News Memphis Humidity is a Breeze compares to Bikram Yoga

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Bikram Yoga in East Memphis is taught by Lori MacPherson, who leads intense workouts in high heat and humidity.Photos by Karen Pulfer Focht/The Commercial Appeal

Sue Westmoreland's muscles are more flexible in the warm temperatures. Photos by Karen Pulfer Focht/The Commercial Appeal

Hot Yoga

Memphis humidity is a breeze compared to Bikram workout

By Christine Arpe Gang
April 11, 2005

Yoga is so hot that new studios are popping up around town.

According to the Yoga Research and Educational Council in Santa Rosa, Calif., there are about 20 million yoga followers in the United States, more than triple the number in 1994.

But one style of yoga is literally hot, as in sweat-producing, stifling and even, for some, nauseatingly hot.

To understand what hot yoga is like, just imagine exercising outdoors at noon on the hottest day of the summer. In the new Bikram Yoga Memphis studio in East Memphis it's 105 with 40 to 60 percent humidity every day.

Owner Lori Givens MacPherson takes her students through a series of 26 poses.

There's no talking -- students save their breath for the exercises and coping with the heat.

When it becomes overwhelming they sit down on their mats, drink water and revel in almost imperceptible breezes created by the moving arms of nearby students.

Sue Westmoreland sweats to the yoga while performing one of 26 poses in a hot, humid room at Bikram Yoga Memphis. Photos by Karen Pulfer Focht/The Commercial Appeal

MacPherson becomes part drill sergeant, part coach as she leads about 25 students through the beginning breathing exercises and into the 26 poses.

The routine is the same for each 90-minute class. MacPherson works from the same script as every other certified Bikram teacher.

"It's always the same no matter where you take it," said MacPherson, who opened the studio at 5101 Sanderlin in February.

She discovered Bikram yoga about five years ago when she was on a fast career track at the William Morris Talent Agency in New York.

"I was out of shape and overweight and felt like I didn't have a sense of direction," she said.

The stress of working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with an hour commute had left her drained.

"I started taking classes on weekends and then started making time for more during the week," she said. "After a while, all I wanted to do was yoga."

Eventually she left her job and began the training to become a certified Bikram teacher.

Her husband, opera singer Ryan MacPherson, finds Bikram yoga improves his breathing for singing.

Ryan had spent time in Memphis preparing for Opera Memphis roles in "La Boheme" and "Corps of Discovery." He came to like Memphis and suggested his wife consider opening her Bikram yoga studio here.

The couple eventually moved to Memphis.

"I fell in love with the city because of the people," said Lori, who enjoys being closer to St. Louis, her hometown.

After opening in February, her classes are filling as word of the hot method filters through the yoga community. Anita Jo Lenhart, an associate professor of theater performance at the University of Memphis, also teaches.

Lori Aime started taking classes a week after the studio opened.

"The heat makes me more flexible," Aime said. "I can do things I never could do before."

An unexpected bonus is she now feels rested after sleeping seven hours instead of the eight to 10 she required before.

"It's challenging," Aime said. "Some days I can't make it through the whole class without sitting down. And I have no idea how I'll feel about it in the summer."

Malinda Allen swims, runs and does other forms of yoga.

"I love Bikram yoga because it's very athletic," said Allen, who has had about 10 lessons. "The thing I was most worried about was the heat. But after you do it a couple of times you get used to it."

After the class, she feels a little "wrung out."

"The energy kick comes later," she said. "It is getting easier. You know exactly what to expect because it's always the same."

After two lessons, April Rice decided she'll stick with her traditional yoga classes.

"I thought it (Bikram) was more about the heat than the exercise," Rice said. "The heat is extreme. I don't think I was ready for how hot it got."

Rice, who has been a gymnast, takes private power yoga classes, so she had no problems doing the poses.

"But I felt horrible after the class," she said. "It took a lot out of me. I slept for 21/2 hours afterwards."

She doesn't think she'll be back.

"But I'm glad the studio is here for those who want it," she said. "I like doing yoga in a warm room because it loosens your muscles -- but nothing like that."

Bikram Choudhury, who was a child yoga champion, developed "hot" yoga in the 1970s after a weightlifting injury crippled him. He was 17 at the time.

According to its literature, the Bikram workout is designed to "systematically stimulate and restore health to every muscle, joint and organ of the body."

Bikram yoga is intense but not intimidating, MacPherson said.

"You can be any size or shape," she said. "You don't have to chant or eat a certain way. Any age body can do it."

Her mother, who was sedentary, overweight and diabetic, got hooked on it after three lessons.

"She's gone from a size 13 to size 6 and no longer has to take diabetes medicine," MacPherson said.

MacPherson teaches 11 lessons a week and loves taking a class shortly before she teaches.

"My recovery period is about 2 minutes," she said. "In the next 20 minutes you can feel your body change and then you are invigorated."

In the summer she expects her students will feel refreshed when they go out into hot, humid air that is probably cooler than the studio.

"Teaching is not as hard as it looks," MacPherson said. "It's what I live for."

-- Christine Arpe Gang; 529-2368

Copyright 2005, - Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.


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