A Review of Taipei Hatha Bikram Yoga Classes by Bridget Di Certo
The prospect of packing into a crowded room heated to about 40 degrees Celsius and twisting your body into a series of contortions worthy of Cirque du Soleil for 90 minutes while sweat pours down your body, your heart rate soars and you have to actually remember to breathe is, well, bliss, according to Bikram yoga converts.
For Hatha Yoga Taipei founder Joe Fazzone and his wife Antonie Liu, the most challenging of yoga practices – hot yoga, popularly referred to as hot hatha or bikram – is the bliss both were seeking for mind, body and soul.
“For us, it’s not really a business. We want to do this,” Joe says after teaching a sweat-packed class to about 30 eager students in the couple’s studio near MRT Dongmen. Having been involved in setting up flagship yoga studios across the world since 2004, Joe settled with his wife in Taipei two years ago to set up a studio of their own.
26 Poses – 90 Minutes
Bikram or hot Hatha yoga is a 90 minute routine of 26 hatha yoga postures and two breathing exercises performed in a room heated to about 40 degrees Celsius.
For the uninitiated, hot Hatha yoga is an extreme test of endurance. The 26 postures create alternating compression pressure and expansion of the body’s major organs. These challenging postures, held for longer periods of time over two sets can be difficult for even experienced yoga practitioners and coupled with a heated environment add an extra edge to the workout.
The class begins and ends with deep breathing exercises designed to gain maximum lung capacity and circulation, and in turn maximum health benefits for students.
Joe or Antonie first coach their students to concentrate on breathing, expanding lung capacity and oxygen flow – which will be needed for the following 80 minutes of high heat and physical exertion.
The first half of the class is a series of standing poses that stretch and warm the spine and place high demands on your balancing abilities. This includes some poses familiar to even non-yogis, such as the forward bend and rise in complication thereafter.
The “balancing stick” or Tuladandasana involves the student balances on one, straight leg, and forming a perpendicular T-bar with arms, back and the opposing leg. Easier said than done! Joe is extremely interactive with his class. He knows most students by name and seeks to correct and encourage participants during the first difficult poses.
Most of the poses have beginner, intermediate and advanced levels and as Joe reminds his class: it is better to hold the beginner level pose correctly than accelerate to an advanced level pose and end up falling over! The latter half of the class concentrates on seated postures and will be a welcome relief under the first 45 minutes of cardiovascular work. The seated postures push your flexibility to the maximum, ironing out stress and stiff muscles. The class concludes with another deep breathing exercise and relaxation.
Mind, Body and Soul Benefits
Converts claim the benefits of Bikram yoga are weight loss and enhanced strength and flexibility, detoxification and the healing of many types of injuries. Despite feeling on the cusp of certain expiration at points during my class, I left feeling calm, strong and re-energized – a feeling that rolled over into the next day as well.
“People can see right away if there are problems with their bodies [or lifestyle],” Joe points out.
Unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle can take their strike at revenge during a Bikram class. Heavy drinkers, smokers and especially the sleep deprived will feel the burn of detoxification especially.
Is Bikram For You?
But what about us mere mortals who aren’t two-time yoga champions, like Joe?
“This yoga is absolutely suitable for beginners. There are stages to each of the postures and people can slow down when they need to. [Bikram] is suitable for all ages and even those with injuries,” Joe says.
Bikram aficionados say hot yoga may be more suited to those with injuries than many other forms of exercises. The heated room encourages limberness and stimulates circulation, helping to heal injuries through practice.
“Lots of people come [to Bikram yoga] when they have nothing left to turn to,” Joe says of people suffering from chronic injuries. “We recommend people come as frequently as possible to get the full advantage.”
Taipei Hatha Yoga
The Hatha Yoga Taipei studio is conveniently located around the corner from MRT Dongmen. The studio itself is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the streets below. The heated yoga room is huge, with a small platform for the instructor and floor to ceiling mirrors along one wall.
The studio provides mats as well as towels for the class and towels for showering afterwards (there is no way you will escape the class sweat-free!). There are well equipped male and female lockers and shower rooms and a range of post-workout hydration drinks and snacks such as chilled Koh Coconut water on hand at reception.
“We actually turn down the heat a little in this studio,” Joe explains. “We use infra red heating, which is the wave frequency in saunas so good for the skin.”
Call ahead to book and arrive early at your first lesson so you can discuss your physical and injury history with your teacher.
Bring along some water and a change of clothes – you will, without a doubt, sweat straight through the ones you wear to class in the first fifteen minutes of practice.
Avoid eating 2 hours before a class and ensure you adequately hydrate the day before you plan to attend.
Afterward it is recommended you slowly work your way through at least one liter of filtered water to top up all the water you lost during the class.
The school offers one, three and six month packages (at NT$3,000, NT$8,000 and NT$14,400 respectively) as well as a casual drop in and 10, 20 or 50 class packs.
For more information and to book your class, visit the official website here.