Hot Yoga Oils the Joints.
Bikram yoga emerged out of Calcutta in the 1970s. This was shortly after Bikram Choudhury went to Japan to teach and found that too many of his yoga students hurt themselves during practice. This had not happened in his hometown, so he decided he would re-create the conditions of Calcutta and see if that made a difference. So he heated the yoga room to 37 C or body temperature and upped the humidity factor to 65%. The injury rate decreased and he fashioned what is known as Bikram or Hot Yoga.
Traditionally the classes are 90 minutes in duration and consist of 26 postures or asanas plus two breathing exercises. According to Polish born Tomasz Goetel who runs the “Hot Yoga Studio” in Phuket, “the sweat is cleansing because it removes toxins from the body.” “The joints are nicely oiled up to encourage stretching!”
Choudhury himself claims that his system considerably enhances blood circulation by two processes referred to as extension and compression. He says this transports oxygen to every system in the body. We know that oxygen both energizes and detoxifies, so his claim sounds to be of immense benefit to health.
“You must also have mirrors, so that you can see yourself.” What sort of voyeuristic activity is this? It looks to be a long way from early morning asanas in a wooden sala, situated meters away from the gently lapping swell of the sea.
“No mirrors are important. You can admire yourself! They make you look good,” says Tomasz. That’s fine if you have a sylph like figure shining with the polish of youth, but as age takes its inevitable toll this initial bloom gives way to bulging stomachs and flabby muscles, not at all a pretty sight!
“No you don’t understand. Mirrors help you align the body. You can see what you are doing and this simplifies the instructions”, asserts Tomasz who is the founder of “Hot Yoga Evolution”. This is really his take on the teachings of Jimmy Barkan one of the world’s most respected hot yogainstructors.
Tomasz’s classes are for everybody. “This is fun and I practice a sweet and friendly approach. This is a gentle way and all are welcome.” This take was very far from my own views on the subject. Yoga means union of mind, body and spirit, and it was developed as a spiritual form of exercising. It always seemed that this new fad was simply a trendy way of getting fit. A gym workout dressed up in yogic clothes seemed a very far cry from getting in touch with a power greater than ourselves.
Tomasz smiled at this cynicism. “No. it is a supportive endeavor. I work on a multi-level basis by offering individual tuition to the beginners until they can catch up with the rest of the class. Beginners are encouraged to join the classes. True this makes the teacher’s job more challenging but it also lets the advanced students inspire the less able.”
I had met some of his students during “Hot Yoga Evolution” trainings at Absolute Sanctuary in Cheong Mon. Some were stunners, radiating youth and fitness but others I could relate to. Here were men who had passed their forty mark, they carried a bit of weight and did not appear to be super fit.
“It is these people who feel they are in the right place. Once that starts happening they begin swimming with the rest of the class.” That’s one of Tomasz’s claims that seemed to hold water.
Apparently it “takes five classes to get used to the heat and then participants begin to realize that hot yoga is a perfect environment for the non-yoga person. Men begin to relate to the cardio-fitness and ladies understand calorie burn for weight loss.”
Was I convinced? Yes, the exercise related benefits were plainly evident and the talks and lectures that comprised the practical side of the Hot Yoga Evolution training brought out the more philosophical and spiritual elements and so this removed some of my remaining prejudices.
Hot Yoga is available on Koh Samui at Absolute Sanctuary and at Bikram Yoga in Chaweng. Tomasz Goetel holds twice yearly retreats on the island usually at Absolute Sanctuary, so perhaps there is an opportunity to learn from the horse’s mouth. It’s usually the best way. Oh, to track him down, you could try Mr.Google!
Alister Bredee is a freelance author living on Koh Samui. He is a health care practitioner, trainer and a partner in The Health Ambit Consultancy. He also works as a Detox Consultant and Locum. You can find him and the Health Ambit Consultancy on Facebook.
This article first appeared in "The Samui Gazette" of 3rd December 2010