News Yoga Students Embrace the Heat

Yoga Students Embrace the Heat

By Jay Reiter
June 19, 2005

In Portsmouth’s West End, there’s a cool little place with a sign in the window.

"Reshape and heal your body," it proclaims. What it doesn’t tell you is that it’s hot inside - really hot.

"The perfect conditions are 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity," says owner and yoga practitioner Sara Curry.

Think about that. At 105 degrees Fahrenheit, we go inside our houses, crank up the air conditioning and try to do nothing more strenuous than lifting a cold beer, lemonade or water.

At 105 F, those of us who don’t have air-conditioned cars look with envy and a small dose of anger at cars next to us with windows up all the way.

At 105 F, dogs and cats head for any patch of shade they can find; people yell at their kids and partners, and little work gets done - at least done well.


But at 105 F, a group of people actually pay for the privilege of doing a series of postures that hurt just looking at them. And they keep coming back for more.

They are practitioners of Bikram Yoga, and their studio is in a building on Islington Street.

There, for 90 minutes, they breathe, bend their bodies in all kinds of unimaginable ways, and swear to the benefits of what seems like madness.

Yoga itself isn’t the workout - it’s a commitment on how a person lives his or her life, Curry explains. She also says Hatha is the physical part of yoga, but there’s much more to the practice than just the workout.

"Yoga is the integration of all a person’s energies - the mental, spiritual as well as the

physical," she explains. "It’s a philosophy that emphasizes a harmony of mind and body."

But inside the studio, it’s very physical. The workout starts with Pranayama, or deep breathing exercises, and stretching. Gradually, the pace picks up, always to the tune of the instructor calling out the next posture and encouraging students to do their best, whatever that may be that particular day.

"Yoga is a competition with yourself," she says. "You have to do exactly what you can. Not 90 percent, not 110 percent, but 100 percent all the time. It’s a do your best."

Curry says students are encouraged to do each posture to the degree they can.

"It’s the process, not the end."

Competition is one of the biggest misconceptions about yoga.

"In India, where yoga started, yoga is a competitive sport," Curry says. "Americans think of a guru sitting on top of a mountain wearing white-flowing robes. Many Indian gurus are goofy, flashy and boisterous. They’re famous people in India."

Health benefits are apparent - stretching, flexibility and deep breathing are all known for their positive effects on our bodies - but the heat?

Curry says there are a number of reasons for the heat and humidity.

"There is a natural detoxifying effect in sweating."

Basically, getting the toxins out of the body relieves the pressure on the organs whose job it is to rid the body of the toxins. Curry says coordination and balance is improved with warm muscles so it is easier to do the poses, and warm muscles are less susceptible to injury. And, she adds, one shouldn’t forget where the practice originated.

"It’s awfully hot in Calcutta - that’s where Bikram is practiced.

She says first-timers are often nervous and intimidated, afraid of the heat, but they quickly get over it. She says the intensity of the heat and the physical exercise creates a bond within the class that makes them an intimate community. The more experienced take newcomers under their wings and make them feel welcome.

"There’s really nothing that prepares you for the heat," she says. "But afterward, you feel so good. I don’t have to sell Bikram Yoga. It sells itself."

For anyone interested in trying it out, class schedules can be found on the studio’s Web site,, or by visiting 801 Islington Street.

If you go, wear comfortable, loose clothing, drink 24 ounces of water before class, and plan on drinking at least another 24 ounces during class.

And be ready to sweat.

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