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Hot Time in the City, Part Deux: The Best Hot Yoga in Columbus

Nancy Alkire Nancy Alkire Hot Time in the City, Part Deux: The Best Hot Yoga in Columbus
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Editor’s Note: This is an update to an earlier Hot Yoga article, published March 2013.

I sat down at Christmas dinner in 2011 and felt the lining of my best skirt rip right up my over-sized butt. I vowed serious exercise starting in 2012, so I went on quest for great hot yoga in Columbus. During the last 2 years, I learned that there are many different styles of yoga, there are some great teachers and students in Columbus, and that the friendly folks at lululemon will help in the never-ending search for great yoga stuff. I review the places I visited starting with the best I found. The article then divides into two sections, one for flow and one for static-style yoga classes. Creating these articles has been interesting, and I hope they encourage people to try some of the many yoga options in Columbus.

The Hottest Yoga Spots in Columbus

Balanced Yoga
Bikram Hot Yoga Columbus
Harbor Yoga
V-Power Yoga
Wellness Forum Hot Yoga

These studios consistently pre-warmed their classrooms adequately for hot yoga classes. Flow classes like Baptiste or Hot Vinyasa are defined by a temperature starting at 85 F. Bikram or Bikram-like yoga is supposed to be at 105 F. Balanced and Wellness are the only studios I found in Columbus with radiant heat panels that adjust room temperatures quickly. Some yoga places just turn up their thermostats or plug in a space heater or two minutes before a “hot” class is to start. Heat can be especially scarce in studios where the yoga rooms are near the outside doors. Granted, a vigorous Vinyasa flow program can generate enough internal heat for a good sweat, but if you are plunking down $15 for hot yoga, I feel that it should be hot! By the way, not yoga per se, but also plenty hot: Melt Hot Fitness and The Tracey Gardner Method.

Best Overall Hot Yoga Studio in Columbus
Balanced Yogain Clintonville is the only yoga studio I found in Columbus offering many types of hot yoga and a consistently well-heated classroom. Balanced Yoga has a dedicated hot yoga studio at 3520 North High Street with radiant heat panels in the ceiling that provide solid heat. Classes range from 85 to 105 degrees F. depending on the program, and the instructors turn down the humidity or heat if either becomes excessive. Balanced Yoga’s hot yoga room is large, has a clean bamboo floor, and there are “airlock doors” to keep heat in the studio. There are no mirrors to make one self-conscious, and the lighting is nice and easily adjusted. Balanced Yoga also has a large front room with comfy seating for gathering before or cooling down after classes, and they have free fruit! It was also the only yoga studio I visited that had a sink handy for filling water bottles near the entrance to the hot yoga room. There are two single-toilet restrooms and a small changing room. Mix of street and off-street parking. Every hot yoga class at Balanced Yoga had what I want from a hot yoga studio: good heat, a challenging class, and expert instruction. Aesthetics: 10. Amenities: 9. Audio: 9-10. Workout: 9-10. Overall score: 10. $15 drop in fee.

May the Flow be with You … and Power ON!
I quickly learned there are two basic styles of hot yoga: there is Bikram or Bikram-like and then there is Vinyasa or flow yoga and its American cousin, Power Yoga. The Bikram-type classes hold static poses, most of which involve balance, for set counts. Flow yoga moves one pose to another and programs usually include yoga-style pushups and lunges as well as balancing and twisting poses. Often there are serious core exercises like handstands in flow courses.
For a variety of hot flow yoga classes the best place in Columbus is Balanced Yoga at 3520 North High Street. I especially liked the Baptiste Power Yoga classes. Greg Fisher at Balanced Yoga really exemplifies the positive features of Baptiste-style yoga. He leads a physically challenging flow class but does gentle adjustments and has an encouraging manner. He also plays nice music and has thoughtful savasana meditations. Nicole Klassa, also has a strong Baptiste class and nice sense of humor. I also enjoyed the lovely voice of Heather Burley in her hot Vinyasa flow and lululemon ambassador Lara Falburg is always fun as a sub. Balanced Yoga also offers Columbus’s only Kripalu yoga class taught in the hot studio by Walter Reins who has an actual teaching certificate from the internationally famous Kripalu Institute. Again, every hot yoga class that I did at Balanced Yoga had excellent heat, a physically challenging program, and good instruction. Aesthetics: 10. Amenities: 9. Audio: 9-10. Workout: 9-10. Overall score: 10. $15 drop in fee.

