Always let them see you sweat
Bikram yoga turns up the heat; devotees love it
The Arizona Republic
May. 30, 2005
Andrea Griego (sitting by mirror) trained with Bikram Choudhury, founder of a yoga practice that occurs in 105-degree rooms.
Suzanne Starr/Scottsdale Republic
NORTHEAST VALLEY - Bikram yoga. It's hot. Really hot. But its popularity in the Northeast Valley seems counterintuitive.
• In a sweltering locale where walking through air-conditioned malls is a popular workout, this variety of yoga is done in a room heated to at least 105 degrees.
• In a go-go place where residents complain they have no time for exercise, Bikram classes last 90 minutes.
• In a competitive fitness market where individual trainers and their techniques are given cult status, Bikram classes boast a notable uniformity, no matter where they are taken or who is teaching them.
Nevertheless, as the Northeast Valley enters its broiling season, the toasty Bikram studios report full classes all day long.
"The heat is exhilarating," said Ron King, a devotee who discovered Bikram yoga almost two years ago.
"People think of it as oppressive, but it's invigorating," said King, 54, a recently retired administrator for Scottsdale, who originally set out to take up yoga in a city recreation program. But he heard about Bikram, gave it a try and it stuck.
"Now I mention it to everybody, but I haven't gotten too many to go yet," he said.
Kim Schloz, 32, has a 2-year-old at home and needs a baby-sitter each time, yet she takes at least four Bikram classes a week.
Regular yoga was too difficult, said Schloz, of Scottsdale. "I was an unflexible person; I couldn't touch my toes."
Schloz started Bikram on her sister-in-law's recommendation. She said the arthritis pain in her hands disappears after the heated sessions. A diabetic, Schloz is hopeful the practice will prevent her getting the circulatory problems associated with the disease. After two years, she said, she's toned and fit; she tried a half-mile run recently for the first time in a year and wasn't winded.
The gist of Bikram yoga is that sweating detoxifies the body while a series of 26 Hatha yoga poses cleanses the organs, lymph and circulatory systems and exercises every muscle.
The discipline was started by a baby-boomer East Indian named Bikram Choudhury, who was a top yogi by age 13. After injuring his knee while weightlifting, Choudhury was treated by a guru who developed the exercise program on which Bikram is based.
The yogi moved to the United States in the 1970s and added heat to the program to mimic the climate of his native Calcutta. After opening a studio in Los Angeles, Bikram was discovered by Hollywood.Certified teachers of Bikram pass through an arduous nine-week training course that includes memorization of 44 pages of monologues.
Choudhury doesn't allow teachers to alter the program and demands certain features for the studios, including mirrors and carpeting.
"In teaching, we explain what's going on besides stretching," said Andrea Griego, 44, who trained with Choudhury six years ago and now owns Bikram Yoga Institute in Scottsdale.
"You're working your endocrine system and purging toxic stuff. But it's not all stretching. The compressions, the curling forward, work the spleen and pancreas. The heat lets you go deeper into the vital organs with the compressions," Griego said. The improved circulation boosts the immune system and improves breathing capacity, she said.
As classes continue, bodies change and abilities improve; students claim to experience lessons differently each time, even though the poses remain the same.
The routine passes from vertical positions that stress balance to others on the floor, either lying down or sitting.
Don Grostic, director of Bikram Yoga Paradise Valley in Phoenix, said the practice is similar to physical therapy in encouraging joint mobility.
"In physical therapy, they stick you in a hot tub to loosen the joints. Here we have rank beginners who can do the postures the first time because of the heat," Grostic said.
Doctors agree heat helps flexibility but have concerns about 90 minutes of it.
"Heat helps flexibility and infammation, but you have to be concerned about anybody working out in 105 degree temperatures," said Dr. Tom Moss, a Fountain Hills medical doctor and naturopath. People with cardiovascular issues or any health condition should check with a doctor first.
Moss said people with inflammation who are otherwise in good health might benefit from Bikram, but even healthy people need to take steps to stay hydrated.
Scottsdale orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Bailie said heat potentially can cause a big hurt.
"People can get dehydrated, causing cramps and loss of electrolytes," said Bailie, who treats the Phoenix Suns and other professional athletes. He recommends drinking sports drinks that restore body fluids.
King, an accomplished tennis player, bicycler and golfer, admits dropping out of tough poses his first few times to recharge on the floor, usually because he hadn't drunk enough water before class.
A water bottle, towel and mat are mandatory for each Bikram class.
Bikram yoga in the Northeast Valley
• Bikram Yoga Institute
Director: Andrea Griego
7620 E. Indian School Road, #115, Scottsdale
Details: (480) 946-2116 or www.BikramYogaInstitute.com
• Bikram Yoga Scottsdale
Director: Nancy Stamper
9301 E. Shea Blvd., #121-122, Scottsdale
Details: (480) 551-5285 or www.BikramScottsdale.com
• Bikram Yoga Paradise Valley
Director: Don Grostic
13843 N. Tatum Blvd., #11, Phoenix
Details: (602) 971-6999 or www.BikramYogaAZ.com