In a room set to 105 degrees, with humidity levels reaching 40 percent, a 90-minute Bikram yoga class, led by skilled teachers, is sure to be a workout for anyone who participates. But the benefits of the practice often go far beyond the physical.
For Heather Dunghe and Megan Lynch van Riet, co-owners of Bikram Yoga Chadds Ford (BYCF), the love of this well-known, trademarked style of hot yoga is so powerful that they need to share it with their Chadds Ford neighborhood. In 2012, the two women opened BYCF on Wilmington Pike and welcomed a community ready to join.
HEATING UP A WORKOUT
Bikram yoga is a form of Hatha yoga with 26 postures and two breathing exercises. Hatha yoga focuses on physical exercise and breathing control. Bikram is a stationary series, meaning postures are held for a matter of time and then released.
BYCF teaches the beginner’s series, which is “very, very safe” and “gives you everything you need for daily health,” says van Riet.
The 26 postures work every part of the body, and each posture is taught through multiple steps. “It’s like a recipe. You don’t skip around,” van Riet explains.
Flexibility and athleticism aren’t a big issue in Bikram yoga, because people in the same class don’t necessarily need to be on the same level. Since each pose features different, progressively tougher steps, one person might feel more comfortable holding the easiest part of the pose for the entire length of time while another person moves through all three steps.
The practice may sound daunting, but the time and sweating are worth it.
“It works! And after your very first class, you feel it,” says Dunghe. “You feel energized, you feel relaxed, and within just a couple of weeks, you physically see results.”
Both Dunghe and van Riet tout the health benefits that can come from regular practice. People experiencing hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and other physical aliments, as well as stress and anxiety, are all likely to see relief through Bikram yoga.
“From bones to skin, fingertips to toes, internally it affects the organs, and then externally you see the results because you get into great shape,” says Dunghe. “It fully affects the body.”
Dunghe and van Riet, along with the teachers they hire, have gone through specific Bikram yoga teacher training. Even before attending the training, prospective teachers must be sponsored by a Bikram studio where they have been practicing regularly for at least six months. As part of the 1,000 hours of residential training they receive over a nine-week period, trainees practice yoga twice a day and attend lectures and posture clinics.
Most trainings are on the west coast, and about 400 to 500 people attend each nine-week session. “So it’s big, but it’s well structured,” says van Riet. “And it’s hard. It’s really, really hard.”
THE CHADDS FORD CONNECTION
Before opening BYCF, the two owners were practicing at a studio a half hour north of the area. Their friendship developed, and they wanted a place closer to home where they could share Bikram with their neighbors and friends.
“The goal for both of us was to bring the yoga to more people because it changed both of our lives,” says van Riet, who was once a dedicated distance runner, but wanted a different outlet for exercise after having children. Dunghe picked up yoga after an injury forced her to stop running.
To show the life-changing powers of Bikram yoga to Chadds Ford, the studio is hosting a workshop on April 26, 2014, with Joseph Encinia, a world champion of yoga asana. Encinia suffered from health issues as a young adult and found relief and peace with Bikram yoga.
The Bikram community is large but very connected. Even with hundreds of studios around the world, it is hard to go to any related event and not see someone you know. Dunghe and van Riet have both practiced with Encinia before and asked him to share his story with their students, a favor he was happy to provide.
Dunghe and van Riet are always looking for ways to get the Chadds Ford community involved and share the power of Bikram yoga. The studio celebrated its two-year anniversary in February by opening up the studio to the public and sharing its success with family and friends.
“One of the great things that yoga brings that we don’t talk about is connection: connection to yourself, understanding who you are, but then connection to a whole community of people,” says van Riet.
Once a month, BYCF hosts a community day. The doors are opened to anyone who wants to come and attend a class on a donation basis, with the money going to a local charity.
Families come to the studio to experience not just yoga, but also music, crafts, and window painting. The studio’s two-year anniversary community day benefitted the Arc of Chester County.
BYCF is continually trying to create an atmosphere that is bigger than just the yoga. Aside from a hot room, the studio also has a large front room where people can socialize before and after a class. Dunghe’s pug, Melvin, often makes an appearance and mingles with everyone.
As Dunghe explains, “There is a real community sense and a lot of friendships have been formed here at the studio because there is a place for our students to come and hang out, not just take a class and leave.”
One way that Dunghe and van Riet add to the community of BYCF is through knowing each patron’s first name. The studio doesn’t use membership cards; the owners take it upon themselves to sign in anyone who shows up for class. With three to four classes a day, and newcomers in each, Dunghe and van Riet are constantly trying to create a welcoming feel.
“It’s a community of people who know each other and care for each other,” says van Riet.
BYCF attracts all ages, with students ranging in age from 5 to the mid-80s. And new members are joining daily as the love of Bikram yoga grows in Chadds Ford.
van Riet describes her business similar to a metaphor used in the Bikram community. “One of the metaphors that Bikram uses in teaching is like a flower blooming, that your practice and your body unfolds. And that’s what we’re seeing with the studio. It’s so much more beautiful and unexpected and mysterious than I could have dreamed.”