Sweat it out: Hot Yoga Charlottesville celebrates 10 years of classes at 105 degrees

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Hot Yoga Charlottesville owner and teacher Lizzie Clark has been leading Bikram yoga classes since 2004. 
Photo: John Robinson Hot Yoga Charlottesville owner and teacher Lizzie Clark has been leading Bikram yoga classes since 2004. Photo: John Robinson

I’m no stranger to sweat. As a runner who doesn’t consider it a successful workout unless Niagara Falls is pouring down my face, I actually kind of love it. I’ve got a dresser drawer full of moisture-wicking shorts, tops, and socks, and there’s something satisfying about returning home red-faced and in need of a shower. But after last week’s class at Hot Yoga Charlottesville, I have even more appreciation for the power of a good sweat.

Located at 216 W. Water St. near the Downtown Mall, Hot Yoga Charlottesville is a boutique studio that offers Bikram-style yoga classes—and when they say hot, they’re not kidding. The room is heated to at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The Friday morning class I took—which includes the same 26 postures each time—was 90 minutes long, and that was more than enough time to sweat out what felt like every toxin in my body.

Studio owner Lizzie Clark, who led the Friday morning class, started the business after getting hooked on hot yoga in Washington, D.C. She moved here on a whim, and nobody was holding any hot yoga classes in Charlottesville at the time, she said, so she dragged space heaters into a tiny room in her apartment for her own practice until opening the studio in 2004.

“Charlottesville is kind of a seeker’s paradise,” Clark said. “It was the type of place where I wanted to live, and luckily, it’s the perfect place to open a hot yoga studio.”

I arrived at the studio a few minutes before my morning class last week, decked out in spandex shorts and a loose-fitting sleeveless shirt, per the website’s suggestion. After filling out some paperwork and chatting with the instructor of a different class I attended several weeks ago, I gathered up my gray and pink yoga mat, a towel, and a bottle full of ice water, and followed my fellow yogis into the exercise room.

The heat engulfed me as soon as I stepped into the 105-degree room. For a moment I forgot what I was there for, and all I could think was “Holy shit it’s hot. Why is it so hot in here?” I felt my muscles relax almost immediately, and I slowly made my way to the front corner where I spread out my mat, inhaled deeply—well, as deeply you can when it feels like someone’s holding a hot water-soaked pillowcase over your head—and tried to mentally prepare myself for the next hour and a half.

Clark said the extreme heat is, naturally, what new students tend to struggle with the most. Especially when it’s 30 degrees outside and the body is accustomed to the cold, a fight-or-flight reaction upon entering the room for the first time is normal. But the heat resonates in a way that other yoga doesn’t compare to, she said.

“I just love the sweat, and the intensity it brings. It makes my mind clear,” Clark said. “I can’t possibly think about what’s on aisle seven at the grocery store when I’m balancing on one leg and dripping out of places I didn’t know made sweat.”

We started out with some slow breathing exercises, stretching our necks and leaning our heads back to open up the air passages and acclimate our bodies and lungs to the heat. (I found myself getting antsy during these first few minutes; I just wanted to get moving.) We spent the first 10-15 minutes standing up and looking straight ahead, so when Clark told us to lower ourselves into a forward fold and my eyes were inches away from my knees for the first time, I was startled and moderately impressed by the giant beads of sweat trickling down my calves. Do calves even have sweat glands?

I was familiar with most of the positions we contorted ourselves into, and for the few I hadn’t come across before, I had plenty of time to figure them out. We held each pose for long, burn-inducing periods, and we cycled through each set twice—I wasn’t thrilled about the repetition at first, but came around to the idea that if I didn’t nail it the first time around, I got a second chance.

At the end of the class, Clark instructed us to lie down for savasana, the resting pose. She handed each of us a small, cool washcloth soaked in lavender, which she described as “the proverbial carrot” of the class.

An hour and a half earlier, I thought I’d be the first one dashing out of the room to escape the heat. But with the cloth draped over my eyes, I allowed my arms and legs to relax and my body sank into my sweat-drenched mat; I had no desire to move.

When I described that feeling of genuine contentment to Clark, she laughed in agreement.

“There’s something magical about it,” she said. “It’s powerful. You just feel that current in your body, and you know that if you move, you’re going to lose that current.”

For class schedules, rates, and more information about the studio, check out www.bikram yogacville.com. 

Words to the wise

  • Hydrate more than you think you need to in the 24 hours leading up to your session. Drink at least three liters of water the day before, and bring a bottle of cold water with you to class.
  • Wear comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing like tight-fitting spandex shorts. Men: T-shirts are optional. Women: sports bra or T-shirt.
  • Fight the urge to be competitive. Regardless of what those around you are doing, take a breather and rest whenever you need to. Studio owner Lizzie Clark said sitting is often better than muscling through something, and backing off can be more therapeutic than pushing through.
  • The studio provides mats and towels, but you’re welcome to bring your own if you want to save a little cash.
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