Strike a new pose
What happens when you add heat, sex appeal or astronomy to Yoga?
You’ve likely heard of Bikram, or “hot,” Yoga, but what about 30-straight days of the sweat-drenched practice? You’re familiar with the barrage of stripper-aerobics classes that have popped up in gyms across the nation. But what about a fitness-focused pole work course taught by a yoga instructor in a private studio? And you probably haven’t heard of Astro-Yoga, but we’ll tell you about it anyway. As yoga becomes a mainstream workout alternative, brow-raising offshoots emerge to keep you on your stretched toes. SN&R sent writers to three local classes that re-invent what it means to stretch in pose.
Cost: $135 for the first month, half off the second month, starting January 15
Practicing a physically strenuous form of yoga in a room heated like a sauna for an hour-and-a-half may sound somewhat unusual, or perhaps a bit sadistic—after all, it is called a “torture chamber” by Bikram Choudhury, the man who developed the practice. Imagine doing this Bikram, or “hot,” Yoga for 30 consecutive days. Some locals have completed this challenge at Bikram Yoga Sacramento.
The 26 Bikram postures are intended to work every muscle and gland system in the body, to promote emotional openness, and to build strength and flexibilty. Some people, like BYS founder Susan Jones, believe the practice of sitting in a 105-degree room for 90 minutes can reduce or eradicate ailments. When her candida was alieveated through the practice in 2001, Jones opened the BYS studio.
Though more physically demanding than other yoga styles, Bikram is designed for all ages and fitness levels—“as long as they can sweat!” Jones said.
“It takes a lot of determination to come here and face yourself in the mirror for 90 minutes,” Kim Pini, one of BYS’ instructors, said of the practice. What takes further determination (and perhaps some of the aforementioned sadism) is completing the “life-changing” 30 consecutive days of Bikram Yoga. Keith Staten, a 47-year-old beginner, accepted the challenge this fall on a bet with a friend: Keith came out victorious at 32 days—sans 7 inches from his waist—and he gained strength in his artificial hip.
I decided to discover what 10 straight days of sadism, err, Bikram Yoga would yield. The heat is usually not that bad, but there is sweating. Profuse sweating. Sometimes, it is even oppressive when you’re still and supine. In short, kind of like a regular summer in Sacramento.
Scheduling time to attend daily turned out to be the greatest challenge to the consecutive Bikram routine, along with fueling and hydrating sufficiently.
On the fifth day, the soreness of day two was gone, and so was the energetic feeling: I was tired. On the seventh day, “stuff” nearly hit the fan. “Stuff” meaning vomit, the fan meaning my yoga mat. It had been five hours since I had eaten, but, alas, there it was, threatening to arise. Feeling weak and thoroughly exhausted, I charged up on electrolytes and persistence and made it through day eight. Immense focus and mental determination are the core requirements of the Bikram practice. It’s fascinating to see how far the body contorts when “surrendering” to the poses. It would have been enlightening to watch the experienced students balance into their impressive and inspirational forms, but participation is paramount over observation.
Cost: $25 per course
Here’s a different type of “hot” yoga: pole dancing as fitness. You’ve probably heard of it before, but while studios like the S Factor in L.A. have made headlines for their “striptease” workouts, Antelope fitness instructor Jenna King stresses that the two poles in her disco-lit Body Beautiful Workout home studio are strictly for fitness.
Inspired by Cirque de Soleil, the Olympics and one night in a strip club, King channeled her 10 years as a yoga instructor and personal-fitness trainer into developing a lusty new workout routine for her clients. “I just love to see what the body can do,” King said.
A two-hour Body Beautiful Workout can get the body to do seduction. You’ll spin around a shiny silver pole, one leg wrapped delicately while the other points in the direction of a mirrored wall. You’ll slink backward into a graceful, full-bodied arch while your head joins your toes as the only two extremities touching the floor. You’ll crawl. You’ll strut. You’ll slink, dip, slide, wink. And your arms, especially, will feel the burn.
But developing an appreciation for pole work’s physical challenge is King’s ultimate goal.
“[When you go to a club], you’ll no longer think that they’re just trashy strippers,” King said. “You’ll think, ‘That woman is incredibly strong.’”
And positive encouragement characterizes King’s classes. Taught in King’s Antelope mansion, the workouts are, um, intimate (six person maximum), diverse (from attorneys to hardware saleswomen to teachers), and always “ladies only.” The result is a two-hour female bonding session, like Oprah Gone Wild.
“I was just a frumpy old housewife,” said Kari, a third-grade teacher from Roseville, shortly after flipping her long hair and dipping backward on the tiny mirrored stage on a Tuesday night. “This class made me feel sexy again.” She’s been a return customer for five months.
Cost: $16 per course; $135 per month, unlimited
There are numerous types of yoga out there: Bikram, Ashtanga, Hatha … and Astro-Yoga? The latter practice is rare. But astrologer Michael Mercury, who “doesn’t believe in astrology” sees the analyzation of the stars as insight into life, offers Sacramento’s only Astro-Yoga course.
Mercury previously hosted an astrology show, The Center of the Universe, on KDVS 90.3 FM. During its 7-year run, Mercury discovered that the benefits of yoga helped him cope after experiencing a bankruptcy.
Astro-Yoga is practiced in a warm room, but it can get downright hot in there. Mercury illuminates the mirrored studio with the warm glow of stringed lights and and lanterns, and plays mellow music or nature soundtracks in the background. One might think this is to encourage meditation, but Mercury claims the music and mood lights are “just for fun,” and to be theatrical.
Mercury has an intense personality and believes yoga originates from the constellations and lists what positions are best suited to one’s sign on his Web site (www.michaelmercury.com). He says astrology is an integral part of human history as one of the first navigation systems, leading to the development of mathematics and the sciences—although that sounds more like astronomy than astrology. He waxes about cosmic connectivity as students hold their postures and sweat onto their yoga mats. He discloses the current state of the heavens—“Jupiter is moving into Capricorn and this means big changes for the next year”—and offers all of his students a one-time, 25-page birth chart reading.