Balanced Yoga Studio instructor. Photo by Elizabeth Nihiser Photography

V-Power Yoga does vigorous flow yoga programs in a well-heated room (84-92 F). Their new studio on the ground floor at 252 North 5th Street, V-Power has energetic instructors whose many chattarungas will tone your arms in no time. The studio has windows that let in natural light, white walls, a clean, hard floor and no mirrors. Although the website separates classes into several levels, I was welcome as a beginner at all of them, and there were very expert students in every class. I especially liked Lisa Paquette’s beginner’s class. The studio is usually hot enough, 83-90 F, for generous sweating. Music is loud and upbeat. There are two single-toilet restrooms, and one has a clean shower. Also, there’s a large upstairs space for changing and storage. Street parking. Aesthetics: 8.5. Amenities: 9. Audio: 8. Workout: 10. Overall score: 9. $15 drop-in fee.

Harbor Yoga at 36 N. High Street in downtown Dublin also offers rocketing flow yoga classes in a room generously warm enough (82-90 F) for a good sweat. Lululemon ambassador Angie O’Brien, Heidi Bell and the other friendly teachers are very welcoming to beginners and regulars alike. They also loan lululemon’s thickest black mats for free. Harbor Yoga has a lovely single toilet restroom inside the classroom as well as a small changing room. Loud, energetic music. Historic Dublin parking in a large lot behind the studio. Aesthetics: 8. Amenities: 8. Audio: 8. Workout: 10. Overall score: 8.5. Reserving a place online highly recommended as classes often sell out. $15 drop-in fee.

Angie O’Brien at Harbor Yoga.

Yoga on High at 1081 N. High Street is probably Columbus’ most venerable yoga studio. It has so many positives, but I wish that they took heat more seriously. The room most often used for Hot Flow classes rarely topped 80 degrees at the start of a class, and in winter the drafts from the adjoining lobby come in every time the door opens. What they lack in facilities, however, they make up for in instructors. Michael Murphy, the only male lululemon yoga ambassador in Columbus, teaches powerful flow classes which are legendary among dancers in the city. One Wednesday night, using the heat of 22 hard-working students alone, I charted that he raised the room temperature 10.5 degrees F. He also plays good music and does amazing adjustments. Nicole Salvo is a sweet creature with a solid flow class. Michele Vinbury is the most cheerful Ashtanga monkey you will ever meet. Gina Derry has a nice hybrid of Hatha and flow yoga. Modest heat, usually 74-83 F at the start of a class. Separate men and women’s multi-toilet restrooms. Generous off-street parking for the Short North. Aesthetics: 9. Amenities: 8. Audio: 8-9. Workout: 8-10. Overall score: 8.5. $15 for drop-in.

Yoga on High at 1081 North High Street.

Michael Murphy’s Hot Flow class.

PAI Yoga s a lovely studio at the back edge of Trader Joe’s mall at 6375 Sawmill Road. There are not many hot yoga classes on their schedule, but every class I attended was a high-quality, flow-style course. Lululemon ambassadors Chan Hemintranont, Kara Lough and Michael Murphy teach here. I also had a good hot flow classes with Nicole Salvo and Carrie Ingham. Moderate amount of heat usually in the 70’s F to start. Lots of strip mall parking. Two pleasant single-toilet restrooms. Above average stereo system. Aesthetics: 9. Amenities: 8. Audio: 8-9 Workout: 8-10. Overall score: 8.5. Current price is $13 for drop-in.

Thank Yoga in the Short North at 29 East Fifth Ave has lululemon ambassador Josie Schweitzer and her team of friendly instructors doing good, yang-rich Vinyasa programs. Not advertised as hot yoga, but certainly as warm as some other studios around town that claim hot or heated classes; the room ranged from 72-81 when I went. Natural light from three sides pours onto an antique hardwood floor. Old brick and wood, but a young, modern vibe. Some fenced-in parking behind the building as well as street parking. Two single toilet restrooms. Aesthetics: 9. Amenities: 8. Audio: 8-9 Workout: 8-9. Overall score: 8.5. Fee $15 for drop-in.

Thank Yoga interior space.

Thank Yoga exterior.

Grow Yoga in Grandview at 1780 W. Fifth has just one hot yoga class on its schedule, but it is a really nice program called “Toasty Tuesdays” led by Sally Roberts. The studio has a very nice ambiance and a good amount of warmth (82-86 F). There is a small gathering area/weatherlock at the front of their storefront. Two single toilet restrooms; one has a shower. Aesthetics: 8. Amenities: 9. Audio: 8. Workout: 9. Overall score: 8.5. $15 drop-in.

