Local Fitness Check-In: Hot Yoga Charlottesville

Posted on February 7, 2014 by


Fresh out of Bikram Yoga teacher training, Lizzie Clark and then-business partner Michaela Curran Grubbs, opened Bikram Yoga Charlottesville on 5th Street on January 27, 2004. When they opened, says Clark, most people in Charlottesville had never done hot yoga before. But on the second night of classes, 86 people packed into the hot room for a 6:30 p.m. class. Clark and Grubbs knew they had started something powerful.

Ten years later, the studio, now called Hot Yoga Charlottesville, is going strong. The studio recently moved to a new space on Water Street with two hot rooms, more classes, and a wider variety of yoga offerings.

For this segment of the Fitness Check-in series, I sat down with Clark to talk about 10 years of getting hot and sweaty in C’Ville and what the future holds for the studio and its yogis.

Hot Yoga Charlottesville studio owner Lizzie Clark

Hot Yoga Charlottesville studio owner Lizzie Clark

You recently celebrated the studio’s 10th birthday—10 years of getting sweaty here in Charlottesville. Congratulations! How did the studio get its start?

The actual opening of [the studio, in January 2004], by the time I got to it, was a no-brainer.

[A former soccer player and long-distance runner who worked on Capitol Hill, Clark had done yoga to stretch and to de-stress. She tried a number of types of yoga before taking her first hot yoga class.]

In the summer of ’99, I took my first hot yoga class. It wasn’t at a Bikram studio, but in this basement yoga studio in DC; it was an ashtanga studio primarily, but the teacher had moved here from California and she taught 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises and brought in like, every space heater and always blew the fuse, but every outlet had space heaters in it and it was nice and hot, and I would sweat a ton, and I felt like, “Now this is something good!”

And about three months later, a gentleman opened the first Bikram yoga studio in DC, and I started doing work/study for him. I was his front desk person, and they called us “Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch,” but he gave me lots of yoga and it was amazing. He introduced me to the yoga I now teach.

I remember the first time I took a full-fledged class, in a studio, where the heat was right and all of that. It was like, “Wha-pam!” I just…it got me, hook, line and sinker.

[I’ve been teaching for 10 years now, and it’s] brilliant. I get to come to the place where people want to be. So instead of coming to work where everyone is like, “oh, it’s MONDAY,” I get to be at the place where people are saying, “YES! I made it!” There’s something very buoyant about sitting at this front desk, about standing at the podium and watching people work their tails off as they discover who they can be. I get to watch this transformation over and over again, and it never gets old. It always changes. Every single person in that room is evidence that the human body is miraculous.

I’m lucky—I not only have my dream job, but I live in my dream city. It’s the best city in the country. I’ll give it a trophy if it wants one!

How is Hot Yoga Charlottesville different from other yoga studios in the area?

hot yoga 2

The clearest is in the name. We heat this place up! We have a special heating system to regulate the temperature of the two hot rooms.  We also regulate the humidity so that you’re always sweating, which is your body’s way of cooling itself off, so you don’t get that dry, itchy sweat, you get that flush-everything-out-of-your-body good, clean sweat. So, it’s hot! As far as I know, we are also the only studio in town that offers a 26 and 2 (Bikram method) class.

How hot are we talking here?

In the smaller hot room, where we practice the power and vinyasa classes, it’s right around 92 degrees. In the larger space, where we practice the Bikram method, the 26 and 2, it’s closer to 107 degrees, give or take, at 35% humidity. The great thing about our fancy new heating system is that you can be in a 50-person class and it will purge humidity; you can be in a 10-person class and it will add humidity.

Why practice yoga in a hot, humid room?

Why not?!

What are the benefits of this type of yoga?

We’re teaching two different lineages now, but I can speak most clearly to the one I’ve been teaching for more than ten years now (the Bikram method). But to heat in general: the heat is going to loosen up your muscles, not so much as to be overstretched, but it’s going to warm you up. It’s also going to increase your cardiovascular output and get your heart rate going. You’re able to burn more calories, you’re able to sweat out gunk inside your body. Sometimes you’ll know about the toxins in your body and sometimes you’re surprised by them. It’s that cold that’s lingering under the surface, so you leave and all of a sudden you have your cold, but then it’s gone tomorrow, because you expedited its course in your body.

The heat is a huge benefit, not just the sweat, but the getting your heart rate up and the intensity of it. It adds an emotional and mental element to the practice that I think is hard to match anywhere in our lives. You are so supported, and yet so challenged. As a teacher, I watch people break through limitations, things they had imposed on themselves, and all of a sudden they realize that it was their mind talking. The body is so capable and so strong, and it’s a really empowering experience not only to be a part of that transformation, to watch it happen, but certainly, from my own personal experience to have had it happen before. There’s a tremendous emotional and physical benefit to this yoga.

You can throw everything but the kitchen sink at us in there! It’s 105 degrees in that room and I’m telling you to bend your body in ways it’s not bent before, but all of a sudden you’re doing it and you see yourself do it, so there’s no lying. There’s a mirror to tell you, “You’re really doing this. You’re amazing! Will you please notice? Stand up and notice how amazing you are!”

