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Bikram hot yoga encourages stressed students to cool off

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Take yoga, add a lot of heat and you've got the perfect answer to long hours at school and bitter winter winds. That is, if you can deal with a slammin' physique and a more relaxed state of mind as a result.

Hot yoga is basically regular yoga, but in a hot, humid room for 90 minutes. The heat allows your muscles to stretch more easily so even beginners can feel like a rubber band.

Obviously perspiration is bound to happen when exercising in a heated room, but this is natural detoxification -- just remember to drink lots of water before, during and after the session.

"The instant thing that people feel is the calming of the central nervous system due to breath and being in savasana," says Cheryl Miller, an instructor at Bikram Yoga Calgary North.

Savasana is the "corpse pose" and often a favourite. It is the time either in-between or after practice where the body recuperates and processes the exercise that just happened. After each hard pose the class goes into savasana, where students lay on their backs and concentrate on breathing. Not to be confused with nap time, savasana gives the body a chance to rejuvenate and prepare for the next position.

Bikram, however, is a particular kind of hot yoga. Yes, there are different kinds and yes, it does matter.

"In bikram we do every pose twice to give the body a second chance to be able to go deeper and to be able to absorb twice the amount of benefits," says Miller.

An important aspect of bikram is the dialogue ­­-- the instructor talks during the entire session. Miller speaks to the body and guides it through the practice. Instead of trying to fill the silence, the mind is able to tune out and concentrate solely on the task at hand.

Walls of mirrors aid the visual aspect of yoga, so you can check yourself before you wreck yourself.

"Your attention is 100 per cent on you," Miller explains. "Reflection is teaching you proper alignment in the body. You learn to love that reflection."

Mirrors can also be used to check out your neighbour, figure out what you're doing wrong or give you a new goal.

If there isn't time to make it to the studio, students can practice breathing exercises at home.

"When you are stressed, you usually breathe really shallow," says Miller. "By increasing the lung capacity and slowing the breathing down, it will slow the emotional sensations down as well."

As with any exercise regime, contact your doctor before starting. Those who smoke or prone to overheating and fainting should be cautious. If you start to feel dizzy or nauseated, return to savasana and wait for the feeling to pass. Drinking a lot of water before and after helps combat dehydration. Also avoid eating two hours prior to practice.

Hot yoga is a great way to exercise and combat stress, mental illness and the cold weather blues. But even if you can't fork over the money for classes, the most important idea can still be practiced by taking a moment to create your own savasana.

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