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SHEPHERD: Give the gift of glowing health

With the pandemic winding down, many in the community are turning to yoga as a way to bring more strength, flexibility and stamina to their lives. And with no fewer than 20 studios around the island to choose from, it’s never been more convenient to get up off the COVID couch and make a fresh start into health and fitness. In four of these studios, the classes are heated to well above 90 degrees in order for students to work up a healthy sweat, and also to allow muscles to move with greater ease through the series of postures.

So who goes to hot-yoga classes? Chances are one of your neighbors does. Teachers, doctors, chefs, business owners, state workers, pre-teens, folks in their eighties, and all levels of experience, from those who have practiced yoga for years to those who have never taken a single yoga class before.

Bikram Yoga Kaua‘i, in Kapa‘a, was the first hot-yoga studio on Kaua‘i. Started in 2000 by Judy Louie, it specializes in a set series of 26 poses and two breathing exercises. Current studio owner Gretchen Olsen, who took up yoga in 1995 to heal from knee surgery, now sees hot yoga as a lifelong practice that she wants to share with others, with over a dozen classes a week offered at her studio. “My favorite part of owning a bikram yoga studio is watching the transformation in people who come to practice,” she says. A family affair, Gretchen’s sister is also a hot-yoga teacher, and her 74-year-old parents practice as well.

For people who worry that they may not be able to do the exercises, Olsen says, “All you have to do is listen to the instructions and listen to your body. Do only what you can do, no more and no less.” In fact, the owners of all of the hot-yoga studios on the island emphasize that yoga is a practice where the student decides what they can do on any given day, without feeling pressured into doing anything they’re not ready for. Says former bodybuilder Vanessa Caminos, “We spend so much time doing things for other people. Yoga classes are a way of finally doing something for ourselves.”

One longtime practitioner of various types of hot yoga is Dr. Jean Shein, one of Hawai‘i’s top ophthalmologists and eye surgeons, whose practice at Lihu‘e’s Hot Yoga Kaua‘i helped her cope with the pandemic. “I think I would say that my yoga practice really kept my physical health and mental well-being relatively intact despite the disruption in our lives from the pandemic. The repetitive focus on asana, breathing, and mindfulness inside the studio helps one to better cope with stressors in real life.” Shein is sometimes joined by her two daughters, ages 11 and 13.

Garland Hume, owner of Hot Yoga Kaua‘i, began her own practice in 2007 to help her cope with the stress of being a first-year middle-school teacher. Her studio offers a wide range of classes, including vinyasa (a series of postures that flow one into the next), yin (gentle stretching), yoga sculpt (yoga postures with light weights), and the bikram series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. Hume recommends yoga for everyone, saying, “You’re never too old, never too sick, it’s never too bad, and it’s never too late, to do yoga. Everyone is rooting for you in the yoga room, and no one cares how experienced or inexperienced you are.”

Janet Carafa of In the Light Yoga Studio in Princeville came to the bikram yoga style as the perfect complement to her work as a professional mime artist who studied with the great Marcel Marceau. Speaking about the use of heat in the studio, Carafa says, “The skin is the largest organ of the human body, with a total area of about 20 feet, and the infrared heat helps cleanse the body of accumulated toxins.” Who comes to her studio? “Surfers, paddlers, runners, dancers, and even couch potatoes, anyone ready to move and change and have fun.” One such student is Mark Goodman, a former bond trader, who says, “With yoga, you use everything you’ve been given as a human being. It clears my mind, makes me feel fully alive, and brings me back to being present.”

Seven years ago, after a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis forced her to hang up her running shoes, Jen Niccore began practicing yoga at Bikram Yoga Kaua‘i in Kapa‘a, and in 2017 she started the Yoga Garage in Kalaheo to bring “health, healing and wholeness to the Westside of Kaua‘i,” as she puts it. Since her mother was a schoolteacher and her father owned a body shop, it seems especially fitting that Niccore’s venue for teaching is a former service station, now outfitted with overhead infrared heating panels instead of service bays. “The heat and the yoga postures brought immense healing to my body,” she says. It also greatly helped Kaua‘i musician John Rivera, who practices regularly at the Yoga Garage. Says Rivera, “Hot yoga has enhanced my life in countless ways, but most of all with my flexibility and weight loss. Becoming a yogi has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.”

All of the studios mentioned above have special introductory rates for those who just want to check it out without long-term commitment. So now just might be the perfect time to give yourself the gift of glowing health.

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Greg Shepherd is a music professor at Kaua‘i Community College.
Source: The Garden Island

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