Billy Farrell/bfanyc.comHot Yoga, By Elisa Lipsky-Karasz
I'm doing jumping jacks, dripping sweat, to Britney Spears's "Big Fat Bass." "Sprint! Fold! Chaturanga! Down Dog!" my teacher orders as he casually adjusts the thermostat. It reads 110 degrees. I wonder if I'm hallucinating.
This isn't your usual holistic yoga class. This is Pure Core Hot, an hour of non- stop cardio, one of several heated classes at Pure Yoga, a superluxe fitness emporium in New York City. And at Pure, "hot" means 98 to 110 degrees.
As oppressive as that sounds, "the hot classes are always our most popular," says instructor Kay Kay Clivio, Pure's reigning yoga queen. "People have limited time to work out. Hot yoga speeds up the process; it creates a sense of peace, but it's also an intense cardiovascular workout."
And I need drastic action. My back aches after six months of no workouts, my stomach is in knots, and I'm getting pudgy (thanks to sundaes with my husband).
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WEEK 1: My first class is led by Karen, who plays a soothing soundtrack by Adele. I break a sweat immediately but combat the heat with Pure's cold eucalyptus-infused towels. The other students (including a number of buff guys) are all blooming into Bird of Paradise poses while I wobble in Warrior One. "I know it's hard for hot-yoga people to say, 'It's okay,'" Karen says. "You are all type A personalities." I try to be Zen about my tight hamstrings and immobile hips.
I fall behind on my promised four classes a week, so on Saturday I do a double. After the first class, as I break to get a coconut water, I pass a little boy balancing on his forearms. "I did yoga with him in my belly," says his proud mom. Oy.
Yoga mom is in my second class, which is a boot camp led by Carlos, a smiley capoeira expert. Yoga mom walks out after round three of Mountain Climbers. "Ha," I think. "You want to see type A?"
WEEK 2: The woman next to me is wearing a bathing suit with tiny shorts. Controversial, but I don't totally blame her. "It's like a sauna in here," says a guy who looks like a cute extra from Dude, Where's My Car? He turns out to be our teacher, and he has a following, including a friend who is a former ballet dancer. Maybe I'm in the right place?
In my eighth class, I have a breakthrough: I can do Crow Pose, balancing on my hands with my knees resting on the backs of my arms.
WEEK 3: Doing Pigeon Pose in my 10th class, I'm surprised by a strange sensation on my leg. Turns out it's my upper torso touching my thigh-the heat is helping me stretch. I can even do the Wheel.
"You look so skinny," my husband tells me. I don't believe him but I do believe my clothes, which all fall better. It also helps that I'm treating myself to Organic Avenue juices instead of ice cream sundaes (well, sometimes).
WEEK 4: I finish the month with a bonanza of classes. The first is "heated" Figure 4, a bar class. I figure I can take it, but 30 minutes later, my legs are shaking. "Just 40 more," our teacher trills as we do bottom tucks. Afterward, climbing stairs seems impossible.
I report for Pure Core Hot the next day, and each squat feels like someone is drilling into my rear. That night I take to my bed with heating pads because I have a private with Carlos in the morning.
"It takes a special person to do privates with me," he says. No kidding: We do an hour of intense cardio, including capoeira. By the end I can't walk, but at least there's a new gap between my upper thighs.
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The following day I have a private session with Kay Kay. We work on my Wobbly Warrior One, and she helps me do a headstand and a handstand. I'm so elated, I don't even feel the heat.
THE PAYOFF: After 18 classes, my back pain is gone, my posture is straighter, and my tummy is calm. For a gala, I slip into a small-waisted gown that was made for my grandmother in 1938, when she was 19. It fits like it was made for me.
Pure Yoga, 204 W. 77th St., New York, NY 10024; 212-877-2025; pureyoga.com
Shanna Ravindra SLT (Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone) By Alexandra Parnass
Despite the fact that I track fitness trends as part of my beauty director beat at Bazaar, I haven't worked out much since having twins four years ago. I have decent-looking arms from lifting, carrying, and twirling two 35-pound children, but the rest of me is mush, a mascot for the secret society of "flabby-skinny" New Yorkers. I need a routine that is strengthening, heart-pumping, and quick. I could also use a mental break from my racing thoughts, so it has to be a workout that requires 100 percent focus. The only time I ever experienced this was (years ago) rock climbing in Utah, where I learned that if you don't completely keep your mind on what you're doing, you can easily fall and die. So, looking to boost my physical and mental endurance, I sign up for the much-buzzed-about classes at SLT (Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone). "It's Pilates on crack," raves a friend who knows about these things. Perfect.
