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Connaught Tribune 12th August 2005, by Michelle McDonnagh

Getting Hot and Sweaty in the Latest Fitness Craze

The hottest fitness craze to sweep the US, Australia and Europe has come to Galway ‹ that’s hot in the literal sense of the word as in 105 degrees Fahrenheit profuse sweat inducing heat! People stand barefoot in a hot room red-faced and perspiring heavily for 90 minutes while trying to contort their body into various postures and hold the pose it’s hot yoga.

The earliest recorded use of heat therapy as a valuable healing tool dates from ancient Greek physicians who raised their patient¹s body temperature as an immune defence mechanism against infection. And now it¹s 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. At the new Hot Yoga Studio on the Tuam Road (opposite the Travelodge Hotel), Tracy O¹Mahoney teaches classes in Bikram and hot Vinyasa, both forms of power yoga

Renmore native Tracy started practising Bikram yoga several years ago and became totally addicted to it, even travelling to classes at the Portobello Studio in Dublin, the first hot yoga studio in Ireland which was set up two years ago.

In fact, so much did she love Bikram yoga that Tracy took the momentous decision to give up her job as receptionist at Galway Bay FM earlier this year to go to study with the founder of Bikram yoga in Los Angeles, Bikram Choudhury.

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.

Tracy explains: ³Heat 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.²

While Tracy describes her time at Bikram¹s School in LA ­ where she developed friendships with fellow Œyoginis¹ 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 weren¹t called in to.

Bikram pushes his students to the limit making them get back onto their feet and into posture straight away. He allows them only a limited amount of water which he refers to as party time. Tracy assures that she allows her students to drink water during the class although she advises them to hydrate during the day beforehand.

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. After completing her training with Bikram ‹ which involved 500 hours of study over nine weeks ‹ Tracy went to Florida to train in hot Vinyasa yoga with Jimmy Barkan who has been teaching for over 25 years.

Hot Vinyasa also involves a sequence of postures known as asanas to stretch and strengthen various parts of the body and as well as its many physical benefits, it helps to calm the mind and provide a deep relaxation.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 Œto join¹ or Œyoke¹ together and it brings the body and mind together into one harmonious experience,² 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: ³The 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. Now Tracy has returned to set up Galway¹s first hot yoga studio at the Tuam Road. Her specially adapted studio is fitted with full-length mirrors and a special heating system in the ceiling, both necessities when practising hot yoga.

A spacious reception area leads into men and women¹s changing rooms with showers and toilet facilities. Mats are provided and water and towels and available to purchase at the studio. With yoga becoming increasingly popular with men, including Roy Keane, Tracy is hoping to encourage more men to join her classes. And one willing guinea pig is her husband, Ed Dunbar who has been working hard all summer setting up the studio and website while Tracy was in LA. One of the most common concerns that prevents people from going to a yoga class is their lack of flexibility, but Tracy explains that yoga is not about how flexible you are, it¹s about strengthening your body and spine in all directions.

All that matters is that you try the right way, go to your personal edge and you will get 100% of the benefit.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. Yoga works by what Tracy describes as the tourniquet effect stretching, balancing and creating pressure all at the same time. The blood supply in arteries and veins is being cut off, creating pressure. When released, a lockgate effect is created, causing blood to rush through veins and arteries, flushing them out. Also, pressure is applied to the heart by its relative position to the rest of the body. 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. Tracy explains that there is no start date for students to join, people of all ages and levels may join at any time and participate in any class they choose.

All classes are 90 minutes and students are warned to wear lightweight clothes and to be prepared to sweat because the studio is very hot! Each class starts with two sets of Pranayama breathing exercises and ends with a short relaxation.

For further information on Galway¹s Hot Yoga Studio at the Tuam Road, check
out www.hotyoga.ie or contact Tracy at (087) 2642922.