Go Yoga offers heated classes at three locations around Columbus. In Powell, at 10255 Sawmill, there is a small, extra-heated room in a strip mall with access to 3 single-toilet restrooms. They have a storefront studio in Upper Arlington at 2132 Arlington Avenue, with a set of single-toilet restrooms up and then down the stairs and also a 2 small changing areas. Also, in New Albany in Building B at 68 North High, there is a studio room with restroom access carved out of a small cardio gym. I had several nice instructors at various Go Yoga heated classes and found both Annes and both Megans particularly strong. Go Yoga’s classes are among the quickest in town (50 or 80 minutes). The heat varies from the low 70’s to just over 90 F and is generally hotter in Powell. Aesthetics: 8. Amenities: 7-8. Audio: 8. Workout: 8-9. Overall score: 8. $5-15 drop-in.

Go Yoga in Upper Arlington

Long-time hot yoga teacher, Joey McNamara, now has a donation class for practicing Ghosh Yoga at Feverhead, 1199 Goodale, Grandview. He leads a class through 84 poses over 2 hours. Hard core yoga certainly, but Joey and his assistant Barb welcome beginners as well as yoga pros. The facility has a clean, cushy floor (it’s actually a dance studio – and erstwhile garage), and there is access to two single toilet restrooms. While the heat is not generous, even 20 minutes of working with Joey builds a lot of internal heat. Aesthetics: 7. Amenities: 7. Audio: 9. Workout: off the chart. Overall score: incalculable. Donation class.

Hot (Bikram and Bikram-like) Yoga
Once upon a time a yoga teacher decided that since yoga comes from India, a yoga class should be taught at 105 degrees F and in 40% humidity. Bikram Choudhury choreographed a sequence of 26 yoga poses and has since enfranchised Bikram Yoga studios all over the world that many people adore. Given the popularity of Bikram Yoga, others have created their own programs of 26 yoga poses taught in a hot room. I attended several of these classes in Columbus.

The studio that I liked best for hot, 26-pose classes is Balanced Yoga at 3420 North High Street. Balanced Yoga offers several variations on Classic 26 series. Like Clintonville itself, Balanced Yoga’s classes are eclectic and easy-going. I especially enjoyed Liz Maxwell’s infectious sense of humor and very clear instructions. There are several new instructors as well as old favorites like Edul Banaji at Balanced. Some do music, some do not. Some shuffle the poses around, some don’t. Daniel Snider (PhD student in Physical Therapy at OSU) does an Extended 26 at 90-95 F that goes beyond the classic 26 poses into lunges and inversions that Bikram-style programs lack. He also takes requests and will tailor classes to students’ concerns. All the Balanced Yoga teachers were helpful and friendly to me, and all of them let you drink water whenever you wish. If you want a clean, hot room and the static poses of a Bikram-like program in a casual atmosphere and the safety of drinking water freely, Balanced Yoga is a great place. Aesthetics: 10. Amenities: 9. Audio: 9. Workout: 8-10. Overall score: 9.5. $15 drop in fee.

Becky Morosky Hoffman has done a superb job at creating Columbus’ only official Bikram Yoga studio at 947 West Third Avenue just off 315 south of Fifth Ave. Bikram Hot Yoga Columbus is a large and beautiful studio that is clean, cheerful and welcoming. The facilities are generous, and the Bikram yoga does not disappoint. Based on my research and a Bikram class I took in Pittsburgh, these certified Bikram instructors present the Bikram banter accurately. The teachers have a platform about 3 feet above the floor to stand and demonstrate on, but some also wander around the room. The temperature was always 105 degrees F, and there are large fans to keep the air moving. The requisite carpeting is attractively patterned to look like wood and advertised as having antimicrobial properties. Large mirrors are at the front of the room. There are separate men and women’s changing area/restrooms with sinks thoughtfully set up for easy water bottle filling. The amazing high-end showers are worth a visit alone! Also, there are large cubby holes and free plastic baggies for your sweat-soaked yoga duds. Nice little gathering areas and very friendly staff. The entrance is actually not on Third Avenue but on the south side of the building next to a large parking area. Aesthetics: 10. Amenities: 10. Audio: 8. Workout: 8. Overall score: 9. $15 drop-in fee.

