November 20, 2008

My First Hot, Hot Yoga Class, at the Baron Baptiste Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Photo by Caroline Treadway

Four days after my first Baron Baptiste experience, when I jotted down the notes for this blog, I was still sore, in muscles I didn’t even know existed. And after three years as a yoga practitioner, I thought I knew them all.

My dad and sister live just a few blocks from the Baron Baptiste studio in Porter Square, Cambridge. For years, I passed the unassuming storefront on my way to the subway or to buy groceries. But never could I have imagined the sweating that went on inside. My background in yoga is fairly traditional—first at Naropa University’s yoga teacher training program and at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop in Boulder, known for its meticulous teaching and good form. Baptiste Power Yoga serves the ancient tradition with a modern twist, combining fast-paced sequences with 90-100 degree heat, for a sweat-filled experience of purification and cleansing unparalleled anywhere else.

Baptiste Yoga gets major points for approachability. I’d have no second thoughts about sending a non-meditating, squeamish-about-long-hugs-and-deep-eye-contact friend to a class. Downstairs by the bathroom, posters promoting Baptiste’s Hawaii training skipped over vague testimonials like “I found myelf” or “I experienced inner peace” and went straight for the concrete: “I lost 15 pounds.” “I quit smoking.” “My dad and I started speaking to each other again after 5 years.” Likewise, I sensed that everyone in the class, including myself, was there for practical reasons: exercise, abs of steel, stress release. And if we walked out with more clarity and patience, feeling more “centered,” well, that was an added bonus. Still, I did feel a bit awkward joining the rest of the class in a resounding “Om” and “Namaste” at the end of class when I wasn’t sure that half the people in the room knew what those terms meant. (Though come to think of it, they’re seldom explained at the yoga workshop, either.)

The studio itself was immaculate, and better equipped than most I’ve been to in Boulder, with a bright storefront, large bathroom, changing rooms and even laundry facilities in the basement (all lost and found items get washed before ending up in the basket—necessity due to the copious amounts of sweat shed in each class).

Because the class I attended was All-Levels, and at the same time a fast-paced, intense workout, students were encouraged to move at their own pace (hallelujah!). At the Yoga Workshop, I would never dream of taking a breather and sitting back against the wall while the rest of the class worked through a sun salutation. Here, I found myself taking many breaks to drink water and find my bearings while more experienced students moved at a faster pace. (Confession: I did at one point leave the room and visit the bathroom to splash water on my face and catch my breath.) Because the workout was so intense, I was surprised but totally pleased to see bodies of all shapes and sizes, sweating and stretching along with the rest. In Boulder, the capital of fitness and health, most practitioners can pronounce the Sanskrit name of every pose, stomachs flat and forearms bulging from constant practice, which can be a little intimidating.

The verdict? I missed my usual yoga routine, which gives me time to breathe into poses and pay attention to alignment. But after only 10-15 minutes in the Baptiste hot room, I felt the same yoga-high (a combo of release and adrenalin) that I usually only get after 2 hour classes back home. 

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