Chesapeake Bay's Independent Newspaper ~ Since 1993
1629 Forest Drive, Annapolis, MD 21403 ~ 410-626-9888

Volume xviii, Issue 1 ~ January 7 - January 13, 2010

Home \\ Correspondence \\ from the Editor \\ Submit a Letter \\ Classifieds \\ Contact Us
Dining Guide \\ Home & Garden Guide \\ Archives \\ Distribution Locations \\ Advertising


The Power of Heat

Looking for a workout that will burn off those holiday calories?
Try sweating the pounds away with hot yoga.

by Katie Dodd

I stand on my knees and drop my head behind me. My upper body curves backward and I grab my heels with my hands. Pushing my hips forward, I arch my spine, so my body looks like a lopsided wheel from the side.

“You may feel a bit funny in this posture,” my instructor says. “That’s totally normal. Just try to work through it.”

If by funny, he means nauseous, dizzy, and completely drained, then yes, that’s exactly how I feel. The position, called Camel (I’m guessing because it vaguely resembles a hump), would probably not present so great a challenge were it not for the 12 standing and nine floor poses that precede it. Did I mention that the temperature in the room is 105 degrees? Four more postures are still to come. Welcome to Bikram yoga.

Heating up Yoga

The word yoga means union of the body, spirit and mind. Bikram yoga tends to emphasize the bodily element. It is the only yoga that works every bone, joint, muscle and organ system. It does that by taking the yogin through a 90-minute series of 26 postures. The same postures, in the same order, make up each class sequence. The heat is turned up to allow maximum flexibility and intensify detoxification.

The postures are a sequence of stretches, practiced by compression and extension. The idea is that each pose temporarily cuts off circulation to a specific part of the body. When released, fresh, oxygenated blood rushes through that spot, healing and flushing out toxins. This is the tourniquet effect. Benefits include toned muscles, increased strength, balanced joints and a boosted immune system.

I learned about Bikram yoga from my sister-in-law in California. Being only 12 at the time, I hadn’t dwelled on it. Over the last several years, however, I’ve practiced other types of yoga in spurts. I’m not very flexible — I can’t even touch my toes — but I’d say I practiced with some degree of success.

Last week I tried Bikram yoga, and it’s a challenge. The most glaring challenge is the heat. I have a relatively high tolerance for warm temperatures. Bikram yoga, however, creates an entirely new level of hotness. It’s like stepping from a frigid air-conditioned building straight into a sweltering sauna, then doing a 90-minute workout.

Yogins embrace the heat by wearing next to nothing when they enter the studio.

Feeling the Heat

For my first class, I’m wearing bamboo-fabric shorts and a sports top. Stepping into the heat is still overwhelming.

Class begins with pranayama or standing deep breathing. I move my head and arms in synch with my breaths, warming up my body from the inside. My shoulders are aching by the end — and class has only just started. Next is half moon pose, ardha-chandrasana. I lean my body into a moon-like crescent, which in my case looks more like a lopsided Christmas tree. A drop of sweat drips down my cheek. Three moves later, my hands are supposed to be tightly gripping the bottom of my foot. This proves nearly impossible as streams of perspiration flow down my arms, creating pools in my palms. It’s going to be a long 90 minutes.

I wonder again why I’m here, and then I remember all the cookies I’ve consumed in the last month, not to mention the gallon of eggnog sitting in my refrigerator, almost empty. Bikram yogis burn from 800 to 1,200 calories per class. I cling to those numbers as my foot slips from my fingers for the um-teenth time.

Heat Wave

The series was developed by Bikram Choudhury, an Indian man who began practicing yoga at the age of four and won the National India Yoga Championship at 13. At 17, Choudhury’s knee was injured in a weight-lifting accident; he was told he’d never walk again. Yoga gave him back his mobility. Choudhury moved to California in the 1960s, and has since been training yoga instructors and opening studios throughout the world. In 2002, he copyrighted the dialogue used by instructors through the practice. Today he teaches up to 300 people at a time in his Beverly Hills studio.

Bikram Yoga Annapolis, owned by Philip and Emily Vendemmia, holds about 45 yogis, but business has been steady since Chesapeake Country’s second Bikram yoga center opened last September, when the Vendemmias’ original Severna Park studio overflowed.

“We’re adding classes starting in January, so we’ll have a total of 40 classes every week,” says Philip of the popularity of hot yoga.

Sweating It Out

I manage to complete the standing postures, earning, with my class, a prized two-minute rest in savasana, dead body pose. Lying on my back, I savor each moment. The floor series is next, and I survive its several spine-strengthening poses. Then comes Camel, the climax of the class.

I feel dizzy as my head drops backward, and I have to sit out the next couple positions. One of the rewards of being new at Bikram yoga is getting breaks. Instructors are conscious of their beginners and often give them individual attention.

How much sweat could I ring out of my towel? I wonder.

Then I hear the words I’ve been waiting for through the last 80 minutes. “We’re coming down the home stretch.”

I feel a rush of energy; I need a strong finish. I can do this, I think. And I do. Maybe I don’t touch my toes that day. Or the next. Or even 10 classes later. But as I lay in the final savasana, there was no greater feeling than the moment that cold, wet washcloth touches my open palm. I feel cleansed, rejuvenated, strengthened. Despite all the pain and sweating, I think I’ll be back tomorrow.

“People think they need to get in shape before they come and do the yoga,” Philip Vendemmia told me.

Yeah, I agreed.

“This is completely untrue,” Vendemmia continued. “All of the postures are beginning postures. Our youngest practitioner is 12, and our oldest is 84.”

I’m beginning to think I might fit in.

Katie Dodd, a 24-year-old Boston College graduate from Annapolis, is job hunting and freelancing after a year's internship in London. Her last story for Bay Weekly, “Farewell, Market House,” appeared December 23 five years ago.

© COPYRIGHT 2010 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.