“Oh my God, I’m going to die.”
That was Peggy Wulf’s initial thought when she entered the studio for her first “hot yoga” class.
“I had never done any yoga before,” the Curtice woman said. “And when I opened the doors, the heat and the humidity in the room kind of took my breath away.”
Wulf’s reaction is typical, according to fitness and preventative health care professional Joe (Barocsi) Sparks, a native East-Sider who offers the classes daily at his Perrysburg studio.
Conducted in a room heated to around 100 degrees with a humidity level of about 60 percent, each class lasts for 90 minutes and takes participants through 26 traditional yoga poses - twice.
The classes are an adaptation of Bikram yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, founder of the worldwide Yoga College of India. The movements are specifically designed to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons. “The heat is very therapeutic – it has a very healing, strengthening effect on your body,” Sparks said. “Unlike in a cool environment, it’s much easier to get into the poses because when your muscles get warmed up, they’re like steel – they bend much better.
“It’s not comfortable, for sure, and it’s challenging, but you’re going to have all this benefit – increased flexibility, increased strength, increased stamina, improved relaxation and improved metabolism,” Sparks said.
“You perspire profusely, which also helps detoxify the body and it softens the skin,” he said. “And an average person could burn up to 1,500 calories in a 90-minute class.
“And when you’re done, you feel so calm and relaxed – it drains you of so much tension,” Sparks said.
Don’t sweat it
“It’s hard – I love it and I hate it,” Wulf said. “But I felt so great afterward, I wanted to go back again and again.
“I’m a cancer survivor and I have to say I have never felt better,” she said.
Like Wulf, a growing number of people throughout the country are giving hot yoga a wringing endorsement.
“It’s catching on. Currently we have people in their late 20s through their early 60s with varying levels of yoga experience,” Sparks said.
“They come to hot yoga because they want to get a good workout; they want to really challenge themselves,” he said.
Want to try but afraid you can’t cut it? Don’t sweat it, Sparks said.
He usually has beginners start by getting adjusted to the climate in the room.
“We do two sets of every pose, so during the first set, I encourage beginners watch,” Sparks said.
“Then, I tell them to do the best they can within their natural range of motion to complete the poses,” he said. “If you can just get your arms over your head and you can’t join your palms, stop there.”
Throughout the class, Sparks places an emphasis on breathing, along with isometric stretching.
“Breathing is the bridge between the body and mind – the connection between the conscious and the unconscious mind,” Sparks said. “We use breathing to relax and to calm down.”
Participants get a 20-second break for water but can take a drink or stop and
wipe away the perspiration if they need to, Sparks said.
“There’s no pressure; it’s not a competition,” Sparks said. “The heat makes beginners out of everyone of us every time, including me and I’m a tri-athlete. You have to respect it; it puts limits on you.”
Shelley Bennett, a lifetime yoga enthusiast and trainer, agrees. Bennett started taking the hot yoga classes in June. She also fills in for Sparks as instructor on occasion.
“Even with my background in yoga and dance, the heat adds a challenge,” she said. “I had known about hot yoga for some time, but previously the closest place was Ann Arbor, which wasn’t convenient.
“Then I got this job opportunity in California. I’ll be leaving in September, and I really wanted to get back into shape quickly.
“I’ve done 37 days in a row and I can really tell the difference in the way I look and the way I feel,” she said. “You wonder if you can even make it through this hour and a half boot camp challenge,” she said. “To show up and suit up is big.
“And when you do, it empowers you,” Bennett said.
“You’re proud of yourself and you’ve made a physical, mental and spiritual connection with other members of the class, who are all there because they want to be healthier and make their lives better.
“It creates a kind of bliss,” she said.
Currently, classes are offered seven days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 7:30 to 9 a.m.; Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 6 to 7:30 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday mornings from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and Monday through Thursday evenings from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The cost is $15 a class or $89 for unlimited classes in a month. New students who want to give hot yoga a try can take classes for 10 consecutive days for $20.
“The introductory price offers an affordable way to try it out, to decide if you like the yoga, the environment, the people,” Sparks said.
Those who attend are urged to come well hydrated and wear breathable, form-fitting clothes that don’t get in the way of movement or stretching. Also, bring a yoga mat, a towel and water.
Hot yoga – 90-minute classes conducted in a hot, humid environment – offers a number of benefits, according to fitness and preventative health care professional Joe Sparks. Sparks offers the classes daily at his Perrysburg studio. (Press photo by Ken Grosjean)