Wellness Forum at 540 East Wilson Bridge Road in Worthington for many years offered the closest thing to Bikram hot yoga in Columbus. Based on the official Bikram classes that I attended in Pittsburgh and the Bikram studio in Grandview, the instructors at Wellness Forum do the famous 26 poses. Wellness Forum has radiant heat panels and is very generous with the heat, starting classes at 105 degrees consistently. The studio room has large mirrors on the front and side walls. This hot yoga program is part of vegan activist and naturopath Pamela Popper’s Wellness Forum, so Forks Over Knives fans might like to take a class with her. There are separate, clean men and women’s changing room/bathrooms with a shower in each. Lots of strip mall parking. Aesthetics: 8. Amenities: 8. Audio: 8. Workout: 8. Overall score: 8. $15 drop-in fee.

You may ask: why I score the Bikram-style programs Workout low compared to flow yoga? I do like the way some of the classic 26 poses open up my arthritic joints, however, I really believe that flow, power or Vinyasa yoga classes provide a better overall exercise program. Also, by-the-book Bikram with its micro-management of everything from finger-pointing to when you can drink water not only seems un-yoga but unsafe. Freely drinking water in 105 plus degrees makes sense to me. A Bikram program can produce some good results, and it certainly has its adherents, but I personally prefer the more relaxed Classic 26 classes at Balanced Yoga or better yet the various flow yoga programs there and around town.

Not Hot Yoga, But …
Since these places often come up in searches for “hot yoga Columbus” I checked them out.

Melt Hot Fitness is a cozy place at 16 Westerview Drive off Cleveland Avenue north of 270. They offer yoga/Pilates-based workouts on a Bosu which is a prop often used by athletic trainers. If you can imagine doing three-legged dog with both hands on a beach ball you can get the idea. It is a strenuous workout, and they heat the studio very well. Upbeat instruction and well-organized playlist. Classes in a darkened room. Single toilet restrooms. Strip mall parking. $15 drop-in fee.

If you want something well-heated and very unique, check out the Tracey Gardner Method on the western edge of New Albany. The heat was a good 85 degrees plus before the start of classes I took, and there are steam machines to pump up the humidity. “This isn’t yoga,” Tracey herself said when I took a class with her, but she has two exercise programs that both have flow yoga-like exercises and plenty of planche-style pushups. Loud, upbeat music, and the large studio room is exceptionally dark. Two nice, large restrooms. Strip mall parking. $5 dollar mat rentals. $15 drop-in fee.

One criticism of hot yoga is that all that heat actually stifles exercise, so Jimmy Merrelli focuses on building internal heat with what he calls “indoor parkour” for a men’s workout that girls can also attend. Mash-up of power yoga, dance and parkour moves. New York loft-style studio downtown on the second floor of 143 East Main Street near Fourth St. The workout schedule varies with his day job, so check the website. Single-toilet restroom in the hall. Street parking only. Best price in town! $5 a class (cash only).

In summary, if you really want the Bikram hot yoga program of mirrors, carpeting and dictated water breaks, Bkiram Hot Yoga Columbus will fulfill your expectations and has amazing amenities. Wellness Forum has about the same program in a Worthington location. For a more interesting script in a studio that’s hot, the Classic 26 classes at Balanced Yoga are very good. If you love hot flow yoga, Balanced Yoga with its many classes, especially the Baptiste-style, is great and has excellent heat. Many of the other flow classes around town are worthwhile especially those from lululemon ambassadors Chan Heimentrout, Michael Murphy, Angie O’Brien, and Kara Lough. For something off the yoga path, the Tracey Gardner Method is an orgy-dark good time, and Jimmy Merrelli has an ab-awesome program.

Special thanks to all the yoga instructors I met and people who agreed to be photographed. Added thanks to Andy King, Suneetha Kurra, Marcia Miller, Kathy Steinman, and the other nice people I met during my research. Extra-special thanks to Tom Payne whose search for hot yoga equal to TriBalance in Chicago inspired me to explore the scene in Columbus.

Methods: I personally went at least twice to promising yoga places that came up in Google and Yahoo searches for “hot yoga Columbus Ohio,” and I took as many classes from different instructors as my 60-hour work week allowed. I focused on yoga studios, rather than rec centers or gyms, because I wanted to find a “yoga home” with dedicated yoga facilities and staff. I gave scores in four categories important to me then averaged to get an overall rank for the studio. I feel that the Aesthetics of a studio are important if you’re going to spend 2-4 days a week there. Amenities include not only things like heat and parking, but access to water and restrooms. (If you do hot yoga with a 52-year-old body and bladder, you quickly become obsessed with water in and water out.) Audio was how clearly I could hear the instruction and how much I liked it and the music. Workout is a combination of my impression of the intensity during the class and how I felt climbing stairs the next day. Workout scores may have a range since some studios have multiple classes and instructors themselves vary intensity from class to class.

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