From the first “bellows breath” asana in hot yoga class, a tall fellow in front of me with an infinity tattoo already had sweat dripping off his elbows.
It took my body a few more minutes to get with the program in a recent 12:15 p.m. class at Inversion Yoga. By the fourth of 26 asanas, Eagle Pose, sweat began to trickle and tickle its way down my chest.
By the ninth asana, Triangle Pose, the faint smell of body odors — more primal than unpleasant — hit my nose. Sweaty guy was the first to capitulate to the 105-degree heat and 50 percent humidity, surrendering to Child’s Pose to recover.
“Holy crap,” whispered the woman next to me.
I hadn’t sweated this much since I left Mississippi 16 years ago.
“Heat is a huge addition to anybody’s practice,” instructor Ariel Mann said after the class. “These poses are designed for beginners. It’s when you combine it with the heat it becomes challenging.”
It’s not just the classes at Inversion that are heating up. Yoga studios across the valley are seeing an increase in interest that instructors attribute to a national trend and perhaps even a new age of self-awareness.
“I think people are seeking more balance in their lives,” said Adi Amar, one of the founders of Teton Yoga Shala. “They’re recognizing that their well-being and health is essential to perform in any other area of their life. I think we’re coming into a consciousness generation. People are more interested in cultivating their peace from within with yoga.”
The yoga craze is hardly new to the Tetons.
Margot Snowden opened the Yoga Room in the mid-’80s, operating it for almost 20 years before Neesha Zollinger took it over in 2005 and renamed it Akasha Yoga. Around the same time, Teton Yoga Shala opened in the Aspens. In 2006 Jackson residents began Yoga Today, broadcasting daily yoga classes on the Internet so people across the world can attend classes in their homes. In 2010 Inversion Yoga opened, adding diversity to the mix. Its winter schedule includes a mind-boggling 64 classes per week. Many other gyms and small fitness studios also offer yoga classes.
The transient nature of Jackson Hole is adding to the variety of yoga offered here, Teton Yoga Shala cofounder Angela Tong said.
“People come here from everywhere else,” Tong said, “and have brought a diversity of styles and methods to the valley.”
Strengthening and stretching the body with yoga is a natural fit for an athletic mountain town, Tong said.
“We’re so good at abusing our bodies,” Tong said. “We need something to help heal them.”
People of all ages are “recognizing the benefits of yoga for a sustainable life,” Tong said.
A “Therapeutic Yoga” class at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays is packed with aging athletes who are turning to yoga to rejuvenate their bodies.
All the studios offer “community classes” that cost less, so people can try yoga or continue practicing during lean financial times. At a donation-based “Flow” class Connie Wieneke taught Friday at Teton Yoga Shala, only three people attended, but all enjoyed the mellow, semiprivate environment.
“Our lives are so crazy it’s hard to quiet down,” Wieneke said. “Yoga is all about self-observation, without judging. It’s all about quieting our minds.”
Rolling up his mat afterward, Jack Tolan said he is keeping up a yoga streak he began in the fall.
“It’s a good counter-activity to skiing,” Tolan said. “It frees up the hips and back. And I like to try to slow things down.”
Dave Rhinehart said he’s been enjoying regular yoga classes for two years.
“It’s a fun way to learn about yourself,” Rhinehart said, mentally and physically.
Wayne Snavely, who grew up in beach towns, this winter has mostly been attending hot yoga, based on Bikram postures.
“It just makes me feel amazing afterward,” Snavely said.
After Sarah Hoffman broke an elbow last year, the hot yoga poses were something she could still do, she said. She likes the predictability of class and the “psychological challenge” of the heat, but now that she’s recovered she also likes vinyasa-style yoga.
Regardless of the style, “it’s about showing up for yourself,” Hoffman said.
For Jeanne Ball, yoga has enhanced her spirituality and athleticism.
“Yoga has deepened my spiritual connection to Christianity,” Ball said. “I was skeptical of it for years. Part of yoga is learning to be present, to go from anger to a place of light.”
Four to 10 pregnant women flock to Amanda Botur’s Prenatal Yoga classes at 1:15 p.m. each Tuesday at Akasha Yoga. Some practiced yoga before conceiving, Botur said, some will continue after birth, and some come only during pregnancy.
“Yoga can make them feel good in their bodies,” said Botur, who has taught through both her pregnancies. “It’s about practicing self-acceptance. There’s no other time in your life when your body’s changing like that. It’s like waking up every morning and having to befriend your body again.”
For anyone, Botur said, yoga can be beneficial.
“I think yoga is getting more popular everywhere,” Botur said. “People are looking for better health. Just by showing up to yoga, you get multiple benefits: physical, mental and emotional.”