Photos courtesy of Arthur Mola
A darkened and heated room, pulsing beats and buckets of sweat is the M.O. at Oxygen Yoga and Fitness. Found in the heart of Liberty Village, the latest chapter of the Canada-wide boutique fitness studio checks off all the trends in its own unique way. A range of classes is offered—from sun salutation-drenched yoga to boxing fusion to one devoted to the gluteus maximus—with all conducted in a room heated to 38 degrees.
Rather than using trad heaters found in hot yoga rooms and their ilk, Oxygen looks to FAR infrared technology to raise the temps. The goal here is to hot up the bod from the inside rather than blasting sweat devotees with intense heat while simultaneously compromising one’s ability to breathe. Fresh air is simultaneously circulated throughout the dimly lit room, ensuring things don’t get claustrophobic.
Other than the more obvious reasons for the heat — flexibility — the heat is touted to improve circulation, eliminate toxins, burn fat and reduce stress. For those with injuries, we’re told that it offers relief from inflammation causes speedier recovery from injuries. The one thing it will do without fail is make you sweat. And sweat we did.
We opt for the Barre Fusion class, lured by the promise of a dance-style workout centred around the bar, with some core exercises that look to pilates, resistance and endurance training. Isometric-based movements and holds and guided stretches are also squeezed into the hour long class. (For those Liberty Villagers keen to maximize their lunch hour, Oxygen offers quickie 45-min classes.) We’re told that the instructor Cate D’Angelo is top tier, so expectations are raised.
This workout put me through the ringer—in a good way. Cate had the face of an angel but meant business. Muscles I had long forgotten about were brought back to life through a series of seemingly innocuous toe lifts, progressing to leg lifts, squats and kicks that all required a mix of balance and strength. Small repetitive movements were delicate but deadly—especially since Cate had us do sets of 30.
Keep in mind that the dimly lit room itself was heated to 38 degrees so it wasn’t long before I was looking like glazed pork. Thankfully the music wasn’t overbearing and was loud enough to keep the beat to while Cate was still able to convey her instructions with clarity. I don’t like having all my senses compromised, and here they weren’t. Often these sets finished with the same movement but in pulse form, which was torture. Despite the rapid pace the entire class was able to keep up.
As the class “wound down” we moved things to the ground. A weighted bar was used to make side planks all the more difficult, with the outer foot propelling the bar upward. It was also incorporated into various crunches and squats and then at the actual end, used to roll out our leg muscles slowly as a form of self-myofascial release. The class left me feeling jubilant; I will definitely be back.
I have a new distaste for the number 30. There’s something about going beyond 20 repetitions that’s just plain sadistic. But to be honest, this whole class was an exercise in masochism for me: I loathe heat and have little grace, so the idea of a ballet-inspired workout in a sauna is really the antithesis of what I want to be doing on a Friday. Luckily, I wasn’t able to fixate on my misery for too long. The class changed at a good clip, and all the toys (resistance bands, balls, and weighted bars) kept things fresh with new movements to figure out every few minutes.
Apart from a few glitchy coordination moments (watching the instructor through the mirror took some getting used to), the most challenging part of the workout was definitely the heat! I was sweating so much that I was nearly incapable of keeping the weighted ball squeezed behind my knee (lack of friction set it free). All in all, I enjoyed myself, challenged my balance, and after suffering in that hot box for 60 minutes, the summer heat seemed manageable. In fact, I felt almost chilly biking home. Although this was a literal baptism by fire for me, as I have never even tried hot yoga before, I would definitely go back, but maybe in the winter. Even though the class had a cooling effect on me… psychologically, I struggle to want to make myself sweat more than I have to—even if it was pretty fun.
In another installment of this series, Car and Kar review a wellness gym with a misleading acronym. Check out their review here.