Too hot to handle?

PHOTO: Too hot to handle?

SINGAPORE - Like the old song goes, the heat is on. In a heated room, there are bodies stretching, contorting and sweating.

This is Bikram Yoga.

It is one of the most well-known styles of hot yoga created by Indian yoga guru Bikram Choudhury. In the 1970s, he took his style of yoga to the US, where its popularity took off.

Today, there are thousands of instructors and many have developed offshoot styles of hot yoga too. It's practised in a hot and humid room (in the session at Bikram Yoga City Hall, it was 43 deg C), with each session lasting 90 minutes.

Each session consists of a set of 26 postures on top of breathing exercises, designed to work the different areas of the body in a specific order.

Marketing executive Edna Lee, 36, first gave it a try in 2005.

"I didn't exercise because I couldn't find anything that I liked to do and I couldn't run because of ankle problems. When I discovered Bikram Yoga, I fell in love with it." She now attends classes daily.

She adds: "It's different from other sports. Although it's challenging in the hot room, there's less stress on your joints so the chances of injury are lessened."

Practitioners believe that heat helps the body to sweat out toxins, while allowing one to execute difficult poses more easily.

The New Paper on Sunday understands that this form of hot yoga came here 10 years ago and has dedicated followers.

Practitioners claim that as one's muscles increase in flexibility, fat is burnt. As your gym instructor will tell you, building muscle helps with getting rid of fat.

The focus required forces you to forget about everything else. What you're left with is a less preoccupied mind, and with regular practice, you can supposedly achieve greater focus in daily tasks as well.

Director and head instructor of Bikram Yoga City Hall, MsDiane Lee, 43, says: "You have to make sure your body is hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day if you know you have a class.

"You've got to prepare yourself to sweat because that's how your body helps you to cool off." Mr Alvin Loo, 47, used to have a bad back and injuries from playing football and practising martial arts.

His sister introduced the businessman to Bikram Yoga a year ago. After regular lessons - about three times a week - his back has improved and he is "not as hunchbacked".

Most of his friends can't be persuaded to sign up, saying the classes are too expensive. To that, Mr Loo says: "Your health is more important than how much you have to pay for it."

A package of 80 classes at Bikram Yoga City Hall costs $2,340, or about $29 per class, to be used within a year.

He adds: "I've never had a single injury from doing (Bikram yoga)."

But Bikram Yoga should not be seen as a cure-all for joint and muscle problems.

Dr Lim Lian Arn, consultant orthopaedic surgeon from Alpha Joints & Orthopaedics, Gleneagles Medical Center says that while most people recovering from joint injuries will "require stretching and strengthening at some point in their rehabilitation, most doctors will prescribe physiotherapists that are specifically trained for such situations."

Dr Lim adds that care needs to be taken when someone with a history of injuries practises yoga.

"If done without adequate knowledge of one's own injury and limitations, there is a risk that yoga, hot or otherwise, can overstretch repaired structures or overload healing tissues."

Knowing your own limitations is key to practising yoga.

Mrs Jacqueline Manalastas, 30, taught hot yoga classes at Absolute Yoga Singapore till one month before giving birth to a healthy boy six months ago.

She says: "I've been practising for more than a decade so I know my body well enough. I knew how to adapt the sequences so that I didn't overwork myself. But if you're pregnant and have never practised before, don't start until after you've delivered."

Although Bikram Yoga has earned many plaudits for its efficacy as a low-impact exercise, don't think that it's a shortcut to a toned body.

Ms Lee says that for beginners, a minimum of four classes a week is required if one really wants to see results.

"For anything to stick, you need frequency and commitment."

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