Patrons find grounding through Energize Hot Yoga classes in Santa Rosa

For Rebecca Pennington, owner of Energize Hot Yoga in Santa Rosa, remaining calm and centered during a global pandemic, wildfires and a seemingly endless parade of adversity has been a real challenge.

In just the past year and a half, Pennington, like many gym owners and those whose business models are geared toward the indoors, has had to adjust to evolving safety protocols on the fly.

That includes limiting capacity at her Wilson Street studio to about half what it normally would be, enforcing mask rules and not renting out towels, mats and other standard yoga equipment.

Pennington, 43, has ridden a wave of emotions with each twist and turn. She was ebullient when class attendance shot up after vaccines became available, only to crater again when the rollout stalled.

Pennington eagerly put in a ton of work when outdoor classes seemed a viable option.

“But then the fires hit, and it was like ‘Oh my gosh, dude.’ I got pretty bitter for about two months, ”she said.

And yet, through wildfire smoke and the pandemic, the studio is still meeting its core mission: helping people feel safer and saner in what can feel like a crazy, out-of-control world.

“Now more than ever, people are seeking out yoga for stress relief, to find calmness and grounding,” Pennington said.

The studio, which has been at its current location for 24 years, consistently earns top awards in local “best of” polls. Pennington purchased the studio 12 years ago.

Born and raised in Sevastopol, Pennington graduated from Analy High School and attended Santa Rosa Junior College and UC Davis before earning a degree in kinesiology from Sonoma State University.

An avid outdoor enthusiast, she worked as a counselor and guide for teenagers who had signed up for multi-sport adventure trips. She’s now the mother of twins, a 7-year-old boy and girl.

Like many people, she’s busy and under a lot of stress. Yoga, or what Pennington describes as the “calming aspects of movement,” is a crucial tool for coping.

“Life is so fast and our minds are constantly going, going, going,” she said. “Sometimes it’s very challenging, myself included, to just calm yourself.”

Hot yoga is a vigorous form of the ancient practice generally performed in a very warm and humid room, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The studio offers Inferno Hot Pilates, Hot Yoga Express, Bikram Yoga and Radiant Fusion Flow that combines a few styles of yoga into one class. Every class is beginner-friendly.

The challenge of operating a hot yoga studio during a global pandemic in which viral transmission can be much greater indoors has not been lost on Pennington, who has implemented a number of safety protocols.

Staff and clients are required to wear masks. The only exceptions are classes in which all participants have been vaccinated. Clients have the option of showing proof of vaccination.

In the first two weeks of the policy’s implementation, about six classes, out of 60, were allowed to go maskless due to everyone being vaccinated, according to Pennington. Every class is also streamed live on the internet for clients who prefer to remain at home.

For many, the studio is a home away from home. Four years ago, Pennington opened its doors to clients who had been evacuated due to wildfires. People took classes, charged their phones or grabbed a hot shower.

“We have a really strong community at this studio,” Pennington said. “So many people say how thankful they are to have this place to come to.”

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