Hot Yoga. Those two words invoke anxiety in many new yoga practitioners. The idea of practicing in a room that is 105 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of 40 percent sounds like torture to those embarking on their yogic path. I see them wander into the studio all the time looking petrified and full of questions. “What do I wear?” Men can wear shorts and a t-shirt or no t-shirt if you’re comfortable, and for women, shorts and a tank top or sports bra. “What should I bring?” A towel large enough for your mat, a yoga mat and a bottle of water. “Am I allowed to drink water?” Yes, after the warm-up. “Will I be the only new student?” Maybe, maybe not, but this practice is geared for beginners, so you’re in the right class. “Will I die? or Will I pass out?” My personal favorites. Hopefully not, but if either should happen, I will call 911 and then your emergency contact, in that order. Obviously, hot yoga brings up a lot of questions and fears in people.
When My Yoga Scene asked me to write an article about the Hot Yoga practice, I really thought about it and realized that even though I teach hot yoga ( love teaching it!) and I try to take a couple of hot yoga classes a week, my practice and my teaching certification is vinyasa based and I was going to need help from a couple of experts to get to the nitty gritty of this hot yoga business. Lucky for me I have two wonderful friends who are teachers of two different styles of Hot Yoga, Bikram and the Barkan Method, right here in the ATL and surrounding suburbs, to give an experts point of view.
My first interviewee is Alice Istanbul. She teaches at Decatur Bikram Yoga and at Ember Yoga in Woodstock. Alice was also involved in the competition side of Bikram yoga and mentored by Esak Garcia, the first ever champion of the Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup, the international yoga asana competition. Here are her thoughts on the Bikram practice.
MYS: What do you believe the benefits of a Hot Yoga practice to be?
ALICE: I believe the benefits of a regular hot yoga practice are as limitless as yoga itself. Most people are initially drawn to this practice for the physical aspect because it gives you such an intense work out. But the more you practice and the deeper you get into it, you realize how much deeper there is to go. That’s the paradox of yoga – what starts off as a physical practice gradually evolves into what you cannot see beneath the surface, strengthening the mind-body connection, becoming more present, etc. From a strictly physical standpoint, the therapeutic benefits are huge. If you practice regularly it gradually changes your lifestyle for the better, into a lifestyle in which you have fewer physical problems. In 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises, you work 100% of your entire body, inside and out. Not only does a regular hot yoga practice help to heal old injuries and get rid of old pains from the lifestyle you had before this yoga was a part of it, but the postures are a kind of preventative medicine. By moving your body through these postures every day you keep it healthy, flexible, strong, and young
MYS: Do you believe that adherence to a strict Bikram format is best or do you find relevance in some of the modified practices?
ALICE: Because I was trained by Bikram, my training taught me that one will gain the most benefit by staying as close to the the original sequence as is physically possible. I’ve been taught, and I believe, that it’s best not to change a yoga posture to adapt to you, but rather to practice the posture with integrity to allow for the necessary changes to happen in your body. You don’t change the posture to suit you, but rather with practice over time you adapt your body to the posture. I see benefit in moderating postures, if need be, but not modifying them. The postures never change, you change. That’s what it’s all about.
MYS: How do you keep your teaching fresh (since you are teaching the same postures daily)?
ALICE: Teaching the sequence is just like practicing the sequence. The postures may be the same class after class, but every day you’re different, the circumstances are different, the people in the room are different, and so the experience is different. As a teacher I travel around the country to attend seminars led by senior instructors, and I read about the postures constantly. The learning is limitless, so the teaching is limitless – it never gets boring.
MYS: Is this just a practice for beginning yogis or is this a practice that you can make more advanced?
ALICE: This practice was designed with beginners in mind. It’s appropriate for people of all ages (12 and up) and fitness levels. The sequence is meant to get your body healthy, but it’s also an introduction to meditation. For advanced practitioners, in studying yourself in relation to these postures, there is no end. You’re using your physical body as a medium for harnessing the mind. You may eventually gain mastery of some of the postures, but there is always deeper to delve in a yoga practice.
MYS: Give me some interesting background on Alice Istanbul and what brought her into the hot yoga practice!
ALICE: I discovered yoga kind of by chance in 2010. My first ever yoga class was at a Bikram studio in Marietta. I was instantly hooked, and it completely changed my life for the better. I went to teacher training to train with Bikram in Los Angeles in Fall 2011, and I’ve competed in the USA Yoga Asana Championships at both the state and national levels for two years in a row. It was a fun experience! These days I’m into exploring other lineages of yoga like Ashtanga, Yin, Vinyasa, etc. Even though I’m expanding my personal practice, I am a true believer in the amazing healing and strengthening qualities of the hot sequence. I believe this yoga is a gift to the world with the tremendous power that it has to heal and change lives. I am so lucky to have discovered it. My greatest goal is to simply share my love of this yoga with as many people as possible, that it may bring to someone else’s life the same kind of positive and transformational change that it did to mine.
So even though you might get a little hot and sweaty, give hot yoga a try. It is transformative and it is geared for beginners as well as those with a more advanced practice. That being said, there are a few exceptions to the rule. If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, you should probably not be doing a hot yoga practice. As with any type of exercise, if you have questions, check with your doctor.
Next Friday I will be interviewing Lana Vogestad about the Barkan Method, another style of hot yoga. Lana holds Barkan Level I, II and III certifications, as well as assisting Jimmy Barkan in his teacher trainings. Be sure to check in next week. Until then, see you on the mat, maybe in hot yoga!
Meredith teaches yoga, pilates, and private ballet and yoga instruction in Atlanta. When she is not teaching, she is practicing either at home or at one of the amazing yoga studios in the communities she discovers on her travels throughout the country. Meredith is also the East Coast Whole Sale Manager for KiraGrace, a women’s yoga apparel company. She cherishes her time with her her son, and satisfies her curiosities of life through reading, writing, and taking advantage of opportunities to explore the world. One of Meredith’s passions is venturing into communities to dine at local eateries. She shares her food reviews on the My Yoga Scene blog. Meredith loves being part of the global yoga community and enjoys planning events the help bring the growing community together. If you are interested in community lifestyle guest blogging, interviews, promotions, or event sponsorship and hosting, please reach out to Meredith here: meredithhesse@