Bikram Yoga heats up in Northampton

By Elena Lopez

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One-hundred and five degrees sounds more fitting for a desert than a yoga studio, but at Bikram Yoga Northampton, the heat is always on.

Bikram is a style of yoga that is done in a heated room, typically between 100 and 110 degrees, utilizing a series of classic postures and breathing exercises relative to traditional yoga. The Bikram style of yoga originated and gained popularity in the 1970s when its creator, Bikram Choudhury, brought the traditional Indian form of yoga practice into a heated environment.

Choudhury’s theory of success in crafting this style of yoga was that human muscles perform at its best in extreme heat. Heat also helps relax the muscles to allow for easier stretching, and the body naturally flushes toxins through sweating, which further helps to augment the health benefits of yoga. In the last few years, the Bikram style of yoga has gained a considerable amount of popularity, and Bikram Yoga Northampton is reaping the benefits.

Audrey Blaisdell, the owner of Bikram Yoga Northampton, went through a nine-week certification course in order to teach the Bikram style of practice. In 2007 she bought the studio in its current location after moving from Utah to Northampton, and has been molding bodies and minds with yoga ever since.

“After years of suffering with horrible depression and trying everything from medication to marathon running, I finally found something that actually works to heal mind and body,” Blaisdell said.

Her main goal with opening the studio was to provide that same solace to those in need around her and to spread the wealth of Bikram in Northampton and the surrounding community.

Hearing all the hype, I decided to try Bikram Yoga for myself. At Blaisedell’s studio on King Street, incense swirled in the entrance, welcoming yogis into the studio and wafting into the heated room, engulfing the patrons as they began meditating. Yoga fans with mats and towels fight for space on the studio floor as I settle indiscreetly in the middle of the room, intimidated by the clearly experienced yogis.

The beginner’s class offers an exercise routine involving 26 positions that work in cohesion with the warmth of the room to efficiently stretch and strengthen all muscle groups in the body. The intense heat of the room helps move fresh oxygen throughout the body, which makes for a more effective workout. It sounds easy at first, but mastering all 26 poses with confidence takes months and dedication. Laurie Posen, a 62-year-old resident of Northampton, has been doing Bikram yoga consistently for over four years and says that it is “the physical complement to my spiritual life,” and that she feels a new sense of direction in her life since she starting practicing.

The instructor of the class, Nikki Starr, stresses that focused breathing and resisting the urge to slack on more difficult poses are the keys to improving abilities and getting the most out of Bikram. Nikki started practicing Bikram yoga in 2006 and became certified as an instructor in 2010. She feels that Bikram “allows you to really get into your muscles and your body.”  Her favorite part of teaching is getting to share her passion with others. All levels of yogis, from first-timers to experienced contortionists, are represented in the studio’s classes. On the day I attended there was a wide range of ages present, from college students all the way up to people in or near their 70s, but there was no judgment: anyone willing to be committed to the practice is welcome.

So why do it? As typical college students, we’re prone to stress and it shows itself in all forms, whether it’s emotional stress or physical exhaustion. After completing the 90-minute yoga class, not only was I sweating more than I ever had in my life, but I felt completely at ease. My stress was relieved after a tumultuous few weeks of midterms, and I felt completely refreshed and ready to renew my focus.

Besides being calming for the mind, practicing yoga regularly can help to cultivate a healthy body as well. Bikram yoga reminds its practitioners that stronger muscles, good health and a general well-being will follow if they practice frequently. Even after one class I felt considerably more flexible and felt like I could bend myself into a human pretzel.

For many, Bikram Yoga has become a necessary part of daily life to feel at peace not only with themselves but in their interactions with others as well. Some of the long-term benefits include stronger bones, a lowered risk of heart disease and a surefire method for maintaining a healthy weight. Bikram Yoga offers serenity in an otherwise chaotic life and is a gem in the middle of Northampton.

Bikram Yoga Northampton is located on 241 King Street near Smith College and can be accessed at www.bikramyogaorthampton.com, where class schedules, hours, the phone number and rates are available. Starting in January 2014, the studio will move to 375 South Street but will be maintaining classes until then at the current studio. Students are offered a discount, so it’s hard to find a reason not to go and take part in this physical and spiritual experience. Your body and mind will thank you as you make the change.

Elena Lopez can be reached at [email protected]