Hot competition

Ottawa’s hot yoga scene is heating up. The explosively popular variation on traditional yoga emphasizes meditation and the flowing of one’s spiritual energies at stifling temperatures of between 35 and 45 degrees. At least eight studios in the city teach weekly classes. Four have either opened or introduced hot yoga into their existing schedules in the past year alone, including Yoga and Tea Studio in Carp which began teaching hot yoga just last month.

But this assimilation hasn’t been one-sided. Western culture has rubbed off on hot yoga in return in an unexpected, albeit familiar, way: the emergence of fierce competition.

Bikram Choudhury I the brainchild of hot yoga. This yoga master originally from India is now a multi-million dollar celebrity living just outside of Hollywood.

“His guru sent him to North America to come and teach North American’s yoga because the Indian gurus could see that North Americans were suffering greatly from stress” said Claire Cameron, the Director of Bikram Yoga Ottawa – a franchise of Choudhury’s that sends regular operator fees to Choudhury.

In fact the very name “Bikram Yoga” refers to a sequence of 26 positions created by Choudhury that he then copyrighted and restricted to his own franchised studios. When traditional yogi teachers sought to capitalize on the growing trend, they re-labeled it “hot yoga.”

“Someone’s taken his yoga and basically changed it a little bit so it can no longer be identified as his yoga and marketed it as a different product,” said Cameron, “that’s the way of North America, that’s the capitalist way.”

Ottawa is no exception. Santosha Yoga’s studios on Elgin and in Westboro practice what they call “Hot 26” (also trademarked), while PranaShanti in Hintonburg has classes like “hot detox flow yoga” and Moksha Yoga on Preston simply names its style after the studio.

“It’s a way to get people in the door,” said Nina Sidhu, Director of Yoga and Tea Studio in Carp, “it’s a good way to draw those kind of people in who normally would not probably try a class.”

She says hard-core athletics types and men seem to be more attracted to the practice. Sidhu believes that both those demographics are more attracted to hot yoga because of the high temperatures and humidity (she refers to it as “walking into a rainforest”) and the tendency to sweat makes them feel like they get more out of a workout than with traditional yoga.

“So you see how [hot yoga’s] taken the broad spectrum of yoga and tailored it to a specific niche and is serving that population” she said.

This past October the Adi Shesha studio opened on Wellington Street West as the first yoga studio in the city with infrared panels in its yoga rooms. The panels use electromagnetic radiation to heat people in the room without heating the room itself. Heat energy is transferred directly onto yogis through radiation, which does not heat the atmosphere around it. Adi Shesha yoga instructor Caroline Farrell said she used to have difficulty breathing in the extremely hot and humid environments of traditional sauna-like studios.

Ottawa’s local Bikram franchise opened with a different appeal in mind. Cameron located the studio on Bank near Sparks Street because she said she wanted to make it accessible for the government workers already in the downtown core.

“I really targeted a specific demographic: downtown and professional” she said.

The Ottawa Bikram Yoga studio is the only Bikram-certified studio in the city and Cameron said it was Choudhury himself who told her there was a need for one of his studios in the growing Ottawa market. The opening of her new Bikram studio beat out at least three other local independent hot yoga studios by a matter of months and has earned her a respectable market share.

“Business is good,” she said, “during the day we get a lot of consultants coming in because they can take a long lunch break.”

Cameron also boasts the highest percentage of male yogis of any studio in Ottawa and said it’s because she understands their interest in a physically strenuous workout. She’s even capitalizing on older professional men – a group that several years ago would rarely step foot on a yoga mat in the Ottawa area.

“We get a lot of older men. They’re getting tight, their golf swing’s not so good anymore,” she said with a laugh.

“They use it to open up their shoulders.”

Back in her Carp studio, away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown core, Sidhu says she’s just happy to be able to help friends in her neighbourhood take a weight off after a stressful day. “A lot of people come in the door and they aren’t having the greatest day but when they leave they have a smile on their face and they’re much more relaxed.”

“It’s really seeing that ripple effect through our community.”