Monday 11 December 2017

Think yoga's no sweat? Try doing it in 40°C heat

Joe O'Shea got all hot and bothered when he tried out Bikram

Joe gets himself in a tangle during his Bikram class.
Joe gets himself in a tangle during his Bikram class.
Joe finds the Bikram yoga a bit of a stretch.
Bend it like Joe: Yoga instructor Denise and Joe go through some moves

Joe O'Shea

Tell people you like to spend your evenings contorting your body in a sauna full of virtually naked, sweaty strangers and you are going to get a reaction.

Some will be repelled, others will be intrigued and the more daring will demand to be brought along to this weird new club you've found.

But tell the guys that you've actually taken up yoga and they'll probably just decide you're taking the whole "in touch with my feminine side" thing a bit too far.

Yes, this is February and everybody is going fitness crazy. The nation's gyms, swimming pools and sports' clubs are under siege and every magazine and TV show is telling you about the latest get-fit craze.

But yoga? It's just not for real men.

Try telling that to tennis-star Andy Murray, a growing number of top GAA players or the Irish international rugby player who occasionally does Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose) on the mat next to me.

They (like me) are all converts to Bikram Yoga, the extreme yoga that sorts the men from the boys and leaves professional sportsmen crying like little girls in a pool of their own sweat.

Bikram Yoga (created by California based guru Bikram Choudhury) is one of the fastest growing fitness programmes in Ireland and the latest craze for professional sportsmen looking for that edge.

It's been made famous by Hollywood stars such as George Clooney and Daniel Craig.

But it's sportsmen, like Andy Murray who credits Bikram Yoga with recently changing his whole approach to fitness and game preparation, who are winning over guys who could have never imagined themselves in a yoga class.

"We are getting GAA teams, rugby players, we had the Irish rowing squad in not so long ago," says Lisa Wilkinson of The Elbowroom yoga centre in Dublin.

"These are very fit guys and some of them might come in thinking it's a bit silly or easy or whatever, a session usually changes that attitude."

Bikram Yoga, also called Fire Yoga or Hot Yoga, is basically 90 minutes of running through 26 yoga poses in a sealed, super-heated room.

Most centres use industrial blow heaters to get the temperature up to 41 degrees with a 40pc humidity factor.

It's not quite as hot as a sauna but you are bending, stretching and contorting your body for a solid 90 minutes, pushing it into places it has not been before.

Then there is the sweat.

Imagine the hottest and the sweatiest you have ever been and then throw a bucket of tepid, salty water over your head and you're getting there.

"Men tend to sweat the worst, sometimes after a class the room is really manky, there's goo everywhere and you have to give it all a really good clean with tea-tree oil," says Lisa of The Elbowroom.

I decided to give it a go at the Bikram Yoga centre in Harold's Cross in Dublin.

I got roughly halfway through the first session before I had to crawl out of the room on my hands and knees, gasping for air.

It was absolute bloody murder for the first few sessions and only slightly less murderous now after four months of three-to-four times a week. But it has quickly become addictive and after years of failure with weights and rowing machines, I have started to feel physically fit and leaner.

"Bikram does an incredible amount for the whole body, not just your weight or flexibility but your circulation, digestion, your metabolism and stamina," says Lisa of The Elbowroom.

"It can change your entire posture, do wonders for your spine and get you looking lean and lithe. There is weight loss but you also have the sweating, that's incredible for detoxing and getting your skin to glow again".

Andy Murray certainly agrees, he has put his recent success down (in part) to four-times a week Bikram sessions.

"It has helped me a lot with my fitness and my mental strength because it's tough being in that kind of heat for that length of time," said the tennis player who reached the final of the Australian Open last month.

If you are getting nowhere in the gym and ready to really push yourself while wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a purple face, you should give Bikram Yoga a go.

And if your mates slag you off for doing yoga, invite them to come along and see if they can do more than 10 minutes in the room.

If you are interested in Bikram Yoga, try, or for classes around the country.

Irish Independent

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