Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness challenge: Bikram Yoga

In a new series, intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise each week to bring you the lowdown.

Practitioners of Bikram Yoga get down to it at the East West Bikram Yoga Studio. Photo / Supplied
Practitioners of Bikram Yoga get down to it at the East West Bikram Yoga Studio. Photo / Supplied

What is it? Yoga in a 40-degree heated room for 90-minutes, also dubbed "hot yoga". Imagine working out in a sauna and you are somewhat on this journey with me: Hot, hot baby. The yoga, named after founder Bikram Choudhury, focuses on 26 poses, which have been talked about by Madonna to Gin Wigmore.

What's needed? Water bottle, yoga mat, towel, hair tie and a light outfit. Lycra shorts and tank tops were worn by girls at the class I went to, while guys sported just shorts (I was envious of that half way through the class).

Eastwest's owner Nikki Harris' advice is to arrive hydrated and with an empty stomach (for comfort while doing some poses). She reckons you don't have to be flexible to do it. It's as much a workout for the mind, as well as working on getting "a very strong body".

The experience? I enter the brightly-lit Eastwest Bikram Yoga Studio and the heat hits me. I'm surrounded by two dozen slim and lithe bodies quietly unfurling themselves on towel-wrapped mats, adjusting to the tropical clime.

Imagine torsos so tight that the skin looks like glad-wrap on bones. Yup, not many fish 'n' chip scoffers here. There are even five blokes - and one has a Heinz tomato sauce bottle for a water bottle. Nice. So my female hippie-chick stereotype flies out the window, and is replaced by a more athlete/fit/exec type.

As the warmth shrouds my body and I start to drift off with thoughts of Fiji, the slight smell of sweat dissipates (I've come to the last class of the night and I'm told by a fellow yogi the earlier classes smell fresher).

I soak up the total peace and quiet: Amazing.

I'm up on my feet when instructor Raewyn Clark starts the class, but my eyes are on myself thanks to a wall of full-length mirrors. After I get over myself, I actually find the mirrors helpful to see how to make the right moves.

Clark gives softly-spoken instructions at rapid-fire speed. She's constantly talking to motivate, correct and tell how to get the most out of each of the 26 poses as I first tackle them and then repeat them. The positions are simple enough, but the challenge is doing it in an "oven". After only a short time, I glimpse the guy next to me, dripping like a slow-leaking tap from his poised left elbow. I'm then disturbed to realise my left elbow is doing the same. I have to say too that it's anything but attractive when I get to the fold-over position, with my head by my feet, and the sweat is rhythmically dripping into my eyeballs and mouth. It stings! It's salty! It's yuck!

I'm doing triangle positions, imitating half-moons, bending in alternating sideways positions, to twisting the body gently, to being in a warrior stance and then flip-flopping a lot between my tummy and back and meanwhile trying not to slide in my sweat. After an hour, I'm nauseous. I could possibly have fled at this point, but thankfully I had been pre-warned by the studio "a slight headache or nausea is common through your first few classes" and I was told to lay still until the feeling passes. Thankfully, the nausea goes and my ego did not have to be bruised by an early exit. Actually, it felt great to overcome that. More positions ensue and the finale is breathing exercises.

As I step out into the cool night air my body is gripped by feel-good goose-bumps. I look like I've been swimming, but I feel sensational. I've shed the stress of the week.
How much? Eastwest's intro offer of three classes in a week is $20, casual classes are $20 each, 10-class card is $170, or one month $160, yearly $1300, or a monthly automatic payment is $120.

Worth it? The benefits can include a detox, stretching and strengthening the body, to increasing your heart rate for a good workout and the promise of a good night's sleep. It's just whether it's your type of gig, or not, and if you can hack the heat. I might try it again one day when I'm more time-rich.

Little helpers

1. Look the part in Bohda's Miko Panel Yoga Shorts, RRP $98.00 from bodhaclothing.com.

2. No sweat! Don't slip on a wet yoga mat, use a Manduka eQua Mat Towel on top, RRP $69 from ecoyogastore.co.nz.

3. Freshen up with Weleda Sea Buckthorn Creamy Body Wash, RRP $19.90 from weleda.co.nz.

4. Rest your eyes with a Bodha Japanese silk eye-pillow with lavendar, RRP $45 from bodhaclothing.com.

Try it: Check out eastwest.co.nz or ph 09 360 1885 (Ponsonby) or 09 522 1466 (Newmarket), or there are other Bikram providers in Auckland.

Rating: 7/10 for the novelty and post-exercise feel good factors.

- Herald on Sunday

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