If plummeting temperatures put your workouts on ice this winter, a specialized gym in Merrick may have a solution. Fuel the Soul, a yoga, pilates and GYROTONIC studio and workshop space is also Long Island’s first and only infrared-heated studio. Gregory Fine, owner and instructor at the gym, opened Fuel the Soul in the spring of 2010 after learning about the technology. “I had heard about a few radical studios in Australia and California using infrared for heat instead of hot air. A lot of studies have shown that infrared is really beneficial to the body, increasing collagen production and nitric oxide levels. I brought that technology into the yoga studio.”
Hot yoga is a fitness technique often touted for physical, mental and emotional benefits—from claims that it detoxifies the body to the belief that it helps focus the mind. In traditional hot yoga, whether it’s Bikram or another style, studios create a heated environment by pumping in hot air, usually accompanied with humidity, to create a rain forest-type atmosphere. As a result, the yogis often sweat more profusely, regardless of the actual amount of effort they’re putting forth. “With infrared, the waves of heat transfer into the body, penetrating deeper into the epidural layer. The air increases in temperature because of heat coming off the body. The experience is drier and cleaner because there’s less moisture to carry bacteria,” Fine said. The actual temperature also tends to be lower, reaching 85 to 90 degrees as opposed to the 100-plus temps needed for Bikram.
While the actual experience may be different, the benefits are very similar. “Heated yoga has been shown to help with rheumatoid arthritis, increase skin elasticity and help flush out heavy metals in the body—especially useful on Long Island where we have a lot of exposure since we eat so much fish and sushi,” Fine said. He added that the heat loosens muscles making them more flexible, much like applying a heating pad to a stiff spot.
Lauren Fine, Gregory’s wife and the studio’s co-owner and massage therapist, also said heated yoga benefits the muscles by increasing oxygenation during the workout. “The heat is a vasodilator, bringing more blood to the area that is working,” she said. “This enables muscles to function better and burn more calories. A heated class can burn up to 500 more calories than a non-heated class, depending on how hard you’re working.”
Beyond the physical benefits, Gregory said the heat can also benefit practitioners mentally. “The heat adds stress for the body and mind—you’re a little uncomfortable and persevere through and breathe through it. That’s a strong way to build inner strength, spiritual strength,” he said. “The heat is a way of purification, like how they heat metal to make it purer. You’re burning out toxicity, both physical and mental.”
Of course, the heat creates a few more considerations for anyone joining the practice. Gregory recommends that his students come to class hydrated, but he advises against eating or drinking too much. “If the body is full of liquid, it’s got to go somewhere when you bend and it will push against the body during creases,” he said. He also advises pregnant women should get clearance from their doctors before attempting a class. If it’s a student’s first foray into yoga, Gregory suggested a non-heated class. “The heat will add another element of challenge or layer of difficulty to the practice—now you have to deal with your heart rate increasing to cool down your body. It’s more intense than a regular class.”