Richard Failla's two professional lives are like day and night, literally.
During the day, he is the owner/instructor of Fairfield Hot Yoga, the new yoga studio that opened at the Sportsplex@Fairfield, 85 Mill Plain Road. At night, he is a Westport police office working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. For Failla, the two careers work well in terms of scheduling and as far as physical and mental benefits.
Not too many people who come to the studio for their yoga instruction are aware that Failla has another career. One day, while in uniform picking up a cup of coffee at Starbuck's in Westport, one of his students looked quizzically at the face beneath the cap and Failla said, "Yes, I'm your yoga instructor."
The six-foot tall, 207-pound certified instructor extols the mental and physical benefits of yoga, for any individual, but especially in his career as a police officer. Law enforcement can be very stressful at times, he said, but also physically challenging with the number of hours a patrol officer spends driving around town and getting in and out of the car.
Yoga is the union of the body, mind and spirit. In the Hot Yoga environment in which Failla offers three types of classes -- Birkram, Barkan and Vinyasa -- the exercise alleviates pain, provides a better range of movement and is good for weight control.
According to Failla's brochure, in a heated room the body is able to burn fat more effectively, as fat may be redistributed and burned as energy during the class. The heat produces a fluid-like stretch that allows for greater range of movement in joints, muscles, glands and organs, and helps in the removal of waste products. Also, peripheral circulation improves due to enhanced perfusion of extremities. The metabolism speeds up the breakdown of glucose and fatty acids. As a result, according to the brochure, the individual benefits from a strengthening of willpower, self-control, concentration and determination as the cardiovascular system gets a thorough workout.
The muscles and connective tissue become more elastic and allow for greater flexibility, with less chance of injury. Sweating in the hot environment, which can be as high as 105 degrees, promotes detoxification and elimination through the skin.
Amy Julian of Westport, the mother of two, loves how the heat opens up the muscles. For her, yoga stretches the body and releases the toxins in a totally different way than in her other exercise of "spinning," which she practiced on a bicycle.
"I love it. I gave up spinning," she said. "You feel rejuvenated. It's great."
Another Westport resident, a mother of three, described yoga as "a terrific workout. I love it. It's a full-body workout," she said. "The heat really helps. You sleep better."
As with a number of yoga enthusiasts at the studio, they praised the cleanliness of the new facility, which they said was a major draw in their decision to leave their former studio.
Failla and his complement of certified instructors teach classes in a 1200-square-foot studio, to a varity of people, from teens to senior citizens, male and female, from all walks of life.
He said cleanliness and a healthy, sanitary environment were prime in his decorative decisions, as well as the physical location. He said the type of floor covering in the studio is made with a material that repels bacteria and odors.
The facility includes two separate locker rooms for men and women, each equipped with showers. He selected all the colors; "Stop Red," for the main lobby area; "Burnt Orange" in the studio; "Electric Blue" in the men's lockers; and "Lavish Lavender" in the women's locker area. He wanted "high-energy colors" that were "warm and inviting."
Failla is also an accomplished woodworker, a craft he learned from his father. He built all the woodworking trim as well as the registration desk in the lobby. He is also an avid sportsman who enjoys soccer, tennis, golf, water and snow skiing. He is a "huge motorcycle fan."
A 24-year veteran of the Westport Police Department, he was first introduced to yoga about seven years ago, when his dog sitter extolled the benefits of yoga.
"I went down and got addicted," said Failla, describing his first lesson. "There's something about it. You just want to keep coming back."
He continued with his lessons and then was hired to teach Yoga at a number of studios in Fairfield County before he and a partner opened their own studio in New Haven, which he owned for a year before decided to open his own studio in Fairfield.
His dual careers work well for him. He works his night shift as a police officer and then comes to his Fairfield studio, where he will do some paperwork, "meet and greet" and then head home for some sleep before returning to the studio to teach a class. He also teaches on his days off as a police officer.
Failla, a skilled scuba diver with the department, recalled a tragic accident while on duty in February 1995, when a Weston resident was giving his 16-year-old son driving lessons near the Westport marina. During the lesson, Failla recalled, the teen reportedly put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake and the car drove into the water. Failla, on patrol at the time, was called to the scene, where he suited up and dove into the water. While the father was able to get out of the car, the teen, who was wearing a seatbelt, could not. Failla managed to pull open the driver's door and pulled the youth out. However, medical personnel were unable to revive him.
"As a police officer, it was a horrific experience for me, but if you let the job get to you, you can't function," said Failla, who commented upon the dichotomy of people skills with the two careers. He said a police officer's persona is stoic, as one has to learn to temper emotions, whereas a yoga instructor must stand in front of a group of people and talk them through the guided instruction, often with a great deal of emotion. Failla thrives on the two careers.
"It's great. I like the variety of my job," said Failla, who grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., before moving north with his family. His father was a printer with Trumbull Printing. Failla got a job there after graduating from Shelton High School in 1979. With the father of a girl friend at the time a Shelton police officer, Failla decided to work part-time as a police officer. Then, he applied and became a member of the Westport Police Department.
On its Web site, Hot Yoga offers a list of etiquette rules. Some could even apply outside the studio: Abandon the competitive mind-set; Always stay with your breath; and let go of your thoughts and enjoy the class.
For more information about Hot Yoga, call (203) 254-8199 or visit www.fairfieldhotyoga.com
On Saturday, Feb. 27, at 6:15 p.m., Fairfield Hot Yoga will sponsor a Karma Night and offer a free Hot Vinyasa Class with donations to benefit Fidelco Dogs. Anyone interested in participating in the fund-raiser should RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org