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What is your education and training background and how did it lead to you becoming a hot yoga teacher and studio owner here in Charlottesville?

I had a “real job,” where I wore hose and suits and took meetings and all of that. I was working on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide to a senator, working on legislative work and policy, working on speeches and that sort of thing. I worked with some really bright people, and I enjoyed the environment, but it was the wrong fit. Shoving a square in a circle doesn’t work, no matter how hard you try.

I took yoga to de-stress. And I was also a long-distance runner (marathons), so I used it for stretching out. Then I got really sick towards the end of 2001 and had to leave my job. It was a collapsed lung. But the yoga brought back my lungs. I felt better, I felt stronger, I started to run again. And I started to do more and more yoga. All of a sudden, right before I quit my job, I had that moment where I was like, “Why am I doing this? I don’t enjoy my job, I love yoga, this isn’t healthy, what this stress is doing to my body and what I’m being exposed to.”

So, I left my job, moved to Charlottesville and went to yoga teacher training with Bikram Choudhury in 2003. I came home, taught in Richmond and Washington D.C., until [Michaela and I] signed a lease and opened the studio January 27, 2004. Best thing, well, other than marrying my husband, that I ever did.

For someone who has never tried yoga, is Hot Yoga Charlottesville a good place to start?

Of course! I can’t tell you the last time we had a class, or a day, when we didn’t welcome new students, people brand new to yoga. One of the great things about the primary series (26 and 2) that we teach is that it’s natural range of motion; we’re not asking you to contort. It’s a really user-friendly yoga. One, the teacher is telling you what to do, step-by-step. So when you find that step that’s exactly right for you, your body will start to talk to you and you just stay there. The ballerina next to you might be doing standing splits and you might be grabbing your foot and trying to balance, but rock on! Both of you are getting everything your body needs; it doesn’t matter how far you go. Just do what you can.

And, every day, every class, it’s the same set of postures. So while your first class is really hard, you come back for a second class and it’s familiar, you’ve seen this before. By the end of the third or fourth class, you’re actually doing the yoga! And then, all of a sudden, it’s ten years later and you’re here. You’ll be here again tomorrow.

It keeps you going for years. You’ll always feel some new muscle. It’s a constant conversation with your body and there’s always more. There’s always more to unfold, there’s more to reveal. And you watch people do that here day after day.

Three classes that showcase the variety available at Hot Yoga Charlottesville:

  1. Bikram method—primary 26/2 series (90 minutes)
  2. Hot yoga (75 minutes)
  3. Hot vinyasa/power hour (60 minutes)

Which classes would you recommend a newcomer try?

Whatever works with their schedule! One of the reasons why we do all classes all levels is because people have different schedules. You can show up on a Tuesday morning at 6:15 am, and then on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. You just come when you can. All classes are open to all levels. The only thing I really recommend is to try different ones. You’re going to find, like with any sort of physical exercise, your body enjoys different things at different times. It’s more flexible, it’s more focused at a certain hour.

About how long does it take to get used to the heat?

By the third or fourth class. That’s when you really start doing the yoga.

How should students prepare for class? Drinking a lot of water is a must…

Drink plenty of water, and that’s going to be different from person to person. Some people need a ton of water; others won’t want to drink too much water, because they’ll flush their salts. So, there is a healthy balance that you need to play with. A good rule of thumb is to drink a liter before you get here, and for every cup of coffee you drink, drink another 8 to 16 oz. of water. It’s also a good idea to stop eating an hour and a half to two hours before class.

When you’re not at the studio, what are your favorite things to do in and around Charlottesville?

Hang out with my kids and my husband! I love to be with my family. I’m wife to an amazing man, who I’m very grateful chose me. I have two beautiful children and I miss them when I’m not with them. We love to go hiking, we play tons of sports outside in our yard.

Where is your favorite spot for dinner? A beverage?

Our back porch—we’re homebodies. But if we go out to dinner… probably Zocalo, where everybody knows your name! I love, love going there. I love the guys who own it, I love the people who work there. We always have such a great time.

We also love going to C&O. And Duners—we’ll duck out and take the kids to dinner there, because it’s right at the bottom of our hill. And sometimes we eat on the play structure in our kitchen.

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New Water Street Location!

This is a big year for the studio—new space, new name, new classes. What are you most excited about for Hot Yoga Charlottesville this year?

I was teaching on the 10-year anniversary, and I was looking around the room, and there were brand-new students, but there were also students who have become dear friends.

Friends who I’ve called in the middle of the night when my kids are sick, moms who I know have dealt with everything or nurses who have dealt with stuff. I’m so grateful to have so many dear friends in this place, so many people I love spending time with, but who’s to say that the next new person to come through isn’t going to be a new dear friend? I’m always curious. I know it sounds cheesy, but really, you never know who’s going to walk through the doors, who’s going to be a regular in six months, who’s going to be that constant part of my life that I don’t know yet. That’s what I’m excited for.