Hot yoga takes sweaty path to tranquility
By Julia Kirchner Jan 30, 2012, 3:06 GMT
Berlin - It was hot and dry in the dimly lit room. The radiators were humming and hot air wafted from several fan heaters. Blue yoga mats lay on the floor in rows of two. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine being in a desert.
In reality, it was an exercise room at Sun Yoga in Berlin, which claims to be the first and largest hot yoga studio in the German capital. At temperatures as high as 40 degrees centigrade, beginners may gasp when they first enter the room. Hot yoga is nonetheless suitable for them, too. Thanks to the heat, the workouts are even gentler on joints and muscles than many other kinds of exercise.
Hot yoga is basically suitable for almost anyone. People with high blood pressure or an acute inflammation should be careful, however, and the latter condition could be aggravated, warned Uschi Moriabadi, head of the Relaxation and Group Training Department at the University of Applied Sciences for Prevention and Health Management in Saarbruecken, Germany.
'But low blood pressure, too, can easily fall in the heat,' she said. 'This is why you should watch yourself during the workout.' The sweat-inducing environment has many benefits, though, as it greatly reduces the risk of injury. 'Connective and muscle tissue become softer and more elastic, and it is much easier to move than in a cold room.'
While other forms of exercise such as jogging or swimming engage just part of the body, a hot yoga course works out '100 per cent of your body, from bones to skin, from head to toes, to every gland and organ of the body,' writes the Indian yoga gura Bikram Choudhury in his book 'Bikram Yoga,' now regarded as a standard work. He developed a set of exercises consisting of 26 asanas, or poses, and two pranayamas, or breathing exercises.
Every hot yoga session is structured according to the same principle. It begins with a breathing exercise, performed while standing, that is aimed at stretching the lungs to their full capacity.
'Fix your gaze on a single point in the mirror and pay attention to yourself only,' Clemens, the yoga instructor in the Sun Yoga exercise room, told the class. By that time, the pupils' faces were flushed and beads of sweat trickled from their armpits.
Every week, Sun Yoga sees about 1,000 pupils who want to limber tense backs, necks or shoulders. The sessions have a mental as well as a physical aspect, of course. Like all forms of yoga, hot yoga is meant to quiet the mind and facilitate relaxation.
'The set of exercises is simply very effective - you get the greatest possible benefits from 90 minutes,' said proprietor Christoph Mamat. 'This is particularly important for people in the city who don't have much time.'
After the first poses - a half-moon, for example, in which the pupil, standing with outstretched arms, alternately bends to the right and the left - tops and trousers are soaked in sweat. A person loses up to two litres of fluid during a hot yoga session, so it is necessary to bring along a large bottle of water. Plenty of fluids should also be drunk before a workout.
Beginners notice positive changes after just two sessions, said Moriabadi, adding that it was important to practice yoga regularly. 'You can't expect anything from doing yoga every three weeks,' she remarked.
A yoga instructor herself, she advises beginners to arrange a trial session first to see whether the instructor and yoga studio are to their liking. Someone who practices yoga regularly falls asleep more easily at night, she said, because 'breathing becomes slower and deeper and you unwind more quickly.'
Hot yoga is not pure exertion from start to finish. When half of the session is over, it is time for the shavasana, or corpse pose. As the pupil lies motionless on his or her back, all the tension is supposed to leave the body and the blood flow normalizes. The session ends with this pose, too.