Sweat Equity

I’m not typically a fan of activities that require modifiers: “power” yoga, “total insanity” workout, “Dance Dance Revolution,” “TaiChi2K…”

Not that I am a purist when it comes to exercise, but the steroid-ification of so many pastimes suggests we are a fickle society moved to action by the same empty buzz words deployed by energy drinks.

So I was skeptical when Bikram “Hot” Yoga came into my life 10 years ago. All of it smacked of the same XXXTREME! marketing: 105 degrees, 40-percent humidity, 90 minutes, mirrors everywhere.

I decided to give it a try anyway.

Before class even started, I had a nice glaze of sweat going, while laying down. Then we began Pranayama breathing – deep inhalation intended to warm you up from the inside out. My neck had never moved like that before, and I felt like a newborn unable to balance the giant orb that was my head. The sweat would not relent, and the instructor insisted I not wipe, saying it was a battle I would not win.

After finishing the 26th posture and final breathing, my fingers puckered like a child left in a bath too long. In the words of many a Bikram teacher, my spine felt “flossed,” my body worked from “fingertips to toes, bones to skin, inside out. Nothing left untouched.”

I showered, put on my clothes, and walked outside. Everything was different. The sky was bluer, the clouds whiter, the air airier. Was it suddenly May in January? Like so many junkies’ descriptions of heroin, I could not remember (or forget) feeling that good.

Whether this meant I was an extreme sport addict or not, I didn’t care. For the next few years, I chased that high four to five times a week and never felt better.
But all too soon, I lost my dealer. The only certified studio in Columbus dissolved, and I had to go back to entertaining the idea of “pole” aerobics.

So when Bikram Hot Yoga Columbus opened in Grandview last year, I lost my mind with excitement, especially since the chances of owner Rebecca Hoffman ever opening up a Bikram studio were slim.

First, she hated exercise and thought most yoga was “hippy-dippy.” She relied on fad diets to keep weight off.

“I abused alcohol, smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I didn’t care about my health,” she said. “I only cared about my looks.”

But an abusive relationship coupled with a mysterious two-week illness forced her into sobriety, and started her down the path toward Bikram.

“At first, I loved the physical benefits of a regular practice: weight-loss, toning, improved sleep, glowing skin, hair, and nails,” she said. “Later on, I used Bikram yoga as a transforming tool for my mind and spirit. I often worked through demons in the hot room.”

Hoffman suggests that while some people do it simply because it’s a good workout, most come to understand it as an exercise in mental and spiritual health as well. It becomes “their 90-minute moving meditation.”

Moving meditation? Sounds like an oxy-moron, right? Isn’t movement a distraction to the stillness that meditation implies?

“If you can only meditate in a quiet room with a candle, you cannot meditate,” says BHYC instructor Gretchen Holland, quoting founder Bikram Choudury himself.

That meditation, defined as focusing through the distraction, is derived from following the same dialogue the instructors repeat every class. And it. Is. Constant. Initially, it seems incessant. Why won’t these teachers shut the hell up so I can focus on whether there was enough toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom or if I needed to stop on my way home?

Duh. That was the point: “staying with the words” so as not to be tempted to think your thoughts. “Your body – my brain,” Holland reminded us.

It’s no surprise that a common remark she makes to students is that this yoga teaches practitioners “to be comfortable being uncomfortable. If you can practice tolerance inside this room, it will be easier to practice outside this room.”
Think of it: a world in which agitation is nothing but a drop of sweat you do not wipe away? If that is extreme, pass me the Red Bull. •

Bikram Hot Yoga, located at 947 W Third Ave., celebrated its one-year anniversary in April. For more, visit www.bikramhotyogacolumbus.com.