so it is no wonder she is keen to elaborate on its benefits: “The reason most people start going to yoga is to improve their flexibility, but that’s really a by-product of the practice. The main benefits are inside the body – the compressions warm the core, blood vessels dilate, circulation improves, the heart rate is elevated and lung capacity increases. All this boosts the immune system, massages the organs and essentially creates an internal cleanse. Those are the physical benefits, but that has an impact on our state of mind as well.”
Hot yoga was seen in its first form when Bikram Choudhury created the concept in California in the 1970s with a strict twenty-six pose routine. Hot yoga modifies his idea and places a more flexible practice in the same heated environment, which essentially creates the hot Indian climate that yoga was originally designed for, thus allowing us cold blooded Westerners to get the most out of it: “The heat allows the muscles to warm up first, so you are less likely to pull a muscle,” Sebastiane explains; “It also helps to prepare the core – it’s a bit like sparking an internal fire – it locks into the endocrine system and all the benefits that you get from yoga are enhanced.”
Of course, hot yoga is not without its critics – many claim it can harm the muscles and put unnecessary pressure on the body; Sebastiane is unfazed – “The thing with yoga is that you need to modify it and accept what you can do – it’s a journey. As a teacher you notice who are the most vulnerable people in your class and usually they are the ultra fit ones who are in a constant battle to push themselves. If you have very high blood pressure or have recently had surgery you should talk to the instructor who will adjust some of the poses, but that’s the same for all yoga and I would not recommend hot yoga for pregnant women either. But essentially it’s for everyone, and that’s another wonderful thing about it – you can have lots of people of all abilities in a class coming together for this incredibly happy way of life. If you are passing out or getting to a point where you can’t do the class inside fifteen minutes you are not doing yoga.”
Certainly Sebastiane’s enthusiasm is persuasive, but having been to the class four times in a week it is my own experience that has me rather more convinced about its benefits. I have no miracle story to tell you, but I have slept better, ached without feeling as though I have been run over by a bulldozer, stand straighter, my back aches less (sitting in a chair too much) and as a running addict who is usually completely intolerable after a day without jogging I have only seen a treadmill once this week and have barely noticed its absence.
I confess I was a convert to yoga before entering the class, and I also agree that at around £15 a session its thermal cousin is not the most financially accessible pastime, but if you’re looking for a sense of satisfaction from day one it’s definitely worth giving it a go – I have yet to come across anyone who, given a little time does not extol its virtues.
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