The practice of modern hot yoga is credited to Bikram Choudhury, an Indian yoga champion. His form of hot yoga, known as Bikram, is a series of 26 postures conducted in a 105-degree room he calls a “torture chamber.” The notoriously intense 90-minute sessions run under a strict copyright and promise health and mental benefits such weight loss and decreased anxiety; celebrity clients include Madonna and George Clooney.
Columbia may not boast a Bikram-credited studio, but that doesn’t mean yoga isn’t hot in CoMo. Sumits Hot Yoga opened in 2012, and people of all genders and ages have flocked to the studio off Nifong Boulevard to sweat away pounds and stress.
Sumit Banerjee developed Sumits to combine elements of Bikram with parts of other classical forms of yoga such as Vinyasa. It is the focus on flow integrated into Sumit’s practice from Vinyasa that sets Sumits Hot Yoga Studio apart from Bikram.
“Sumits yoga is 10 minutes shorter than Bikram and adds music at the end of the 80-minute session,” says Sumits Hot Yoga instructor Melissa Zeugin. “Sumits is also very much a cardio workout.”
Sumits conducts each class in the same manner, beginning with standing poses with no music and then transforming into a Vinyasa concentrated session. In between these poses, there is time for meditation and reflection, which one instructor noted is the most challenging part. Although the sessions themselves never vary, each experience is different. “Everyone has a different journey with hot yoga, and as they keep practicing, they start to notice how different they feel mentally,” Zeugin says.
While some postures may look like human knots to the casual observer, the exercise actually unravels many problems for people. Health professionals and avid yogis claim it trims inches off the waist and thighs and keeps the mind off the stress of meetings and hectic schedules. The Yoga Health Foundation reports practicing yoga for an hour a day can increase the neurotransmitters that ward off depression by as much as 27 percent.
Aside from the mental and appearance benefits, yoga can also reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease and high blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Yoga conducted in hot and humid atmospheres specifically enhances health benefits because the heat increases circulation, and sweat flushes toxins out of the body. “Yoga at room temperature is great, but the heated environment adds those extra benefits,” says Brett Hayes, manager for rehabilitative services for University of Missouri Health Care. Hayes says his only concern with the hot exercise is the possibility of heat exhaustion and dehydration, which can occur in extreme cases. He recommends hot yoga practice only at accredited studios with instructors who are trained to recognize the symptoms of these illnesses.
“Mentally, I think practicing in such a hot and sweaty environment has improved my patience, and the quiet atmosphere provides a good time and place to think or clear one’s mind,” says hot yoga student Stephanie Chapman. Other students agree, as evidenced by the bulletin board atop the cubbies. A prompt asks, “What has Sumits done for you?” Pinned to the bulletin board are handwritten notes from clients saying that they feel “powerful” or have lost weight since starting their journey with hot yoga.
Although working out in a room with high temperatures and added humidity may seem challenging and shocking at first, instructors note there are all types of people in the classes. Since each session is the same, there is always room for improvement and doing every pose is not expected or required each time.
“There are some days you feel better than others,” Zeugin says. “That’s completely normal. But don’t feel intimated.”