Tessa Prieto-Valdes and Rhett Eala do Bikram yoga

Tessa Prieto-Valdes and Rhett Eala do Bikram yoga
Some like it hot
By Walter Ang
Sept.-Nov. 2006 issue
Metroactive Magazine

Unlike most gyms that blast icy, cold air into your face, the lobby of Bikram Yoga Manila makes you feels as if you've stepped out into the street on a sunny day. Ceiling fans provide a semblance of a slight breeze in this sparse foyer as you step onto its hardwood floors that are lit just-so. None of the thumpa-thumpa beats of a remixed version of yet another Kylie Minogue song. More of the silence of a library with a similar palpable, mute energy.

The only sound you hear is the constant stream of directions barked out by Tristan Choa, instructor to a group of students striving to hold their asanas or yoga poses in the heated studio. Choa, who opened the studio late last year, explains that the raised temperature, 36 degrees Celsius, is the trademark of Bikram Yoga -- an attempt to simulate the climate of India, where all current iterations of yoga are derived from.

It's actually supposed to be hotter, 42 degress to be exact, but adjustments have been made for our country's humidity. Pioneered by Bikram Choudhury, this particular yoga style aims to allow for a loosening of tight muscles and profuse sweating, which is thought to be cleansing. Thus, its more popular moniker: hot yoga.

Even society maven Tessa Prieto-Valdes's usual effervescence takes on a completely subdued turn as she concentrates on the instructions, beads of sweat rolling off her body. "Even though we were supposed to be quiet," she recounts. "I complained the loudest about the heat when I first tried it out. But now, I don't even notice the heat anymore."

Despite the initial disorientation of working out in a room that makes you perspire even before you start moving, Tessa has come to espouse the merits of this kind of yoga. "I started doing Asthanga yoga five years ago but had to stop during my pregnancy," she says. "I tried Bikram yoga after some prodding and after a few months, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight."

Because it is relatively new compared to other more established yoga styles such as Iyengar and Kundalini, "Purists say hot yoga is for lazy people, that it's the Hollywood version of yoga," confides Valdes. "But, hell, it works! You might as well get into it."

She is quick to point out that it is not a easy work-out at all. Concentration and endurance goes into achieving the sequence of 26 asanas (2 sets in a 90 minute class) that stretch and tone the entire body.

Lauded fashion designer Rhetta Eala remembers the first time he saw a class of students contorting themselves into pretzel shapes. "I just looked at them and laughed. I said to myself, 'They look so ridiculous!' But after I tried it, I felt so good. I loved it!" he raves.

Newbies are given orientations before their first class: Each class is always the same series of poses. It differs for beginners only in intensity. The more classes you take, the more you are able to do the poses correctly. Everyone is to try to do each pose if they can, but not to force themselves if they can't.

"That's why it's such a challenging work-out," explains Valdes. "You are constantly self-correcting yourself. You reinforce your muscle memory and you find yourself bending more and more each time without you really being conscious of the effort involved. I always feel so toned and fit after a class."

She also notes that because students go at their own pace, "Anyone can join regardless of age, gender, or physical condition. In fact, I encouraged my 60-year old friend to come and she's doing just fine. It's great for people who are getting back into fitness or just beginning to get into it."

Rhett, on the other hand, enjoys the low-impact cardio work-out that hot yoga provides. "I used to exercise on treadmills at the gym but my left knee can't take it anymore. With this kind of yoga, the heat loosens the muscles and lessens the chances of injury. It's not a painful way for me to get my cardio."

He dismisses the notion that it is a quick-fix for weight loss. "Yes, the heat helps in reducing injuries and it makes sweating easier, but at the end of the day, if you don't push yourself, nothing will happen to you." The slow-and-steady mindset is quite effective in Rhett's case as he's lost close to 50 lbs. over the course of a year.

Even as Rhett and Tessa have incorporated hot yoga into their schedules, "When I have a full evening schedule, I go to Pye Trinidad's home studio in the mornings. It's suited for those who want a more private environment," claims Tessa, they both agree that it is not the panacea to all of life's aches and extra pounds.

Rhett still religiously goes to the gym in between meeting clients while Tessa mixes it up with flamenco, belly dancing and swimming as she attends to her family and glamming it up for her many events and functions throughout the week.

Both also extol the added boost to their self-discipline as a result of taking hot yoga. "It helps in controlling my diet because yoga makes you feel more aware of your body. You become conscious of what it needs and what it doesn't. When I started doing yoga, I always felt so hungry afterwards, but now I don't," shares Rhett.

And while hot yoga may not be the most spiritual of yoga styles, it can act as a channel for meditation. "With other yoga styles, it's usually very quiet so sometimes your mind wanders. It can be hard to concentrate. I find the constant guidance of the instructors helps me focus on the yoga," enthuses Tessa. "Not only that, after each class, they allow you to stay for as long you need to. You get a chance to meditate on your own, too. It's like meditation for real people"

Rhett concurs, "Because of the guidance, by the time you know it, the class is over. Whenever I feel down or am in a foul mood when I start a class, everything is equalized at the end of it. I've become a much calmer person." He also enjoys the group dynamic of being in a class. "It helps boost your motivation when you see all these other people working hard. Their energy is infectious. It's also a nice way to meet new people. I've become friends with my classmates and all we can talk about when we go out is our poses."

Contact Bikram Yoga Manila at tel. no. 889-1011 or www.bikramyogamanila.com and Pye Trinidad at 0917-834-0659.