News Of Body and Mind , LA Times,  March, 2003

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March 16, 2003

Of body and mind

Combining a tough regimen with lots of heat, a new routine called Bikram yoga takes the fitness program to a new level.

By Lolita Harper, Daily Pilot

If you can't take the heat, get out of the holistic yoga studio. Bikram yoga, a demanding series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, is a fitness trend sweeping the nation, and more locally, Newport-Mesa.

The grand opening of Bikram Yoga at the Camp in Costa Mesa adds yet another yoga option to the traditionally health-conscious region. Unlike pavement pounding, unrelenting, aerobics classes or competitive sports, Bikram yoga challenges the person to complete a deep, strengthening workout void of bass-pumping music or encouraging cheers.

Bikram Chourdhury, a world-renowned yoga master, began practicing Hatha yoga at age 3 in his native India, said Patrice Simon, owner of the Camp Studio. At 11, he became the youngest contestant to win the National India Yoga Competition.

A weightlifting injury in his 20s crippled him. It was then that he created his now-famous series of postures to restore and strengthen muscles and ligaments.

Bikram yoga is done in a heated room (100 degrees) to warm the muscles and prevent injuries, Simon said. The heat also allows a deeper work out and increases sweat, which cleanses the body by flushing out toxins.

The 90-minute program stimulates organs, glands and nerves and moves freshly oxygenated blood throughout the body, Simon said. It challenges people to balance and strengthen every system in the body, while refining concentration, increasing mental clarity and decreasing stress.

Students of the popular fitness trend report feeling rejuvenated, centered and thoroughly worked after one intense session. The beauty of this nonabrasive exercise is that anyone can do it, the 47-year-old Simon said. While she believes the data in medical journals and studies that claim the discipline regenerates tissues and cures chronic ailments, she sees the proof in her own students.

"I have one girl who had severe shoulder injuries," Simon said. "She had gone to physical therapy for months and, after just three sessions, she said she had increased movement."

It only makes sense, practitioners say, that the fitness craze was created during Chourdhury's own rehabilitation. Because it is comprehensive and controlled, it is appropriate for all ages and fitness levels.

"Never too bad, never too old, never too sick, never too late, to start from scratch and begin again," Chourdhury is famous for telling his students.

For the opening of Bikram at the Camp, the yoga master made a special appearance, in which he shared the keys to success through the program -- much to the delight of his most faithful followers. Those who wish to try the Bikram method should be prepared to have patience, pace themselves and enter the hot environment with an open mind. Students should wear light clothing, avoiding sweats and long pants, and must be sure to hydrate themselves.

The postures are best performed on an empty stomach, as they require extensive stretching and twisting. Things typical of the fast-paced, harsh and too often stressful world are forbidden in the studio, Simon said: No shoes, no gum, no pagers or cell phones, no perfume, no cologne, no excess jewelry or watches. And no bad attitudes.

There is no yelling drill sergeant, no clumsy weight machines, no meat market atmosphere.

The program is intended to stretch, strengthen and tone the body, while clearing the mind. Various celebrities, such as Madonna, have long touted yoga as their primary fitness regimen.

While Simon is not on par with the racy pop icon, she can understand why it is a part of the material girl's routine.

"There is no similar feeling of intense patience, concentration, strengthening and accomplishment, as the Bikram method," Simon said.

And a thriving studio filled with steamy, sweaty, grimacing faces seems to prove it.

Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times


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