'It's well worth the suffering'

Hot yoga devotees find July too cool

July 22, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

Joan Fessler has a pretty good idea how she must look. It's one of the most oppressively hot and humid days of the year. And she's in a room where the heat is cranked up to 105 degrees. On purpose.

"Crazy?" the 52-year-old Towson preschool teacher guesses.

While everyone else is searching for ways to cool off, devotees of "hot yoga" spend 90 minutes sweating through a series of stretches and poses in a room designed to be even hotter than Baltimore in July.

"It's difficult to explain. ... You're so at peace. It's well worth the suffering," Fessler said after a workout yesterday at Bikram Yoga Baltimore, a studio in Cockeysville.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Tuesday's Maryland section about "hot yoga" and the warm weather misidentified James Korn, a fire director for the Baltimore County Fire Department. He is in charge of infectious disease response and reports to Mark F. Hubbard, the interim director of the county Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Actually, she and others say, Bikram yoga helps them cope with sweltering summer days.

"When it's 95 degrees outside, you're just thanking God you're not in triangle pose," says Eddie Garner, who owns the studio with his wife, Emily.

The current hot spell might not be breaking records - the record for yesterday, set in 1930, is 104 degrees - but it is enough for Baltimore City to declare a Code Red and open six cooling centers. In Baltimore County, officials were monitoring the weather and calls for emergency medical services for such problems as heat exposure and troubled breathing, according to James Korn, the county's new director of Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The recent stretch of days in the 90s might feel worse than it is because the summer has been relatively mild in comparison, officials said. While today's high temperatures are expected to top out in the mid-90s again, a cool front will move southward into the area tomorrow, triggering scattered showers and thunderstorms and, with it, daytime highs in the mid-80s, said Calvin Meadows, a meteorological technician with the National Weather Service. High temperatures are expected to stay in the mid-80s through Sunday, Meadows said.

In the Cockeysville yoga studio, instructors control the temperature and keep the humidity level in the 30 to 40 percent range, which is ideal for Bikram yoga, a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises done over 90 minutes.

About 20 people took yesterday's noon class. They wore shorts and tank tops, with no socks or shoes, standing on what look like beach towels.

Within the first few minutes, everyone is sweating. It starts as beads of perspiration on foreheads. But most of them are drenched in sweat by the time the class members twist their arms and legs into the "eagle" pose.

"Exhale," instructor Kyle Kessenich reminds them.

Although it is known for being challenging, the Bikram style, named for its founder, Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga master and businessman, is helpful to those with joint problems and back pain, Emily Garner says.The studio in Cockeysville offers four to five classes daily, with about 25 to 30 people in a typical class, she says.

Attendance falls off slightly in the summer, but mostly because of vacations, not because people avoid yoga class on hot days, Eddie Garner says.

"This kind of sweating is cleansing," he says. "Your body starts to crave it."

However, the owners do see a slight increase in attendance during really cold snaps, when the thought of trying hot yoga seems more universally appealing.

"It's easier to go in a room and pretend you're in Bermuda in January," Emily Garner says.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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