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Ashley and Tyler Rodriguez, 20-something siblings who live in Spanish , enrolled at Bikram Harlem last Monday evening. Waltzing in on the second week of the New Year, they looked a bit like fair-weather yogis.

Ashley was determined to turn her life around. “I’m 23… I’m too young to be out of shape,” she said. “I’ve gotta do this.”

Her brother was less optimistic. He admitted that when he returns to Brown University, where he is currently pursuing his undergrad, he won’t search for a local Bikram chapter. He was just supporting his sister, while reaping the associated health benefits.

But who can blame him? The reasons to start Bikram Yoga may be manifold (health benefits, improved sex lives), but Bikram is not pretty. People sweat and the room can stink. The 26 poses, or asanas, and two breathing exercises that constitute a Bikram class are all conducted in a 105-degree, humid room for 90 minutes. So that musty scent that greets customers at Bikram Yoga Harlem, located on 145th Street in West Harlem, can be the first hurdle for newbies looking for a new regimen to tone their bodies and hone their minds.

Eric Cummings, Bikram Harlem’s co-owner, has been in the Bikram business for too long to depend on the recent surge in customers like the Rodriguez siblings, but he’s still optimistic.

“I can tell the people who are like, ‘Oh it’s New Year’s, I’ve gotta do it,’” Cummings explained, acknowledging that there is still “definitely a percentage” of fresh converts who stick with the practice.

Kikau Alvaro, who has been at Bikram Yoga Harlem since October 2009, loves Bikram so much that he’s become a work-study yogi, working the front desk at the center for a few hours a week in exchange for free lessons.

Illustrating the beginning-of-the-year, post-holiday upward trend in enrollments, Alvaro said that some classes see more than 20 additional students than usual. He says that some will stay and some will go.

Alvaro started his Bikram practice in 2006. He was in a car accident when he was 18, and according to him, the heated exercise routine “cured” his herniated disk. But he also cited his firm buttocks and toned waist as another reason to stay in the game.

Ashley Rodriguez also wants a Bikram body. “I tell my brother, Madonna has a nice body, and she does yoga, so I’m gonna do yoga,” she said, waiting for her class. It should be noted that not all yoga practices are the same, or offer the same experience. Madonna most famously frequented the
Jivamukti Yoga Center founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life, which has included other high-profile students. Bikram Yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhury; its instructors go through a rigorous training program; and each class consists of the same 26 poses.

On a recent cold winter’s day, a packed house of motivated New Yorkers stretched, while instructor Nandra Thompson weaved through the crowd of rookies and seasoned practitioners. Her arms reached above her head, crowned with a band of hot pink hair. Commands flowed from her mouth into her microphone with a mix of military precision and hippie relaxedness.

The Rodriguezes signed up for a special bargain for newcomers: unlimited access for the first week for $20. Subsequent classes are $18 each, with a variety of package deals and discounts designed to keep the New Year’s yogis sweating.

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