Courtesy of Courtney Brooks

Five months after opening, New Haven Soul Sweat has taken the city’s fitness scene by storm, introducing local residents and college students to the art of infrared heat yoga.

Founder Courtney Brooks opened the first Soul Sweat studio in Old Saybrook in 2017. She chose to expand to the Elm City in 2022, having noticed during her time in college at the University of New Haven that there were no infrared studios nearby. Now, the New Haven studio is “overwhelmed” with business according to Brooks, drawing swathes of newcomers — mostly local college students — to hot yoga.

“Yoga makes people heal from the inside out,” Brooks said. “So if you can feel what’s going on inside of you, everything around you, then your life just gets better. Just based on the numbers and classes, and how quickly the studio fills up, it definitely was a need.”

The white-walled New Haven studio, lit by large windows spanning one side of the room, comfortably fits about 40 students on the floor. Under rows of infrared heat panels suspended from the ceiling, students practice Vinyasa yoga — which involves flowing through a series of linked hatha yoga poses, called asanas — in heat conditions ranging from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. While beginner classes involve no steaming, upper level sessions add 75 percent humidity to the room. 

According to Brooks, the benefits of hot yoga include increased flexibility and the ability to deepen poses further, in addition to enhanced physical intensity. She added that the guarantee to “sweat” during the sessions attracts all interested in physical fitness, introducing newcomers to practicing meditation and mindfulness gradually.

“A lot of people avoid yoga because they don’t want to sit down and meditate — their mind is too crazy,” Brooks said. “But if you tell people, ‘You’re gonna come into a room and you’re gonna sweat and you’ll have a good time and there’ll be music,’ then they don’t even realize they’re meditating, but they’re doing it. That gets a lot more people in the door.”

Brooks and instructor Lori Bonazzoli, who has taught hot yoga classes for about 20 years, told the News that the studio’s infrared heat creates a different experience for students than other forms of hot yoga, which often involve pumping heated air directly into the room. These systems may make breathing challenging, according to Brooks, possibly creating a sense of suffocation in crowded studios. The infrared panels, however, directly heat objects and people, and the studio’s ventilation system constantly circulates fresh air during sessions.

Carolyn Miller, who teaches classes at the Old Saybrook studio, said that other safety measures incorporated into the studios include placing mat markers, opening doors and turning on fans in between sessions.

Maeve Heneghan ’26, a member of the women’s crew team who has worked out at Soul Sweat, said that although she did not notice many differences between doing hot yoga and regular yoga, she found that key physical impacts were helpful to her as an athlete.

“I appreciated how flexible it was in terms of ability and how you were feeling,” Heneghan wrote to the News. “As an athlete, I like how hot yoga supplements my training in terms of stretching on my off days.”

According to Brooks, session spots tend to fill up quickly at both the Old Saybrook and New Haven studios. In order to accommodate for the demand in New Haven, Soul Sweat added more classes to their weekly schedule about two weeks ago. Now, over 20 are typically taught per week.

Bonazzoli, who previously owned Balanced Yoga Studio in Westville, said that business at New Haven Soul Sweat is booming at a rate previously unknown to her.

“I used to own the other hot Vinyasa studio in New Haven,” Bonazzoli said. “I mean, we were never open at the same time, but I remember when I started to boom, and Courtney is booming tenfold. I have chills. And I’m dressed in wool right now. So, it is so beautiful. It’s unbelievable.”

The studio also offered a scholarship program starting in December, in which a few selected students would receive free classes for an entire semester. Brooks estimated that about 250 people applied.

She connected the high applicant numbers to the challenges facing college students.

“There’s so much pressure on college students, whether you go to Yale or Southern — doesn’t matter where you go — just the pressure of schoolwork, social life and sports, all of that,” Brooks added. “Yoga has been at least a little bit of relief for them and a way for them to decompress and cope with all the stress that they’re under.”

Brooks does not currently plan on moving to a larger studio in New Haven, but she said there is room for future expansion to other cities in Connecticut and beyond.

New Haven Soul Sweat is located at 300 Crown Street.

Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.