Two days after taking a warm bar flow fusion yoga class with Daniela Crocchiola at her studio in the Douglaston School of Music and Art, my body was still feeling the burn.
Crocchiola, a certified yoga instructor from Douglaston, invited me to the 55-minute class, which combined ballet bar toning, pilates, strength training, yoga, cardio and core conditioning. This allowed me to preview how the unique blend of movements benefits my mind, body and soul.
While yoga is typically associated with slow, meditative movements, Crocchiola literally heats things up by setting the temperature of the room to 85 degrees, allowing the muscles to open up while detoxifying and cleansing the body.
Modeled after the famous Bikram yoga teachings, Crocchiola says her version is a lesser degree of intensity and heat, which helps to reduce exhaustion.
“People are getting addicted to sweating, and it can be very dangerous,” she says. “It is about sweating, but getting your body to sweat internally."
The 37-year-old instructor has spent more than half of her life practicing yoga and has completed more than 500 hours of training with some of the profession's most respected teachers, including the senior teacher of Bikram yoga himself, Jimmy Barkan.
At 15, Daniela would tag along with her mother to yoga classes and often practiced with her at their Glen Cove home. She continued throughout college at New York University. After moving to Manhattan for work in marketing management, she had the opportunity to take classes at some of the finest studios in New York.
In 2002, after instructing fitness classes for nearly 10 years, Crocchiola decided to focus on teaching hot yoga and moved to Bayside, where she worked at Hot Yoga Paradise in the Bayridge Commons Plaza.
In between her five to seven weekly classes in Bayside, a full-time job in Manhattan and instructing part time at Equinox and New York Sports Club, she was in need of stress relief herself.
A little more than a year ago, she quit her full time job in the city and made teaching yoga her life’s work. In November 2010, she rented a room in the Douglaston School of Music and Art, which had a special “heating” situation .
The room turned out to be the warmest in the building, with a natural temperature of about 80 degrees. It would be the perfect new home for Crocchiola’s hot yoga classes.
Since that time, she has left Hot Yoga Paradise and now teaches traditional yoga, hot Vinyasa and warm bar flow fusion classes at Bell Plaza Sports Club in Bayside, Hotryde in Roslyn and at her own private space at the school in Douglaston.
She prides herself as being the most credentialed yoga teacher in northeast Queens due to her multiple certifications and hands-on experience in Hatha, Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Bikram, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Rahini and Pre-Natal yoga, all of which she incorporates into her classes.
“There are a lot of people who take two-day training and call themselves yogis,” she said. “I have spent a lot of time getting to where I am. I kept bettering myself and soaking it up and kept learning and learning and learning, knowing that one day it will all pay off.”
Her specialty now includes the warm fusion bar class, which helps to build strength and lean muscles without getting too bulky while improving posture, and Vinyasa in which everything leads into and out of sun salutations, focusing on push-ups, downward facing dog and the plank position.
Vinyasa has been known to improve concentration, patience, focus and state of mind, while at the same time toning muscles and purifying your body of toxins through sweat. Crocchiola said the exercise incorporates strength and flexibility.
Perhaps the most common question she gets asked from interested students is, “Will I be able to do it?”
“It doesn’t matter what your level is, how many injuries you’ve had [and] it doesn’t matter how many pins or surgeries you have - there is a way to do it and I can work with you,” she always answers.
Crocchiola teaches 12 to 15 classes a week and has as many as 75 to 100 students in Douglaston and Bayside, ranging from high school students to seniors at 75 years of age. Her Douglaston classrooms are the smallest of the bunch, providing an intimate setting for five to 10 students at a time.
In addition to teaching these classes, Daniela also practices three to four times a week because she says she “wants to learn constantly.”
“You cannot direct unless you know how to be directed.” she said. “If you are on the other side too much, you’re going to lose it. You have to always be a student. If you put yourself up on a pedestal that you don’t need to learn anymore or take any more classes, you’re going to tap out. You have to keep learning.”
But too much yoga can be harmful to a person, Crocchiola said.
“Yoga is very deep muscles that you are moving and strengthening," she said. "Just as much as an exercise as running, weight lifting or spinning, you have to give your body time to recover.”
To help recover from sore muscles, she recommends for her students to take warm baths in Epsom salt, massages, rest and proper nutrition.
The beauty of yoga is that you tend to use your own body weight, which means you work out muscles that don’t get used very often.
Although her class is an hour of low intensity movements and stretching with the use of three pounds per hand, I felt as though I had spent two hours on the treadmill and lifted a hundred pounds.
“You don’t have to slam your body up and down, you don’t have to do things that hurt or torture your body to get results," Crocchiola said. "The same person that can do one hundred push-ups may not be able to go down and touch their toes and that is just as important. It is an equal balance of strength and flexibility. It has to be equal.”
While yoga is effective for toning, quieting the mind and breathing, Crocchiola says the entire practice is a spiritual one because it involves “mindful movements.”
“You are focused on doing what you are doing right now," she said. "You have to pull your muscles in and squeeze things up where your mind gets away from thinking about work, kids and everything else in life. It is a mind vacation."
My fellow yoga student Rachael Pina would agree. Rachael is one of the 15 to 20 students that take the class every week. She said it has been “therapeutic” for her mind and body.
“You can be working out all week and come take this class and it relaxes every part of your body," she said.
Her sister, Nancy Pina, who also takes the class, said the course was challenging, but that she never wants to miss a class.
“Sometimes I come and I am just not in the mood to do it," she said. "Then, the class starts and I get right into it."
Karen Knackvy, who suffers from lower back problems and sciatica, has been practicing yoga for the first time in years. She started taking Crocchiola’s class in Douglaston about three weeks ago and says her back "has never felt better.”
Crocchiola’s philosophy is simple: “You have to do the best with what you have at this very moment.”
She said she wants to provide people with an exercise that is functional, classical and safe for their bodies.
For more information and class schedules, visit www.danielahotyoga.com.