Keeper of the sweat lodge

Bill McCauley

Dye the shock of white hair on Bill McCauley’s head, and the 61-year-old could easily pass for 40-something. McCauley, his wife Sandy, and their four adult children operate five Yoga Loka studios—three in Marin County, one in Santa Rosa and one on Folsom Boulevard in East Sac, which opened two years ago after a yoga-practicing daughter of developer Angelo Tsakapoulos expressed a desire to bring Bikram yoga to Sacramento. Yoga Loka teaches a hatha yoga system developed by a man named Bikram Choudhury. It’s a grueling set of 26 poses done in a room heated in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

What’s the benefit of the heat?

There are many reasons for the heat. It improves coordination and burns fat more easily. One reason that the series is so difficult is you go so deep, you use so many muscles, that it’s really an extreme workout. And your body won’t cool down properly if the room around you is cool, because when you relax, the muscles around the arteries relax also, and the blood comes to the surface. Our bodies radiate heat to maintain a core temperature. If the heat comes to the surface, if it’s cold, it won’t release. But if the room is warm, heat will release into heat, so your body will cool down better in a warm room than in a cool one. The body will try and hold on to its heat. But the heat of the room literally keeps you from overheating. It’s a principle of physics.

Do people have difficulty adjusting to the heat?

Some do; some don’t. I didn’t like it at first; that’s why I didn’t go back for about eight years after I first took a Bikram yoga class. Some people love the heat right off the bat. Some people hate it and then learn to love it. So, it takes repetition because it builds tremendous endurance—if you can do that workout in that hot of a room, you’ve got tremendous endurance. One of our teachers who was a bicycle tour guide, who also climbs to the base camp in the Himalayas every year, said he was able to keep up and even have more stamina than the Sherpas because of doing these exercises. You don’t want to get it too hot; Bikram himself recommends something between 95 and 105 [degrees Fahrenheit], and nothing under 95.

What do you keep it at here?

About 100, 102, sometimes it gets to 105. But the humidity is a big factor, too. It can be 105 or 108, but, if the humidity’s low, it doesn’t seem as hot. But it can be 95, and, if the humidity is 65 or 68 [percent] or sometimes gets up to 70, it feels much warmer.

Have you seen people come in and dramatically transform?

Oh, absolutely. One of our teachers lost 50 or 60 pounds. She was overweight; she needed to lose it. And her body just transformed, and she wanted to become a teacher. And we’ve had so many different healings—not just because of the heat, but just because when your body begins to move, the circulation in your body just heals you. We’ve had everything from scoliosis—straightening out up to 18 degrees—to a volleyball player whose asthma improved so much that he didn’t have to use an inhaler anymore and his game improved. There are stories about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who claimed that the only reason he could play professional basketball for so many years without any major injuries was because of Bikram yoga. There are many stories of almost miraculous healings. And that will happen in any form of hatha yoga, not just Bikram yoga. I mean, all yoga is wonderful. But this form just seemed to resonate with me because I had a medical background; I was a pre-med student, and I study every day about the human body, and I just know how it works.

What advice do you have for someone coming in who’s really out of shape?

I tell them to pace themselves. Yoga is not about performing; it’s about healing. I tell people, you want to come in and just work gradually. Sit out a posture. Step out of the room when you need to. Sip plenty of water. I think one of the best things about the heat is that it really gets you into drinking water—it makes water taste so good. And water’s probably the best thing, other than air, that you can put into your body. If you don’t have water in your body, you don’t get oxygen to the cells.

What about the mental benefits of yoga?

When you get into yoga, you realize that there is a physical and mental body, but they’re so closely connected you can hardly separate the two. As your body becomes more physically healthy, you become more mentally healthy, too. No. 1, you feel better. Another thing is that you get more oxygen to your brain, and your brain requires 20 percent of the oxygen in your body.

What about stress reduction?

Stress release is basically what you’re doing in the class. You are putting your body into physical stress, and, after every posture, you relax, and you release that stress, consciously. Stress is nothing more than tight muscles caused by some type of emotional or physical malady in the body. Basically, you’re learning how to release the contraction of the muscles. Stress is a fairly easy thing to release through yoga because yoga really is about releasing stress.

How long does it take someone to get into shape with yoga?

It depends on their body type, it depends on how often they come, but if a person—I don’t care what their body condition is—if they were to come for 90 days in a row, they would be in the best shape they could possibly be in.