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Steamy yoga method fires up a health trend

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Photo courtesy Lauren StoxenTrendiness has been making people awesome for centuries. It has provided a quick and easy way to determine if a stranger is “cool,” without even having to talk to them.

For instance, in grade school one might have noted whether a classmate owned a mini-backpack, listened to Will Smith or wore platform Sketchers and high-heeled Jellies.

Current “trendy kids” can be spotted in flannel shirts and sometimes riding bikes.

But recently, a new trend has surfaced. Strangely enough, it involves health rather than possessions. It values exercise over Uggs.

More and more people are becoming yoga enthusiasts. Around Marquette, Bikram seems to be the Michael Buble of all yogas.

The first hot yoga series developed was Bikram, which requires the room remain at least 105 degrees, with 45 percent humidity. Classes are 90 minutes long and include the same 26 postures and two breathing exercises. Postures remain at a beginner’s level and are executed the same way every time so yogis can perfect them to gain maximum benefits.

The extreme temperatures help warm up participants’ bodies immediately upon entrance. The heat also induces consistent sweating for detoxification and to decrease the risk of injury.

Instructors provide constant guidance, which helps ensure that beginners and experts alike are able to attempt all postures and improve their practice. Instructors also explain to students the health benefits associated with each posture.

Last Valentine’s Day, Bron Gacki opened Bikram Yoga Milwaukee, the city’s first Bikram studio. The studio, located at 2084 N. Commerce St., offers a two-week unlimited session introduction special for $25.

Gacki said anybody can do this type of yoga, though his regulars are generally between the ages of 25 and 45.  He said a lot of college-aged kids come in, but it is becoming popular among all age groups.

“People are healing their bodies, losing weight rapidly, and generally feeling so much more healthy than they do with any other type of exercise,” Gacki said.

There is a difference between fitness and health, Gacki said, and Bikram is geared toward health.

“I get excited when older people come in because they are the ones that really need it, but it is good for people to start off young so you won’t have to deal with a lot of these health problems and injuries later on in life,” Gacki said.

Gacki said he took his first yoga class in 2000 and trained for his instructor certification in 2007. Both his parents and his siblings are also yoga instructors.

“I’ve taken other yoga classes before, but I never really got the same feeling afterwards that Bikram Yoga gives,” he said. “It brings your body back to its natural state and back to the way it is supposed to be.”

Robyn Lucks, an instructor at Bikram Yoga Milwaukee, has been practicing for nine years.

“I honestly have noticed all yoga has gotten more popular in the last few years,” Lucks said. “The Bikram studios are growing and growing, they attract all age groups and men and women equally.”

As a former martial arts practitioner (among other things), Lucks said she had always known yoga is supposed to be good for you, but she never had the patience for it and liked to be more active.

“It really helped me calm down and I felt like I was getting instant gratification from it,” Lucks said.

Lucks said some benefits of Bikram include increased strength, balance and flexibility. She said it also beneficial for skin, internal organs, detoxification and strengthening the immune system.

“There isn’t anything that limits you from coming into that room and trying the practice the right way, no matter what ailments you have,” Lucks said. “Over time you will experience a change in your practice and if you appreciate what it does for you, you experience a world of change.”

Just last year, Lucks thought she would have to give up running due to knee damage from martial arts and running.

“After doing Bikram Yoga regularly, I am able to run again without any surgeries, and that has been really rewarding,” Lucks said. “That is definitely still a small miracle in my eyes.”

Nick Giannini, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, tried hot yoga for the first time in July. He said he had interest in yoga before, but mostly tried it because his girlfriend brought him along to a class.

“I had a really good experience and got a surprisingly good workout,” Giannini said. “I have problems with flexibility, but I felt much more flexible and relaxed after.”

Giannini said he thinks yoga is becoming so widely practiced because of its ability to help people connect with themselves.

“It is a very personal experience,” he said. “You don’t worry about your ability or anything like that as much as you do with other forms of exercise.”

Giannini said he would recommend yoga to everybody. He said the only downside is it can be expensive to continue practicing regularly.

Carrie Belanger is another instructor at Bikram Yoga Milwaukee and began practicing yoga in 2002 as a supplement to running.

“Like any beginner, I was quite intimidated to try that first class,” Belanger said. “It blew my mind. Within a few months I noticed a real change in my body, and I was able to run longer, farther and faster than ever before, without injury.”

Belanger said, in a nutshell, yoga aids the management of stress, which is linked to almost all ailments (including things like high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, back pain, headaches and even the common cold).

“Anyone who feels inflexible, out of shape or overwhelmed by the stress of everyday life should get themselves in the hot room,” Belanger said. “It truly is a beginner’s class, and it truly is the best gift you can give yourself.”

Carol Krucoff is currently a Yoga Therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine and has been practicing yoga for 30 years. She was the founding editor of the Health Section of “The Washington Post,” contributes to “Yoga Journal” and is co-author of “Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise.” She also created the audio home yoga practice CD, “Healing Moves Yoga.”

Krucoff said she has practiced many different styles, including Iyengar and Ashtanga, but her main influence is the unnamed practice of her primary teacher, Esther Myers.

“Yoga is actually a spiritual practice from India that is more than 5,000 years old,” Krucoff said. “What we call Yoga in the West is just one aspect of this discipline that focuses on reaching union (or enlightenment) through the physical body.”

Krucoff said there are many styles and types available, ranging from relatively gentle and therapeutic (such as Viniyoga), to quite athletic and active, such as Ashtanga or Bikram.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Steamy yoga method fires up a health trend”

  1. Tim on December 3rd, 2009 9:22 am

    I haven’t done Bikram in awhile, but have always enjoyed it when I’ve tried it. I’d especially recommend it in the winter. Thanks for the article.

    [Reply]

  2. Wayne Brightman on December 3rd, 2009 11:34 am

    I’ve only been doing for about five months now and the benefits include lower blood pressure, sounder sleep, and just a better general all around feeling. I will have to give Bikram yoga a try someday.

    [Reply]

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