A hot start to the new year

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 05:51 PM

On the morning of New Year’s Day when the roads outside were still mostly clear, a group of 28 people stood facing a mirror in a heated room in downtown Durham, dressed as if it were a summer’s day on the beach.

At the commands of an instructor, they began to inhale and exhale in unison, their fingers interlocked under their chins.

With each breath, they lifted and lowered their heads and also relaxed and flexed their elbows.

“Fill your lungs as long and as slowly as possible,” said Pauline Turchiano, the instructor for the class at Bikram Yoga Durham. Created by the Indian teacher Bikram Choudhury, bikram yoga classes are all 90 minutes, they’re taught in rooms heated to at least 105 degrees and they cover the same 26 yoga postures.

Some students in Wednesday’s class began to sweat or their faces flushed as they moved through the early poses and breathing exercises. In one pose, they stood on the balls of their feet, crouched as if sitting in a chair, their hands stretched out straight forward. In another, they wrapped their hands around each other, wrapped one leg around the other and bent their standing knee in a crouching position.

Along with the seasonal uptick seen at gyms and other exercise facilities with the New Year, the downtown studio already has seen more attendance, said Dr. Andrea Newman, the studio’s co-owner along with her husband, Dr. Ralph Newman. Both co-owners double as physicians. Andrea is a pediatrician, and her husband Ralph is forensic psychiatrist.

Apart from the seasonal, resolution-driven boost in interest, they also reported that they’ve seen an overall increase in their numbers since they opened the studio in August of 2010. Ralph said they’ve seen more serious practitioners, which has helped provide role models for beginners.

Other studios in Durham are opening to offer hot yoga. Arrichion Hot Yoga is planned to open at Southpoint Crossing off Fayetteville Road, and My Yoga plans to open, also in southern Durham, off N.C. 54.

Hanna Newman, Andrea and Ralph’s daughter and instructor at the studio, said with all the new hot yoga options coming to Durham, it will at least allow for more yoga practice, even “if it’s not this.”

The Newmans also plan to open a second bikram studio in April in Chapel Hill’s Greenbridge Condominiums. It will be managed by Hanna, and will have a kitchen and juice bar.

Ralph said it’s a business move, as it was “just a matter of time” before someone opened a bikram studio there. Nearly a fourth of the Durham studio’s customers are from Chapel Hill, Ralph said, and they didn’t want to lose those customers. He also said their students will have more class times to choose from with the addition of the studio.

“(It’s) sport too, not just a pastime or an activity,” said Ralph, who said he got into bikram yoga to help with an ailing back and as an alternative to other sports. As someone who does “things somewhat to excess,” he said he developed a spine condition as result of body building that he started at age 11 and continued into his college years.

He said he tried running and cycling, and then came to bikram yoga when he was looking for a workout that also would help with flexibility. He said he didn’t do all the poses in his first class, but was able to stay in the hot room.

He diligently practiced yoga and took the training required to become an instructor, and then he and his wife opened their own studio. He said he took the practice as a challenge. He practiced, although his doctor said it was too severe for him, and, at age 48 at that time, as one of the older people going through the teacher training to become an instructor.

He said he knows the criticisms of the form of hot yoga practice that it’s “too militant and repetitive,” but he said he believes human beings need that type of repetition. He said bikram yoga can be practiced safely because the poses are practiced standing still, and the practitioner can re-establish their core stability between each pose.

“I think hot yoga – it’s a reasonable alternative to training the body in a safer manner,” he said. “You increase your ability to move safely both inside and outside the studio.”

Before the start of the New Year’s Day class, Turchiano said you’d expect that students would looking defeated.  But she said many people come out looking beet red and sweaty, but energetic, and some relaxed.