West Briton’s fitness series: session one, hot yoga
January 1 brings with it a new set of resolutions, and I, like many others, have decided that 2014 will be the year I get fit – and this time I mean it.
Despite this promise, I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t so much as glanced at my gym kit until last Sunday when, prompted by the paper, I undertook my first hot yoga class at Breath Health and Fitness in Truro.
Like the other numerous varieties of the practice, hot yoga involves moving, stretching and holding the body in differing poses.
But, as the name suggests, hot yoga is carried out in a room heated to 40°c with 80 per cent humidity.
As a frequent participant of yoga classes during university, I walked in the studio with my head high, ready to ease back in to my bendy stride.
My first indication that I had underestimated the challenge of the class came from looking around at the other students.
In full length leggings, sports top and jacket, I appeared to be wearing more clothes than everyone in the room.
My fears were confirmed when the heater was turned on and the first blast of moist warm air ran over me.
Any movement in such conditions, let alone trying to master a simple half-moon, proved difficult.
Yet I am not alone in my misplaced confidence according to studio owner and instructor Daniel Parnell.
“People can sometimes hold the misbelief that yoga is a soft type of exercise which isn’t very hard.
“The same people are often amazed at how intense the class is – one man walked out saying that he couldn’t believe his wife did hot yoga two or three times a week.”
After meeting at a hot yoga class in London, Daniel and his wife Oriana gave up their jobs in the city to set up Cornwall’s first and only hot yoga studio in 2012.
Since then they have held around 11 classes a week alongside offering Pilates and personal training.
The hot yoga practice has proven so popular that even players from the Cornish Pirates have undertaken sessions in a bid to improve both their mindsets and performances.
By half an hour in to the class I was getting used to the heat and already starting to feel the benefit of the exercise.
The knots in my shoulders caused by slumping in front of a computer screen were unwinding, and my hamstrings, which in truth have never been very flexible, were starting to loosen up.
According to Daniel this is caused through a combination of the heat and the type of exercise.
“Hot yoga lengthens the muscles rather than tightening them. It is one of the few exercises which doesn’t give muscle fatigue or tiredness. You come out feeling invigorated and alive rather than tired.
“It’s as gentle as it wants to be, but you can push it as hard as you want.”
Unsurprisingly I chose the gentle option. But it was encouraging to see all abilities and ages mixing and working in the same class, tweaking the stretches to their own capabilities.
In addition I was feeling calm, peaceful and dare I say it, almost relaxed.
Daniel explained that this peace of mind was an essential part of the hot yoga practice.
“Many wouldn’t come if you told them it was all about chanting and spiritualism. But when they are in there, focused on their breath and movements, they are connecting spiritually without even realising it.
“The attention on the breath and breathing helps to clear the mind of other thoughts and allows you to focus. It’s about teaching the mind to get rid of the monkey chatter which clutters it.
“When you get it right the class can provide the peace and calm that people are looking for in their lives.”
By the time the class was finished I was left wanting more, and it is clear that many of Daniel and Oriana students feel the same.
Jo Smith, who takes part in up to four hot yoga classes each week, said: “I actually think I’m addicted!
“My muscle mass has increased, I feel leaner and stronger both physically and mentally, which has been achieved through a combination of my yoga and dietary changes
“My stress levels have dropped and I feel calmer and more in control both at work and in my personal life.”
I left the Breath Health and Fitness Studio feeling taller, calmer and sweatier than I had for a long time.