A 105-degree winter's day

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January 31, 2005 // UPDATED 1:51 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

It's a real stretch: Colorado-based 'hot yoga' chain heats up Downtown

It's all about perspiration at the Mill District's new yoga center, CorePower Yoga.

This is not "New Agey" yoga. There's no chanting or Buddha statues - just lots of perspiring bodies. The rooms are heated to as high as 105 degrees - a true sweatshop, albeit one not quite so torturous when it's 105 degrees colder outside.

Tim Johnson, executive director of CorePower Yoga, claims that the new 7,500-square-foot facility is the largest in the Midwest, if not the entire country. (He estimates it will cost $18,000 to $20,000 per month to heat.) Johnson adds that CorePower is the second-largest yoga chain in the country, though its Yoga's Washington Avenue South & 5th Avenue studio is its first outside of Colorado.

The rooms are heated to make it easier for the body to stretch into difficult poses. Hot-yoga proponents also believe that the sweating detoxifies the body, improves circulation and helps calm the mind.

In the dead of winter, breaking a sweat is a rare experience for most Minnesotans.

"It's not healthy for the body to clam up and not use all the [sweat] ducts," Johnson said.

The Minnesota native said the Twin Cities is a ripe market for the nine-studio CorePower Yoga empire, which until now has been based in the Denver area.

According to CorePower Yoga's market research, the Twin Cities lags behind Denver with about half as many yoga studios - which may come as a surprise given the prevalence of Southwest Minneapolis studios. Johnson said the educated population and the local success of national natural-food grocers Whole Foods are also good indicators that CorePower Yoga's business could take off here.

The chain has also looked at opening studios in Portland, Ore. and Chicago, but the airy and open second-level space at 501 Washington Ave. S. caught Johnson's eye during an online search for possible locations.

Johnson said CorePower Yoga's mission is to bring the practice to the "bell curve" - average people who might otherwise be turned off to the spiritual or "earthy" side of yoga.

The Downtown yoga center, which opened Jan. 12, offers two types of classes: Hot Yoga, a demanding 90-minute class in a 100-degree room; and CorePower Yoga, a class done in a room with temps around 90 degrees. A beginner's class is done in a "warm" room with temps above 80 degrees.

Besides CorePower Yoga, Minneapolis boasts another hot-yoga studio - Bikram's Yoga College of India on the Midtown Greenway in Uptown.

CorePower Yoga classes cost from $14 for a single class to $899 for a yearlong pass.

The prices are steep, but Johnson believes they are worth it.

The former U.S. Ski Team member came to yoga a skeptic. He started taking classes at the urging of a physical trainer while in rehab recovering from a knee injury.

"I tried it, and I didn't like it," Johnson said.

After his trainer urged him to commit to it for at least six weeks, Johnson started realizing some benefits. For one, his joints started feeling better.

"I just felt great and balanced. It was my own epiphany," he said.

Johnson later decided to leave his job designing networks for telecommunications businesses in Denver and invest $300,000 in two new yoga studios that later merged with CorePower Yoga.

Johnson has three partners in the three-year old business: Trevor Tice, Brandon Cox and Dave Porter.

Cox, who toured the Minneapolis studio earlier this month, found his way to the yoga business in a similar way.

"I was working for a technology startup in Denver for about six years and I started doing yoga. It was one of the only things that kept me sane through my job," he said. "At first it was just a reason to leave work at 5:30 instead of staying late, and I noticed a difference in my life. It made a difference in the way I reacted with people and a difference in my health and happiness."

Cox decided to leave his job in 2000 and become a CorePower partner.

Johnson and Cox share the goal of making yoga more mainstream and accessible. For one, the Downtown studio has a central location with easy access to Interstate-35W. CorePower Yoga staff members also emphasize customer service to ensure new students feel comfortable.

The CorePower Yoga partners also pointed to the newly refurbished, spacious three-room yoga studio and state-of-the-art heating system as another draw for new students.

"It really kind of raises the bar as far as yoga studios are concerned. It has the potential to take it to a new level," Cox said. "We bring a bit of technology into yoga."

For instance, the heating system can vary the temperatures in the three studios and monitor the carbon dioxide levels in the room, ensuring that fresh air is pumped into the room when the levels get too high. Humidity levels are also monitored to keep the classes safe for students.

Johnson said he hopes CorePower Yoga can continue expanding and become the largest yoga provider in the country. In coming weeks, Johnson said he hopes to see more than 170 students taking classes. He expects Minnesota students will become attracted to hot yoga for the same reasons he did.

"People come in because they want to be lean and stay because they feel better," he said.