Monday, April 28, 2003

'Hot Yoga' a real stretch

In 95-degree room, body sweats and muscles relax quickly

By Llee Sivitz
Enquirer contributor

Yoga doesn't make you sweat? Try it "hot." Yoga, or more specifically "hatha" yoga, originated in India 5,000 years ago. Today, its physical postures are known to promote health and well-being, and many mainstream fitness programs embrace yoga's relaxation and muscle-stretching benefits. But a towel and water bottle are not normally required at yoga classes, unless you go to Cincinnati Yoga School and Bookstore in Blue Ash for "Hot Yoga."

Hot Yoga is ashtanga yoga, a style of fast-moving hatha yoga done in a room heated to about 95 degrees.

Diane Utaski, the school's owner, first thought of Hot Yoga when she received requests for a class in Bikram yoga, which is done in a heated room.

"People were asking for this style of yoga but they didn't even know what they were getting," she says. "The majority were just interested in the hot room ... to help them sweat and stretch easier."

Four classes later, Hot Yoga seems to be a hit. The day I was there, 15 people (many under age 35) were sprawled on exercise mats, seemingly oblivious to the temperature. I found a spot near a floor heater.

• Hot Yoga classes, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Saturday, Cincinnati Yoga School and Bookstore, Kenwood Square North Shopping Center, 11130 Kenwood Road (at Cornell Road), Blue Ash. Cost: $52 for four classes; $15 one-time walk-in class.
• Free introduction to Hot Yoga, 2-3:30 p.m. May 10 (arrive 10 minutes early), Cincinnati Yoga School and Bookstore. This will be a slower-paced introductory class, but all levels are welcome. Reservations required: 247-9642;

Caution: If you have a special medical condition, i.e., you just had surgery, are pregnant, might be or just were pregnant, you are advised not to take Hot Yoga.

Utaski suggested I take it easy and take a break if I needed to, advice I quickly dismissed, thinking, "I've taken yoga before, I've been working out and stretching ... this is no big deal."

Lennessa Trent, the Hot Yoga instructor, started by teaching us on how to feel "dynamic breath." This deep-breathing technique is used throughout the workout to relax and focus on yoga postures.

The first posture to be mastered was the "sun salutation," a spirited series of poses that we repeated again and again until I broke into a sweat. Glancing around the room, it was reassuring to see my younger cohorts mopping their brows and grabbing for their water bottles, too.

I also noticed that each try at the sun salutation was easier than the last, and sure enough, my range of motion increased and the postures became easier as I heated up.

After 30 minutes, however, with sweat pouring everywhere, my legs felt like lead. I took a break curled up in the "child's pose" (sort of a fetal position), as Trent suggested.

That's when I noticed Nicole Kreutzer, 35, of Symmes Township sweating like a champ. It was her first Hot Yoga class as well, although she's been taking other yoga classes twice a week for three years.

"Sometimes I don't warm up properly," she says, "and when I'm stretching, my muscles can't really stretch well. ... The heat gives me more flexibility. It feels like all the toxins are coming out, between the sweating and the yoga. It's a good combination."

Trent weaved throughout the room, encouraging each student. "Lift your bandhas (energy centers in the body). Focus your gaze. Breathe."

"Your muscles want to tighten in a cold room, (but they) become like butter in the heat," Trent says. That adds to safety, because if your muscles are more relaxed and limber, you can attempt more advanced postures than you normally would be able to do."

The class lasts 90 minutes and includes a 10-15 minute "cool down" (and they open the door).

Edwige Valsecchi, 29, of Mount Lookout, breathed a sigh of relief.

"I take ashtanga and tri yoga. This one's damn hot. It's similar to ashtanga but in very hot conditions, so that makes it more aerobic and slippery on the mat."

Utaski recommends that yoga novices take a beginner's class before attempting Hot Yoga.

"A lot of people come into this class," Trent says, "and its like 'Whoa, I would never have guessed this was yoga.' "

Some like it hot.

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