Inside this yoga studio, there’s no chanting or peaceful, ethereal music.
There’s just a 90-minute, muscle-testing workout and sweat — lots of sweat.
Preservation Yoga in Baton Rouge teaches Bikram yoga, traditional poses held in 104-degree heat, which intensifies the workout and, practitioners say, increases the benefits.
“It is grueling,” says Tom Swanson, 56. “Early on, you are just hoping to endure it.”
Practitioners do 26 basic poses and breathing exercises in a room heated to 104 degrees with 30 to 50 percent humidity.
“If you do it here or you do it in California or you do it in Japan, anywhere in the world, it’s the exact same experience,” says Stefan Boone, 41, an instructor and co-owner at Preservation.
The seven students arrive early for a Saturday class, arranging their mats on the padded floor. They lay towels across the mats to catch the inevitable streams of sweat and drink bottles of water to hydrate.
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Boone calls out poses and instructions at a rapid pace, telling the class to stretch their whole bodies up to their necks.
“Stretch the eyeball nerve,” Boone says. “Even your eyeballs do yoga. Elbows touch. Lungs empty. Get that head down. Stomach, stomach, stomach. Tighten it up and hold it in.”
Boone critiques postures, praising some on their progress and doling out advice to others.
On the front row, Swanson practices shirtless, taking his 23rd day of hot yoga in a row.
Previously, Swanson tried other forms of yoga, but “it didn’t do anything,” he says. Bikram attracted him last year. He thought it sounded tough.
“I was worried it was intense,” he says. “I didn’t know what intense meant.”
Studies support some of the claims made by Bikram yoga enthusiasts, according to the American Council on Exercise. Research has found the exercise lowers stress levels and improves endurance. One study found that hot yoga workouts improved important measures in older adults prone to diabetes.
But the ACE also cautions that Bikram yoga might raise the body’s core temperature too high for some.
Realizing the heat could be harmful, Boone reminds the class to stop and drink water. There’s no pressure to push through pain, and several in the class pause occasionally to recover.
A Baton Rouge native, Boone discovered Bikram yoga after he moved to Nevada. Years of skateboarding left his knees and ankles weak. After trying hot yoga classes for a week in 2004, he decided to teach. He took certification classes and quit his job as a case worker for United Cerebral Palsy.
“I wanted to help other people feel as good as I did,” Boone says. “Physically, mentally emotionally, it felt so good.”
Boone and his wife, Mercy Kitchen-Boone, moved to Baton Rouge in 2014 and opened the studio on Jefferson Highway last year.
At Preservation Yoga, they see a range of students. Some are seeking a more intense yoga practice. Others want a cure for aches and pains.
While Bikram yoga doesn’t cure illnesses, Boone says, it can alleviate symptoms.
“A lot of times, you don’t know how bad out of shape you are in until you know how good you can feel,” he says.
Fit, and with short graying hair, 56-year-old Anna Stanley began Bikram yoga in April. She wants more “malleable muscles,” and she believes it helps.
“I want to grow old gracefully,” she says. “I don’t want to have aches and pains when I get older.”
An hour into the class, they briefly rest, lying on their mats in the dark. Their sweat beads on their skin.
Soon they are up again, moving through the poses for 30 more minutes.
“For most people, it’s hard when you’re in it,” says Jodie Diamond, 41, who has practiced hot yoga for the past year. “But it feels great when you leave.”