CLASS 1: I walk into SLT's small but bright and airy space and am greeted by owner Amanda Freeman, a young, pretty fitness fanatic with a Harvard M.B.A. She is teeny-tiny, in that where-does-she- keep-her-internal-organs way, with lithe limbs wrapped in sexy-chic Michi workout wear. Amanda tells me she discovered the workout in Malibu, where it had been created by celebrity trainer Sebastien Lagree, and she got hooked. Shortly thereafter, Amanda put that M.B.A. to work and mapped out a plan to open a studio in Manhattan, recognizing that other results-oriented, adrenaline-junkie New Yorkers would like it too.
"This merges cardio, strength training, and Pilates-it's fast-paced," Amanda explains, adding, "You're definitely going to see a difference in a month." She instructs me to hop on a Megaformer, an intimidating, souped-up take on a Pilates reformer that is essentially a padded, sliding carriage hooked to a system of pulleys, handlebars, and tension springs that create resistance. There are 10 lined up in the room, and she gives me a quick tutorial in how to adjust the tension, springs, et cetera, which clearly I will have to do for myself during the class. "The entire workout is on it," Amanda says with a smile. "No pausing and no breaks." What have I gotten myself into?
She turns the dancey/hip-hop music up to club volume, jumps onto the Megaformer next to mine, and starts shouting instructions to our class. I scramble to follow the rapid-fire pace of the moves, all of which seem to have crazy names like Scrambled Eggs and Escalator Lunge. In many of the positions, you are standing, balanced precariously, and using your core and thigh muscles to keep the platform from flying out from underneath you. (This would clearly be awful if it happened, as you would inevitably tumble onto sharp springs and then a concrete floor.) My muscles are quivering within three minutes, and my rarely used abs start to burn. Contorted on the Megaformer, holding on for dear life with very sweaty hands, I am very concerned I will slip, fall, and die. Intense focus. Hey, I think I like this.
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The workout ends after 50 minutes. I feel crazy energetic the rest of the evening. Novel! The next day my inner and outer thighs are aching so intensely, I literally cannot cross my legs. Complain endlessly but am secretly delighted.
CLASS 2: New teacher, who is clearly a dancer-ballerina. I struggle with the Teaser and worry that my taut classmates must be judging me. But when I look up, I realize that no one cares; everyone is looking at her own reflection in the mirror. My obliques are put to the test, but I push through, imagining life without a muffin top. Exhausted.
CLASS 3: My stomach looks flatter in my Lululemon. Already? Yes. The Wheelbarrow and the Reverse Catfish feel easier today. Dancer-type acolytes do every move with ease while I grunt and groan. Today there's also a guy with a baseball cap who looks like a regular Joe but seems to have the flexibility of a gymnast. Am grateful for the loud hip-hop drowning me out.
WEEK 2: Walk in wearing a sleeveless top and Amanda says to me, "Your arms look really good." I look in the mirror and realize that this is working. Class starts and the instructor announces, "We're going to do the first 15 minutes without our feet ever touching the floor." What? My abs hurt so much that I move past the pain and just feel angry. Revelation: Anger makes you work harder. I push through. Feel like I am walking taller and standing straighter for the rest of the day.
WEEK 3: What level of masochism is at play when you intentionally drink a lot of wine knowing you have to work out the next morning? Playing a weird mind game with myself all week. Suffer intensely in class, then proceed to do it again that night. Worried the others will notice that my sweat smells like Sancerre. Am I getting cocky and sabotaging my own progress?
WEEK 4: Business trip to Paris. My skinny J Brand jeans are loose. I proceed to indulge. Café crème? Bring me another, please! Macarons? I'll take the big box. More beurre for the baguette? Mais oui, s'il vous plaît. Within just one week, my jeans are too tight and I feel stiff and flabby. Am woefully depressed.
