Press - The Coolest

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Hot yoga
The coolest thing in fitness?

Bikram is a form of Hatha yoga, a yoga of activity. 

"This is not your meditation yoga," said Jones. "This is really an athletic yoga. That's part of the appeal. It's a great workout. "Bikram isn't spiritually  based, so it doesn't interfere with spiritual beliefs," she added. 

Jones, a former tennis player, runner and cyclist, once eschewed exercising indoors but said she fell in love with Bikram yoga when a friend introduced her to it in Florida eight years ago. 

A Yoga Studio That Thinks It's a Sauna

At some point this year, I noticed that I could not bend over and touch my fingertips to the ground. The combination of running the marathon, completing a century (riding 100 miles on a bicycle) and the subsequent nursing of sore knees, tight quads and stiff hips had taken its toll: what little flexibility I was born with had vanished. 

Last year's New Year's resolution to cut back on running and spend more time stretching went the way of most New Year's resolutions (ignored until forgotten), and the thoughts of struggling through an organized stretch class filled with limber-bodied budding ballerinas was too intimidating to consider. 

So I did what any cardio-addicted athlete would do who needs to sweat to feel she has worked out: I signed up for the hottest exercise class in town. Hottest literally, because Bikram yoga (less formally known as hot yoga) is conducted in a room heated to 100 degrees. 

During the 90-minute class at the Yoga College of India, where I practiced 26 Hatha yoga poses, including the tree, the mountain and the triangle, I still managed to be the least limber in class. But who cares when you are touching your nose to your knees (and wiping off the sweat pouring down your face) for the first time in your life? 

Hot yoga, a strenuous version of the suddenly trendy 5,000-year-old discipline based on breathing and stretching techniques, was developed in the early 1970's by Bikram Choudhury as a way to heal the body after injury or illness. (Mr. Choudhury had been an Olympic weight lifter until he suffered a career-ending injury.) The yoga poses he chose were designed to enhance strength, flexibility and balance, a combination, he said in an interview from Beverly Hills, Calif., that is "essential in reducing the negative aspects of stress, illness, injury and aging on the body."