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Irish Examiner, Friday 23rd February 2006

Sweltering heat, extreme conditions – it’s hot yoga, writes Michelle McDonagh

Bend It Like Bikram

A group of people stand barefoot in a baking hot room red-faced and perspiring heavily for 90 minutes while trying to contort their bodies into various postures and hold the pose — it might not sound like much fun but apparently, it’s very good for you!

The hottest fitness craze to sweep the US, Australia and Europe, Bikram Yoga is hot in the literal sense of the word as in 105 degrees Fahrenheit profuse sweat inducing heat.
The earliest recorded use of heat therapy as a valuable healing tool dates from ancient Greek physicians who raised their patient’s body temperature as an immune defence mechanism against infection. And now it’s being used in exercise.

According to advocates of hot yoga, regular profuse sweating generated by heat will flush toxins out of the body, promote relaxation and well-being, accelerate cardiovascular action and facilitate calorie burning. Bikram Yoga is a 90 minute programme consisting of a series of 26 poses performed in a room heated from 90 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Each pose is performed twice and held for a certain period of time. Regular practice of Bikram yoga is said to strengthen the immune system, improve posture and spinal alignment, strengthen joints, ease back pain, tone muscles, build strength, stamina and flexibility and relieve stress and tension.

Owner of the Hot Yoga Studio in Galway, Tracy O’Mahoney started practising Bikram yoga several years ago and became so addicted to it, that she gave up her receptionist job to go and study with the founder of Bikram yoga in Los Angeles, Bikram Choudhury.
She explains: “Heat is used in Bikram yoga in order to allow you to go deeper and safer into a yoga pose. Your body becomes more flexible in the heat and since most poses used in Bikram are physically challenging, heat allows you to get into a pose that you never imagined you could do. “It also eliminates the risk for injuries, promotes sweating and helps you release the toxins in your body. The poses not only work on your muscles, but also your internal organs. Each pose stretches and strengthens your muscles, joints and ligaments and, at the same time, releases the toxins and works on your internal organs and nervous system.”

While Tracy describes her time at Bikram’s School in LA – where she developed friendships with fellow ‘yoginis’ from all over the world — as the most fantastic experience of her life, it was an extremely tough intensive course. “We started every morning at 7am and finished after midnight Monday to Friday, we had a half day Saturday and Sundays off. There were 200 of us in the room in 105 degree heat and higher all day. People regularly fainted from the heat and vomited on their mats, in fact we were told it was the first class that the paramedics weren’t called in to.” Her specially adapted studio is fitted with full-length mirrors and a special heating system in the ceiling, both necessities when practising hot yoga.

Regarded as a God in LA, Bikram lives in a plush Beverly Hills villa and drives around in Bentleys, Rolls Royces and limos – the flamboyant yoga guru actually dresses to match whatever car he happens to be driving that day. He has many celebrity clients including Madonna, Brooke Shiels, and Andie McDowell and he teaches top athletes in the US, including the LA Lakers. “Yoga is a complete science of life that originated in India many thousands of years ago. It is the oldest system of personal development in the world encompassing the entire body, mind and soul. The word yoga means ‘to join’ or ‘yoke’ together and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience,” says Tracy. Through the three main structures of exercise, breathing and meditation, yoga aims to attain unity of mind, body and spirit. The yoga exercises are designed to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body thus increasing its efficiency and total health. Tracy comments: “The body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world, a yoga student therefore treats it with great care and respect.”

While men were slow to join up at first, word of the benefits of hot yoga seems to have spread as half of Tracy’s classes of now made up of men, most of whom are sportsmen who want to improve flexibility and build up strength and stamina.
The studio has been such a success that Tracy won the national Junior Chamber of Ireland Outstanding Young Business Person Award in the business/entrepreneur category in 2006. She has recently trained in Yoga Bugs in London, a form of yoga for children which stretches the imagination as well as the body and she plans to start classes for kids very soon.

Tracy recommends a minimum of ten classes per month to start to see the benefits of Bikram yoga, among which is weight normalisation. As a beginner, it takes three classes for your body to understand the proper approach to the posture and ten classes for your body to begin to work with postures, she says. “You will realise optimisation of all your body systems. Digestion and respiration as well as endocrine, lymphatic and elimination systems will begin to work harmoniously. Your appetite will normalise and your unhealthy cravings will diminish, all of these results will help to normalise your weight if you devote yourself to regular practice.” In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, which include an increase in energy, balance and coordination, many people include the exercise in their lifestyles to reduce the effects of stress and clear their minds. For further information on Galway’s Hot Yoga Studio at the Tuam Road, check out www.hotyoga.ie or contact Tracy at (087) 2642922.