Harlow Hot Yoga is a new yoga studio bringing a little tranquillity to what is otherwise mostly a light industrial street in Newstead.
Step off the street and walk up the stairs and you find a yoga retreat that's been fitted to create an appropriately peaceful setting for the physical and mental stretching that goes on there. Concrete floors and walls have been painted soothing colours, dim lights fitted, and heavy curtains hung to block out the world -- and seal in the heat.
Because, this is, after all, hot yoga. Not sweat-pouring-off-you-in-buckets like Bikram yoga (which apparently happens in rooms heated to around the 40 degree mark), but certainly-hot-enough-to-make-you-feel-it yoga, with the Harlow room heated to around 30-34 degrees.
I attended as a guest of Harlow to try hot yoga for the first time. I've done plenty of conventional yoga, but never in a heated environment, so I was interested to see what difference it would make. I took with me my Flexible Friend, who is a regular hot-yoga devotee but hadn't tried Harlow before.
The first thing to say is that the staff, like the environment at Harlow, were welcoming. The receptionist made a point of greeting people by name as they came in and making sure we all had what we needed. Our instructor Elise was also pleasant and friendly, and came around and checked with each newbie about our experience and any injuries or weaknesses we might have.
About 15 people attended the Sunday afternoon class that we visited, the majority of them young women. The room was spacious enough to accommodate us all easily, heated by a bunch of radiant and fan heaters down each side.
As in most yoga classes, instructor Elise took us through a series of poses, beginning with breathing exercises, moving through progressively harder stretching and balancing exercises, and concluding with a final relaxation routine. She offered variations on each exercise to suit our abilities, and made a point of discouraging 'competitive' ideas about achieving the biggest stretch or longest balance for a particular pose. Everybody was encouraged to participate to the best of their ability, without strain.
Having said that, I did of course feel some strain during the hour-long class! I made the classic newbie mistake of hiding down the end, when I should have plonked myself in the middle where I could see Elise and the more experienced class members really well. So I did spend a bit of my time twisting my neck around from what was meant to be a graceful pose trying to see what I should be doing! Still, Elise's instructions were generally pretty clear, so, for the most part, I managed to at least approximate the correct position. I enjoyed both the physical challenges and the relaxing aspects of the class, though I have to say that the concrete floor made me extra-careful with some poses.
And the heat? Well, for me, it didn't really make a great deal of difference. I'm not a big sweater anyway, and I found that the heat tended to make things cosy rather than super-strenuous. On the other hand, my Flexible Friend commented that the class I'd chosen -- an easier level -- was less strenuous than her normal classes, so it might be that we would have sweated a lot more in an advanced class -- or during the height of summer.
At the end of our class I had some sore muscles (which recovered quickly the next day) and I was ready for a cool drink. The lovely receptionist obliged by serving us fresh coconut milks (which usually retail for $5 each). They were real coconuts and a taste sensation, even winning over my Flexible Friend who normally hates packaged coconut juice.
Overall, Harlow seems to be developing a good following. The receptionist told me that their clientele has built steadily since they opened at the start of this year, with the studio attracting lots of interest from the surrounding Newstead apartment dwellers and devotees from nearby suburbs. Harlow also has a loyalty points system in place that allows clients to redeem points for free classes, so this is an incentive if you're looking for a studio to join long term.
Like most activities, the best idea is to give Harlow Hot Yoga a try and see if it's for you. While I don't think I'll become a convert to hot yoga, I really enjoyed having a go, and the customer service at Harlow couldn't be faulted.