Hot Flex

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Yoga students pulled gym bags out of their car trunks and walked quickly through the frozen parking lot with their shoulders shrugged to their ears, futilely fighting the cold.

Inside Bikram Yoga in Worthington, students peeled off coats, carried mats into the studio, and waited in the balmy 105-degree heat for class to begin.

Bikram yoga is practiced in a hot, humid room-the idea being that the heat accentuates yoga's benefits.

Tyron Russell, an instructor at the studio, calls his first class experience "special."

"I couldn't lift my arms above my head," he recalled. "It was the longest 90 minutes of my life."

But Russell, 38, said he felt euphoric afterward.

"No exercise had ever made me feel as good as that yoga did."

While the heat may seem ludicrous, many practitioners say it loosens their muscles and helps them deepen the 26 poses used in a 90-minute class.

By the second pose in the sequence, the students sweat.

That sweat helps the body purify itself, said Pam Popper, the studio's director.

"And," she added, "it helps the skin look fantastic."

Popper herself is something of a poster child for the effects of Bikram, exercise and a balanced, plant-based diet. In 1990, she was involved in a 37-car highway accident that left her in pain and facing surgery.

To avoid going under the knife, Popper turned to exercise and yoga, and changed her diet. Now 52, she's pain free.

She wants others to get there, too. And she uses heat, in part, to do it.

That means classes ($15 each, or $150 for an unlimited monthly pass) include a lot of spandex.

But for most of the class, students gaze not at others, but only at their own reflections in the mirrored walls, checking their postures.

Although the poses used in Bikram are considered basic, the heat makes the practice challenging, Russell said.

"It's sneaky cardio," he added. "You don't think it's going to work your heart, but it does."

By the end of the class, the students are drenched.

And after this particular winter class, there was no sign of the hunched shoulders that emerged from the parking lot-only the layers they piled on again to brave the cold.

Most of them will be back, Russell said, "It's addictive."

Sweat Stuff

Why so hot? Bikram yoga's 105-degree temperature offers several physical benefits:

  • Relaxes joints and muscles
  • Increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels
  • Increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to muscles
  • Increases cardiovascular capacity, flushing waste from the liver, kidney and stomach muscles
  • Increases the metabolic rate, burning more fat

Where to go:

Bikram Yoga of Columbus

510 E. Wilson Bridge Rd., Worthington

Phone: 614-846-9642