Wilted Lotus Pose

Anita Killian of Boston in a power vinyasa yoga class at the Down Dog studio in Georgetown.
Anita Killian of Boston in a power vinyasa yoga class at the Down Dog studio in Georgetown. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Anita Huslin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The hot, steaming maw of summer is panting into your face, and all you want is a little shot of something with Freon.

This, however, is not what Patty Ivey has in mind.

She wants you instead in her purple and amber-walled chamber next to the canal in Georgetown, with the sunlight blazing through its plastic-sealed windows (to keep the heat in ) and the humidifier loaded and ready in the corner. Just in case it's not muggy enough.

The rest of the Code Red world is blaring alerts and cautions -- Find air conditioning! Stay inside! Avoid strenuous exercise! Drink lots of water! But inside the Down Dog Yoga studio there is, even with the wall thermometer at 92 degrees, barely enough space amid 30 supplicants to wedge another mat onto the floor. Several ceiling fans turn lethargically, barely moving the hot air around the room.

"You will have lots of opportunity to shine and sweat tonight," Ivey says, smiling, the air in the room as invigorating as a tepid sauna. "Embrace the heat. The battle is in your mind."

Students smooth towels over their mats and sit expectantly. Sweat is already starting to bead on their faces. Their expressions are blank. The point is not to think about the suffering they are about to embrace.

For the next 90 minutes, Ivey will guide her class through the rigors of power vinyasa yoga. Baron Baptiste, former Philadelphia Eagles trainer, ESPN2 fitness guru, author of "My Daddy Is a Pretzel" and a yogi, developed the practice. It's an amalgam of other disciplines -- ashtanga, iyengar, bikram -- performed in mind-boggling heat. It's all about the poses, stripped of the religion, New Age flair and fluffy mysticism, or so his Web site claims.

"The beauty of heat," says Anita Killian, a Boston financial analyst who popped in for a fix before flying to Europe, "is that it teaches you to get out of the way of yourself."

The students start with a child's pose, a few down dogs and a trio of Oooooohhhhhhmmms. Then Ivey encourages them to access their ujjayi -- Exhale! Inhale! Breath fills the room like an invisible steam bath. The numbers on the wall thermometer start to rise.

In the front row, a muscular man with a headband to wick the sweat away breathes enthusiastically, infusing the room with his Darth Vaderesque ujjayi, loud and steamy. All that exhaling mingles with sweat to boost the humidity of the room, making it even hotter.

"Heat rejuvenates you," the man, Rafael Raval, later insists. "After a while it's addictive."

Next to him is Ronnie Jersky, a retired curriculum specialist who has attended yoga boot camps run by Baptiste in Mexico and has become an instructor of the practice.

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