“Fall back. Way back. Go Back. More back.” Instructor Ciara Paguyo stands on the podium in the center of Bikram Yoga Lodi studio, where she is watching over a classroom of yogis in a back bend position. With her voice and chant-like instruction, she leads practitioners deeper and deeper until their sweat-beaded necks are almost parallel with the ceiling.
The class is 90 minutes, and it doesn’t take too many poses, savasanas or commands for the sweat to run, gather in porous puddles and drip like raindrops from peoples’ arms as they transition from one pose to the next.
That’s the point — to sweat. Going deeper is the goal.
This is Bikram Yoga, the type of yoga where you sweat as you move into and sustain 26 poses in a studio heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity — all while concentrating on yourself in the mirror at the front of the room.
Inside the studio, there is little but white walls and an instructor’s podium. Small windows let in natural light. During class, there is little on the carpet aside from unrolled mats and bottles of water. Yogis — some who are there for a workout, others for meditation — wear as little clothing as they can: sports bras, swim shorts, the thinnest layers possible. The lobby is colorful and welcoming, with a small lounge, yoga mats and clothing for sale and Bikram-themed local art that celebrates “sweaty people.”
Helena Monica, 47-year-old mother of two, opened Bikram Yoga Lodi in mid-March. She is a Lodi resident who grew up on a farm in Galt, but having a business in Lodi is helping her reunite with the local community.
For 10 years, she owned and instructed at her Stockton studio. Not only has Bikram helped her overcome major back issues, she says everyone who practices Bikram experiences profound life changes.
“Yoga is completely different than any other exercise. It’s going to help your work life. It’s going to help your everything,” Monica said.
‘My spine was curved and twisted’
Before she was on the yogic path, Helena Monica was a runner. Two hours every Saturday were reserved for running at least 12 miles. Every week day, she would fit in six miles, if not more.
Driven. Athletic. Energetic. In control. Monica has always been each of those.
But devoted as she was, there was a point when her own body fought her pursuit for optimum health.
At the age of 35, Monica’s active lifestyle was put on hold when a lifelong battle with scoliosis kept her from moving.
“I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “My spine was curved and twisted and I had a bump on my back,” Monica said.
A condition common in adolescence, scoliosis became problematic in Monica’s adulthood because it went undiagnosed when she was a child.
During that time, desperate for relief, yoga found Monica.
It started with the Internet. In bed, and in pain, she ordered 20 different yoga DVDs from Amazon.com. Finally, she found one led by an instructor she liked so much that she drove to Santa Barbara from her home in Elk Grove every weekend to take classes.
After a few months, a friend introduced her to a new kind of yoga, Bikram. For 90 minutes, she gave into a unique experience of moving fluidly in a yoga studio heated to 105 degrees with 40 percent humidity.
Like she says many do, she left that class refreshed. She went back every single day for a week. She knew Bikram would be a piece to her life puzzle.
“I told myself I was going to open a yoga studio in Stockton,” said Monica, who, five years later, opened her first Bikram Yoga studio on Miracle Mile.
Ten years later — after a decade of self discovery, healing, learning and practicing yoga — Monica has not only completely healed herself of scoliosis with Bikram yoga, she has opened two successful studios in the Central Valley.
From a stroke to the mat
Open only for several months, Bikram Yoga Lodi already has its regulars. Some practice daily, some weekly, some twice a day.
On a recent Thursday, the 5 p.m. Bikram class has a full studio. There are beginners who, for the first few classes, do as much as they can, sitting out poses as they adjust to the heat. In the same class are regulars, some of whom can bend their bodies in half effortlessly.
The heat is a lot, but Monica says people are always shocked to find that it’s a different kind of heat; it’s not the uncomfortable heat of a hot summer’s day. Practitioners describe Bikram heat more as “cleansing” and “rejuvenating.” They say it helps their body feel warm enough to move in ways they can’t when they’re practicing outside of the studio. The temperature is contributed to a specialized heating unit, which was one of the most expensive parts of creating such a unique studio.
At the end of his first Bikram yoga class, Harvey Seroyla, 27, wipes his face with a dry towel. The rest of his body drenched.
“This is the first time I’ve sweated like this,” he said. “It’s, like, wow.”
In Lodi and Stockton, people do Bikram for different reasons. For some, it’s to get exercise or to lose weight. For others, like manager Carri Giannecchini, it’s a way focus on herself for 90 minutes.
“It’s an escape for everything else in my life,” Giannecchini said.
Monica Arnaiz, 31, had a stroke four years ago and lost all feeling in her left leg. She started taking classes at Bikram Lodi five weeks ago, has become hooked because it’s starting to reverse the side effects of her stroke.
“When I came in, I could barely get up off the mat,” she said. “It’s definitely become my new passion.”
Contact Lodi Living Editor Lauren Nelson at email@example.com.