Move Over, Bikram! There’s a New Hot Yoga Style in Town

Hot Yoga for Life’s Kelly Suttell chats about inventing KinetiK yoga and replacing Bikram with her own hatha sequence.

Photography by Tuck Woodstock December 16, 2015

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Hot Yoga for Life & KinetiK founder Kelly Suttell demonstrates a pose.

Image: Trevor Warren

“Hot yoga.”

Many people consider that phrase synonymous with Bikram yoga, the 26-pose static stretching sequence practiced at more than 600 studios worldwide. Others might think of sweaty downward dogs and warrior poses in a vigorous vinyasa flow. But at Hot Yoga for Life on Northeast Fremont (and in Beaverton), students explore two totally new sequences: an alternative hot hatha sequence, and a dynamic, strength-building class called KinetiK. We sat down with HYFL founder & KinetiK creator Kelly Suttell to learn more.

How did you fall in love with yoga?
Although I have been an athlete most of my life, since a young age, I have battled a spine condition called spondylolisthesis. As I got older, this manifested into constant rounds of excruciating pain from herniated discs in my neck and back, which led to unhealthy medications and endless physical therapy. In 2002, a doctor recommended I try yoga to help strengthen my back. When a regular hot yoga practice started to increase the time between episodes of pain, I knew I was onto something healing.

 How did you come to open your own yoga studios?
In 2005, I met my business partner, Raj Patra, who started doing yoga as a child in Kolkata, India, and we ventured into yoga more seriously. Raj and I have been fortunate to learn from yoga masters and self-realized yogis from India and Nepal. We opened the Hot Yoga for Life (HYFL) studio in Northeast Portland in 2010, and in a year we opened in Beaverton.

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What drove you to create KinetiK yoga? What makes it unique?
There are many fitness routines and workouts cropping up nationally that have hints of yoga postures, some with traditional weights and dumbbells. Kinetik is a yoga class that competes with any traditional fitness class, rather than a fitness class taking advantage of the buzzword that is yoga. 

What can we expect from a KinetiK class?
KinetiK is more vigorous than a typical Vinyasa class because it builds strength and balance at a fast pace, which generates internal heat pushing the boundaries of stamina and cardio. The new KinetiK style of class will include yoga poses that are familiar such as lunges, downward-facing dog, and the warrior series, but make the poses creatively complex by adding dynamic strengthening aspects.

Kinetik also requires intense concentration because some of the dynamic movements demand great physical coordination and balance. Many of the moves and poses cannot be done without absolute concentration. And, this is a key aspect of yoga: ekagrahata (i.e., unilateral focus according to Tantrik yoga) or Dharana (i.e., focus on a single point, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras). Together, the result is a physical and mental concentration, strengthening both the body and mind.

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Yogis take advantage of a special outdoor vinyasa flow class at Hot Yoga For Life.

What made you decide to move away from the Bikram sequence? How did you go about designing the new sequence? 
The Bikram sequence of asanas (poses) is very good for an introduction into Hatha Yoga, because the poses are relatively accessible to the majority of the population. However, as a yoga teacher and a practitioner of Universal Yoga lineage by Dorje Andrey Lappa, I've realized that the Bikram series is missing a few key components: it does not exercise all ranges of mobility, it does not strengthen the upper body or arms, and it focuses more on flexibility of muscle groups, rather than strengthening. Additionally, and most importantly, it has only a slight introduction into pranayamas (breathing techniques).

The HYFL Hatha series has been in the making for over three years of research, experimentation, and my own experience gained over a decade. The series starts off with an ancient Himalayan breathing technique combined with movements used by Tibetan yogis to warm up, gain mobility, activate marma points and nadis, and facilitate breathing. There is a balance of asanas (poses) that strengthen and stretch arms, legs, and spine via various active and isometric poses, thereby creating balance and concentration. I have incorporated 36 poses instead of 26, and three pranayamas with five different characteristics, instead of two.


What else can we expect from Hot Yoga for Life in the future? 
In January 2016, we are introducing a weekly "meditation and dharma talk" at HYFL offered by Raj Patra. We hope these techniques and conversations will add to the yoga education for our practitioner community, and make their asana (physical practice) grounded in the profound philosophy of yoga more meaningful. One of my favorite quotes is: when you stop learning, you stop evolving.

Also, HYFL is going on a yoga retreat to Nepal from March 19-26, 2016, and we have a few open spots remaining. And, we are rolling out our 500-hour Teacher Training certification. So, lots of exciting and challenging stuff to keep us all learning and evolving meaningfully!


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