T here’s no delicate way to describe this situation. The sweat—it’s flowing, drenching my shirt as I stand, front leg bent and back leg stretched behind me, in “Warrior Two” position. My arms are extended and my fingers long as I stare at a fixed point on the wall to maintain my balance.
But, instead of daydreaming about a cool shower, I am immersed in the moment. I can’t quite believe it, but I like the sweat.
I feel loose. I feel fit. I feel…good.
It turns out this feeling is a common experience during hot yoga, which is the focus at aptly named Balanced Hot Yoga Studio. As I arrived there to get settled in for my first such experience—well before I had learned to love the heat—I was staggered by the wall of warmth that hit me as I entered the studio’s dimly lit classroom.
The thermostat setting? 90 degrees.
Before I had a chance to get nervous about doing anything more than lying perfectly still on my mat in this sauna-like atmosphere, I took a moment to observe the rest of the group arriving for our hot Vinyasa class. In contrast to the twenty-something athletes with perfect bodies I’d expected, they were in fact a motley crew of all ages and shapes, equipped with water bottles and ready to flow.
Flow, you see, is what Vinyasa yoga is all about, says Lori “Love” Bonazzoli, the studio owner as well as an instructor. In Vinyasa yoga, positions run together smoothly from one to the next, coordinated with breath. At Balanced they specialize in “hot Vinyasa” (though a few other types of yoga are offered as well, including roughly four non-hot classes a week).
Why the emphasis on hot? Bonazzoli explains that a high temperature helps with flexibility, releasing toxins and generally getting a better workout than you would otherwise.
But it’s not just about bringing the heat. For Bonazzoli, her yoga journey, culminating (so far) in opening her own studio, has been about the spirituality. To her, yoga means experiencing a “divine force” present in the world. As she ends her class, she reminds her students to think about their connection to the happiness of all Earthly beings.
Effectively communicating the spiritual and communal sides of yoga is a hallmark of a great teacher, and it’s something Bonazzoli has embraced personally. “I live yoga,” she says, noting that she applies the lessons of her practice to all aspects of her life.
It’s been that way for some time. Originally exposed through friends at a young age, Bonazzoli began studying yoga on her own, developing her own yoga sequence at a precocious age of 17. She traveled from her home in Connecticut to the West Coast, where she studied under various teachers, sometimes work-trading (such as cleaning studios in exchange for classes) in pursuit of her passion.
California is where she first took a Bikram yoga class, a specific type of hot yoga composed of 26 postures usually performed at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Bonazzoli became a certified instructor, although the classes offered at Balanced are more varied than traditional Bikram.
Having opened her own studio is still “a dream come true every day,” she says, but the execution isn’t too heady. Balanced is clearly a place where both instructors and students feel right at home. The cozy front room has vibrant rainbow-colored walls and a festive string of lights above the window in addition to yoga-themed decor. The large chalkboard behind the front desk notes the class schedule, including $5 “community yoga” sessions every Friday and Saturday. (Proceeds from those go to New Haven-based non-profit Love 146, which works to mitigate child exploitation.) There’s the calming studio itself, with its hardwood floors and a row of candles and flowers up front. And there are the instructors, who helpfully guide students through the correct posturing, gently reminding us not to extend ourselves too hard if we can’t reach a certain position.
After all, even if a thermostat set to 90 degrees can’t make our bodies flexible enough for some of those poses, Balanced Yoga is still flexible enough for us.
1079 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
(203) 553-7503 | email@example.com
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.