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WEEK 5: Back to class, feeling bloated but determined. Amanda says, "Your arms still look really good." Phew. Class starts, and within two minutes I am holding on and hoping that I won't fall and die. I am supporting my body weight, balanced on my palms and toes, and suddenly the plank to pike is easier. I am moving the entire platform of the enormous Megaformer with just the strength of my abs. Repeatedly. I hold on and don't fall.
SLT, 37 W. 57th St., #703, New York, NY 10019; 212-355-1737; sltnyc.com
KSWWarrior Boot Camp, By Laura Brown "Don't worry, we have a defibrillator." Ruben Belliard, an ex-marine sergeant who runs Warrior Fitness Boot Camp with former corps colleague Alex Fell, is placating me over the phone. I'm worried, you see, because boot camps don't seem so relaxed. I already live in New York City. I have an old-fashioned attitude toward exercise: go running, do a push-up, swing a kettle bell. Like they did in the 1950s, before we got all sensitive. So I'm going to try this boot-camp thing. "It's no frills," Ruben says. "For an hour, we hit every part of the body, working the cardio system while developing strength." That sounds great!
I have been three times.
CLASS 1: I arrive at 9:30 one morning to find a group of women wearing Warrior Fitness Boot Camp T-shirts. (This is two weeks after I signed up with Ruben. His latest e-mail reads, "Let me know which class you plan to 'attend.'")
Eek, I'm out of uniform. Is that a violation? There's an obstacle course in the middle of the room-walls, ropes, hurdles-circled by a running track. When you check in at the front desk, there's a gas mask sitting next to the computer. Everyone is cheery, driven, and, at the start, soothing. Interestingly, the group is 90 percent women. "It's your first time? Go easy," one tells me. An older woman adds, "I want you to know I lost 70 pounds doing this. It saved my life."
Now, if a lady in her 50s started doing boot camp at 200 pounds, this lady in her 30s can suck it up. We begin by sprinting around the obstacle course, turning corners on a dime. But go easy, I think; I don't want to have to use that defibrillator. Then it's onto the mat for Burpees, followed by sit-ups with my feet in a tire, throwing a medicine ball. "You've got it, 9:30!" one of the group yells, proving that a mantra now exists for every form of exercise.
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And for a while, I do. I do got it! I'm doing 100 sit-ups, overtaking people on the running track, doing the Crab Walk like a ... crab. I feel almost smug. Before I know it, an hour has gone by, and we're all lined up in plank position. Alex is yelling at me: "Laura, what are you?"
CLASS 2: A week later, and it's 7:30 in the morning. ("You've got it, 7:30!") Ruben, who has never laid eyes on me, is the boss today, and he has an appetite for my destruction. We start sprinting again-I'm creaky, but onward! Until the stairs. So. Many. Stairs. And we're not supposed to run up them, we're going to jump. It is hell. But I remember something my trainer told me: Lifting your body off the ground is the best thing you can do for it. I can see how that lady lost 70 pounds. Then it's back to running, with a water break. "Come on, woman! You're not gonna die!" Ruben yells. That said, I refuse to climb the walls in the middle of the obstacle course. You are supposed to grab the top, run up the side, and hoist yourself over. Not only is this near impossible, it is not remotely elegant. To assist, you will receive a Marine's hand where a Marine's hand has never gone before.
CLASS 3: Two weeks have gone by, and Ruben has e-mailed me, saying, "We will come to your office. We don't need much space." So I go back. Back to 60 flights of stairs-12 flights five times. And I do the walls! Six of them! Four on my own, two with help from the hand. And something called the Bear Crawl, which is the polar opposite of the Crab Walk and at which I have no skill whatsoever.
But Ruben was right: I don't die.
Warrior Fitness Boot Camp is, in its own way, a battle. If you're carrying extra weight---physically or emotionally---this is the place for you. "People come for one reason and stay for another," he says. And even covered in bruises (thanks, evil walls) and sore to the core, I feel lighter.
Warrior Fitness Boot Camp, 29 W. 35th St., New York, NY 10018; 212-967-7977; warriorfitnessbootcamp.com
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Billy Farrell/bfanyc.comHot Yoga, By Elisa Lipsky-Karasz