In the below Q&A Hesham discusses yoga sculpt and his own yoga journey with Johnny Gonsoulin.
Hesham Sallam: My first introduction to yoga was in 2011 in Washington, DC. As a graduate student, every time I wanted to procrastinate and put off work, I went out for a run. And because I was a very diligent procrastinator, all that running eventually contributed to a great deal of tightness in my legs. To counteract all the tension that was building in my muscles as a result, friends recommended I try out Bikram Yoga. And I did, and it felt amazing. As a beginner, I was really impressed with the deep stretch that heated yoga offered. But shortly thereafter I began noticing how yoga was impacting other aspects of my life including my overall physical and mental well-being. And thus my relationship with yoga took a life of its own, independent of the initial purpose I thought it would serve. From there my practice evolved and became much more engaging of other yoga traditions, especially after I moved here to the Bay Area in 2013.
JG: And what actually led you into a yoga sculpt practice?
HS: Very simply, I went to try out my friend Mythri’s Yoga Sculpt class in the South Bay. Frankly, I can’t say it was love at first sight. I was a little bit weary of the idea of incorporating weights into a yoga class. I was of the mindset that weights belonged at the gym, and yoga mats belonged at the studio. But after trying out a few sculpt classes, I was amazed at how the mindful and safe incorporation of weights into a yoga flow provided an opportunity for a unique kind of challenge that I had never found in either my yoga practice or in my weighted exercises at the gym. For me, sculpt wasn’t necessarily an alternative to either—just an entirely different challenge that offered its own distinct thrill and excitement. I loved how the weights enhanced upper body strength building, and how the classes I took remained true to the goals of presence, mindfulness and intentional breathing. A few months into my newly discovered addiction I decided to take on teacher training. And thus was the beginning of the exciting journey that I’m currently on.
JG: How does yoga sculpt fit into the rest of your yoga practice?
HS: Personally, I found sculpt to be a great complement to vinyasa and Bikram, which I practice at YogaSource fairly regularly, as well as to hot pilates classes, which I take at the studio on an almost daily basis. For instance, sculpt’s emphasis on upper body strength building has helped me deepen my yoga practice and take it to new levels. In terms of teaching, sculpt naturally builds on vinyasa flow sequencing, and, beyond that, I often draw on hot pilates in my sculpt sequence to offer students opportunities for fun, low impact exercises.
JG: Does a person have to use the weights on every pose or sequence?
HS: No, the weights, as stated in every class, are optional. As an instructor, I do provide many cues for moving with weights safely and mindfully, but I always offer the option of putting down the weights at any point and carrying out the exercises without them.
JG: How would you describe your yoga sculpt class to someone who hasn’t taken it before?
HS: If I had to describe it myself, I’d probably say it’s amazing and one of a kind. But that’s just my biased opinion, and, quite sadly, the feedback I’ve received from students never characterized my class as such. But in all seriousness, the vast majority of the comments I’ve receive about my sculpt classes (which I do take very seriously) usually have one common thread: ‘The class was challenging, but your sense of humor and stories kept me sufficiently entertained that I was able to power through it.’ One review that an anonymous client from a South Bay studio posted online read as follows: “Great class to start the day. Instructor had great energy and made it fun even though it was very challenging.” That being said, I’m looking forward to teaching at YogaSource with great enthusiasm, and to letting members of the community be the ultimate judge.