2011-08-12 / Business

Hot yoga comes to Bluff Road

By John Temple Ligon

And now for something completely different, quoting directly from www.hotyogamasala.com:

Why Hot Yoga?

The human body is designed to move. Lack of movement often leads to an endless array of aches, ailments, and disease. Yoga is the science of achieving optimal health on several levels: physical, mental, emotional , and spi ri tual . The purpose of yoga is to move the body through a full range of motion and to encourage relaxation by quieting the internal chatter of the mind with the goal to simply feel good. In hot yoga, the room is intentional ly heated because of the benefi tsitoffers the body. Heat protects the muscles as they move. When practicing in the heat, endorphins are released helping to reverse the negative effects of stress. Heat increases the heart rate and strengthens the cardiovascular system. Higher temperatures soften collagen around the joints for more freedom of movement and improve the function of the nervous system. In addition, the process of sweating exfoliates, rejuvenates, and detoxifies the skin, the largest organ of the body.

Columbi a - born Kyra Strasberg sends that message to anyone who taps into the website for Yoga Masala, her emporium at 711 Bluff Road, near Williams- Brice Stadium and thousands of domiciled college students. Yoga can be compared with soccer, where both pursuits are fairly recent arrivals on the young peoples’ scene and both are blossoming beyond expectations of just a generation ago. Hot yoga, as implied by the paragraph italicized here, might be called yoga on steroids.

Strasberg has always danced ballet, and she has always kept her condition ready for dance. Taking ballet lessons from an early age, she had developed her dance skills almost to the point of professional status right out of high school at Heathwood Hall, where everybody except her entered college a few months after graduation. Single mindedly Strasberg entered summer programs with professional ballet companies after her junior and senior years in high school. By the fall of what was her buddies’ freshman year in college, she was an understudy with a performing ballet company in Boston. Known as a corps dancer early on, she danced professionally in Boston for another 17 years.

While with the ballet in Boston, Strasberg toured the United States with Rudolph Nureyev, the Russian ballet dancer who defected in Paris in 1961.

At the time of her retirement from ballet in 2000, Strasberg was nationally recognized with the title Principal Ballerina. Although no longer a professional ballet dancer, Strasberg stayed with physical demands on herself as she mastered Pilates and yoga, enough to gain certification as a professional instructor.

Yoga is ancient, but Pilates began with Joseph Pilates, a German who began the exercise discipline of what came to be known as Pilates in the late 19th Century. Pilates studied animals and people, learned yoga and put together what saved his fellow WWI prisoners on the Isle of Man during the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish flu.

In the 1920s, Pilates helped professional boxers through his exercise regimen. He was famous for helping Max Schmeling, the German boxer who lost to America’s Joe Louis in 1938. Schmeling died at age 99, an unusually long life for a professional boxer whose head was the target for countless blows during a 24-year career.

Pilates married an American and in the late 1930s moved into a building in New York City that also housed ballet choreographer George Balanchine. Balanchine picked up on Pilates from Pilates, became a believer, and prescribed the program to his ballet dancers.

Strasberg first picked up Pilates while she was in a six- week summer ballet program in Houston, Texas, about the time she was finishing up at Heathwood Hall. Her 600- hour certification program was through her association with Romana Kryzanowska, one of the last living disciples of Joseph Pilates. As Pilates mastered yoga, so did Strasberg, beginning in 1999. Strasberg completed her 500-hour yoga teacher training with world renowned philosopher Rolf Gates.

For newcomers to yoga, for people who always want to read a book on the subject before beginning anything, Strasberg recommends Light in Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. Her instructors have read it, and they practice what is called safe instruction, where no one hurts anything. For stiff beginners especially, the heat helps.

The room temperature in hot yoga is kept at 95 degrees, which loosens muscles and allows stretches without incurring any pain or damage. Without the possibility of pain or damage, a moving meditation sets in, and the meditation aspect reduces stress further than mere exercise can achieve.

As an instructor in both Pilates and yoga, Strasberg began with Sports Club LA, an upper end exercise business in the same building with the Ritz- Carlton Hotel in Boston. Like its hotel neighbor, everything at Sports Club LA could be called 5-star class, including the instruction. In less than 18 months on the job, Strasberg became the program coordinator at Sports Club LA, overseeing 10 instructors and managing more than $500,000 in revenue.

Strasberg left Boston in 2005. She was hired by Susan Anderson at USC with the title Distinguished Artist in Residence, Instructor of Ballet.

At home Strasberg has two budding ballerinas, Mary ( 7) and Caroline (5). Mary goes to Brockman Elementary off Forest Drive, and Caroline is enrolled at Columbia Montessori Children’s House at the corner of Woodrow and Kershaw.

While Strasberg meets her full-time obligations teaching ballet at USC, her new exercise emporium on Bluff Road, Yoga Masala, begins new classes on September 6 with a faculty of six. Strasberg testifies her hot yoga opens “various really important lines of energy while it releases longstanding stress.”

One of yoga’s recent converts but noisiest adherents is Texan James Baker, President Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury and also President George Bush’s (#41) Secretary of State. Baker, born 1930, says he never goes anywhere without his yoga mat. He claims yoga fights stress while it opens flows in the body and the mind.

By creating spaces in bodies, Strasberg says, yoga creates spaces in minds.

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