Hot yoga – through heat and discipline, the pathway to the divine

Instructor Claire Parkhurst demonstrates a standing pose to her class.
Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Instructor Claire Parkhurst demonstrates a standing pose to her class.

Claire Parkhurst is no stranger to the wellness industry. She is a former physical therapist’s assistant, a licensed massage therapist for more than 20 years, a yoga instructor since 2008, and the previous owner of Integrative Therapeutics, an interdisciplinary facility in Natick.

Last month, a dream came true for Ms. Parkhurst when she opened her very own yoga studio, Tapas Hot Yoga (THY), in Vineyard Haven.

THY is across the street from the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal and next to Mad Martha’s. “Don’t you love that you can hear the fog horn?” Ms. Parkhurst asked enthusiastically during a recent interview.

The small studio makes up in ambiance for what it lacks in space, with calming yellow walls and flowing white curtains, and the periodic sound of the foghorn is a nice touch.

At first glance, the unique flooring at THY appears to be thousands of rubber bands arranged to create one giant yoga mat. The special mat flooring is designed specifically for hot yoga studios. It eliminates odors and problems associated with moisture and is also microbial and hypoallergenic. Health benefits aside, it feels nice, like you could forego a yoga mat to practice on the floor. Really.

While there are many forms of hot yoga, the most common include Bikram, Barkan, and Baptiste, all of which are on the schedule at THY because Ms. Parkhurst says she is passionate about the detoxifying effects of heat. “It is through the heat and with discipline that we clear the pathway to the divine,” she says.

Other proponents of hot yoga believe that the profuse amount of sweat generated in class flushes impurities out of the body via the skin and that the heat loosens the joints, allowing the body to be more flexible and thus work through poses that may otherwise be unavailable to a tighter body.

At the hottest end of the hot yoga spectrum is Bikram, a series of 26 postures performed twice in exactly the same order, in every Bikram class around the world, in a room heated to 105 degrees farenheit.

Baptiste Power Yoga puts slightly less emphasis on the heat, (studios are usually heated to 85 degrees). Students move through a series of poses, designed by the teacher, while focusing on breath and flow.

Ms. Parkhurst holds an advanced certification in the Barkan Method and thinks of it as, “The middle way between Bikram and Baptiste.” Barkan is rooted in the Bikram style, though its founder, Jimmy Barkan, has taken a less regimented approach with the sequence. He encourages teacher authenticity while also abiding by the fundamental notion, consistency. On his website, barkanmethod.com, Mr. Barkan, “Promises that consistency with the practice will create a physical, mental, and spiritual harmony that will be felt in all areas of the practitioner’s life.”

In her classes, Ms. Parkhurst covers the basic Barkan poses through a balanced sequence, making sure to get the spine moving in every possible direction, something she believes is essential to health and injury prevention. She is also conscious about creating classes that are accessible to all body types and levels of experience. “I survey the room and make sure to modify for any injuries and for advanced students as well, so that everyone is taking something from the class.”

Though the studio was built with heat in mind, Ms. Parkhurst offers a variety of classes taught by Island teachers from a range of yoga disciplines, in various levels of hotness.

Check out THY’s website and schedule at tapashotyoga.com or call 508-696-1880 for more information. Several classes are offered daily.

Erin Haggerty is the Good Taste columnist for The Times and a practicing yoga instructor.