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Temperature's Rising



The Web site is intimidating before your first class. A list of policies and etiquette include instructions not to leave the room, not to talk and to refrain from drinking water until after the third posture. A list of rules may sound extreme to beginners, but Bikram yoga is an extreme practice. Few other classes are held in a heated studio intended to mimic the climate in the creator's homeland of India.

Bikram Yoga Richmond, with locations at Stony Point Shopping Center and in the West End, allows local yogis to turn up the heat on their practice. Co-owners Beth Florence and Meredith Kirchner, along with their instructors, are committed to calming first-timers' fears. Although you will be encouraged to endure the 105 degree heat, many participants take seated breaks on the mat and reach for water frequently after the third posture, eagle pose.

Florence readily acknowledges that certain situations, such as pregnancy or a medical condition, call for cautious practice. If you're new to the practice, consult a physician before beginning, especially if you have not recently participated in high-intensity exercise or if you have any pre-existing conditions. Should you decide to try Bikram yoga, listen to your own body's cues regarding how hard you should work during class. "The challenge is being willing to sit out a posture when your body needs you to take it easy," Florence says.

A Bikram yoga class is a full 90 minutes of sweat-drenched activity that pushes your physical capabilities to the limit. Students engage in a series of 26 sequenced postures; each pose is performed twice. The experience will challenge your views of the traditional yoga class. Florence was so intrigued by the different style of practice that she eventually began to teach it. "I had been taking yoga for a while, but had always thought of it as a great way to relax, stretch out and center my mind," she says. "I'd never thought of it as a full body workout. … I was physically and mentally challenged."

Plan to arrive well-hydrated and bring a large towel to prevent your mat from becoming slippery from perspiration. Instructors say it's normal for new participants to feel drained from the class, especially when you're new to it, but you should let the teacher know if you have any physical complaints. Unlike many other yoga classes, Bikram classes are music-free. Constant heavy breathing and the teacher's patient corrections fill the void instead.

So what motivates someone to practice yoga in temperatures close to last summer's highs? Advocates purport that regular practice will relieve multiple illnesses, promote weight loss and decrease stress. The cleansing heat is what keeps participants coming back for more. Inside the heated studio, your body becomes supple, and each pose challenges both strength and flexibility as you contort yourself into a work of art. Avoid comparing yourself to others; instead, strive to do your personal best.

This brings us back to the policies and etiquette. The instructor tells the class: "Focus only on yourself in the mirror." It's not difficult. You won't want to take your eyes off of your reflection. When practicing Bikram yoga, you'll look hot. Visit www.bikramyogarichmond.com for details.

Can't take the heat?

Bikram yoga is not for everyone. Angela Torres, an R.N. living in the West End, is hesitant to return after her first class. "I'm a person who usually exercises, but instead of having more energy [after class], I was exhausted and ended up with a migraine that kept me in bed for the rest of the day."

Richmond has many venues for students seeking high-quality yoga instruction. Yoga Source in Carytown, for example, is committed to offering a wide variety of styles to accommodate the preferences of each participant. For more information, visit www.yogarichmond.com.


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