It’s getting hot in here

  • You’ll work up quite the sweat in a hot yoga class at Hot Yoga N.H. in Concord. Courtesy of Mike Morris

  • A class practices hot yoga at Hot House N.H. Yoga and Pilates. —Courtesy of Mike Morris

  • Hot yoga is all the rave at Hot House N.H. Yoga and Pilates in the Smokestack Center in Concord. Courtesy of Mike Morris

For the Monitor
Published: 3/2/2019 11:00:13 PM

I am standing balanced on one leg with my opposite knee bent in consideration of being outstretched in front of me. With my foot seemingly miles away, today – okay this year – that goal is unlikely to be met. The woman to my right not only has a firm grasp of her toes, but also has her head tucked neatly to her knee. Meanwhile, the guy to my left is breathing with intensity, as he struggles to simply remain on one leg. We are just north of downtown Concord, across from the state prison, at Hot House N.H. Nestled in the brick walls of the Smokestack Center, it is the newest yoga and pilates studio in town and, despite my apparent inflexibility, I am hooked.

As a perfectionist, there are moments I find myself distracted and frustrated that my body refuses to move in certain ways. Today, I even allow my mind to drift to the thought of enjoying a beer around the corner at Area 23 instead of confronting my body’s stiffness.

That’s when Hot House N.H. owner and instructor Mike Morris’s invitation to the class strikes me. “Start where you are, and go from there,” he suggests gently. What an ideal message for our practice, and for our lives, by adopting a beginner mindset we are able to accept our limitations while being open to opportunities.

A former rugby player and later endurance athlete, I had my preconceived notions of who did yoga, many of which others might share. When I first arrived, I was sure I would be an anomaly. And what about this heat? Why would I voluntarily subject myself to such conditions? I quickly learned the foolishness of my assumptions, both about the temperature and the people. The warmth facilitated my stretching and, while a bit overwhelming at first, soon I found that I craved the hottest spot in the room.

As the weeks progressed and I committed to a regular practice, I also discovered a diverse community unlike any other I had experienced in Concord. We have a logger, landscaper, nurse, doctor, restaurant owner, former Major League Baseball player, school teacher, investor, college professor, car dealer, lawyers, delivery people, a firefighter, painters, musicians, a tax assessor, insurance broker and a mail carrier. These are just some of the individuals, from all walks of life, who I now call friends.

New faces and stories appear every week as word spreads. This practice is the great equalizer – it is yoga and pilates for every body and every mind. Rarely do we find spaces in our lives that are non-judgmental, but here we are tall, short, heavy, thin, old, young, carefree, intense, and everything in between. Everyone is welcome and the practice reinforces Ralph Waldo Emerson’s belief that “the first wealth is health.” As I leave each class, I indeed feel rich.

I wondered if it was just me who was drinking the hot yoga and pilates Kool Aid, but as I asked around it became clear that I was not alone.

Amanda Grappone Osmer, owner of Grappone Automotive Group in Bow, said that “besides being a great workout for my body, I quickly realized that hot yoga was a way for me to decompress mentally. Once I was in a regular routine I found that I was calmer, more patient, and had more self-confidence.” She added, “doing regular workouts in ‘the hot room’ also aided my running – I have never really stretched enough, but oh my, you do stretch in a hot yoga class!” Osmer recommends hot yoga to many friends and colleagues, “because of how very many benefits it offers in one 90- or 60-minute session.”

Bob Tewksbury – a Concord native, former Major League Baseball pitcher and Mental Skills Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs – has been practicing hot yoga for five years, mainly in the winter months when he is not traveling with the team. I reached him at spring training where he says he has been practicing twice a week.

Tewksbury explained, “at first I found it to be one of the most challenging physical activities I have ever done. But with practice, and more practice I finally started to feel the benefits of hot yoga. Over time, I could feel changes in my body (flexibility and posture) but what I felt was most noticeable was the benefits from a mental perspective in two ways. First, many of the poses are challenging and require mental strength to maintain them. This is ‘mind over matter,’ as they say in the class, and it taught me to breathe and focus on the moment, not on when this pose was going to be over.”

He added: “Secondly, once I started to view yoga as an active meditation I was able to notice how often my mind wandered in class. Over time, I learned to use my breath to bring me back to the present moment. I could feel the benefits of practicing translate throughout the day. I had more energy, I drank more water, I was focused and more relaxed (mentally).” And, this is something Tewksbury knows a lot about, having earned his master’s degree in sports psychology and literally written the book (Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals The Hidden Game Of Baseball) on this subject.

The final yogi to whom I reached out was Paul Provost, president and a financial advisor at MillRiver Wealth Management in Concord. After several surgeries on his left knee, he admitted “I did not stop my hobby as a runner soon enough.”

He said that as a result, “I was told by my doctor five years ago that I needed a replacement knee but that I was too young to do so.” He has no cartilage left in that knee, which also has bone on bone arthritis. Provost had two cortisone shots to manage the pain with the second coming just as soon as was medically safe after the first, six months earlier.

Provost explained that, “this bad news was my motivation to try hot yoga. I struggled at first with the heat but stuck with it as I had few other choices. All of the other exercise programs I tried hurt my knee. I slowly built strength and stamina through hot yoga and pilates and I lost five pounds.”

He now practices three to four times each week.

“I have yet to have, or need, a third cortisone shot or surgery,” Provost said. “My knee feels more capable than it did five years ago and I am calmer, healthier and eat better than any time in my life.” Beyond the health rewards, Provost shared my appreciation for the non-physical benefits. He said, “most importantly, experiencing our hot yoga community reminds me daily that everyone has some challenge similar to my knee troubles and that reminder helps me to meet people in my life at their point of entry, and not at what I prescribe for them.”

As today’s class comes to an end, Morris, who is also a well known singer/songwriter in the greater Concord community, serenades us with a few lines of musical inspiration.

The chaos of my day and stiffness in my body have melted away and I am left feeling grateful for this practice, having started where I am and ready to go from here.

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