Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yoga Goes Mainstream: Americans Embrace, Enjoy Benefits Of The Discipline

“Joann Belfiore used to relieve her work stress with a handful of chocolate. ‘Now I do a yoga routine every morning,’ she says. ‘I find it will calm me down at work. When I'm having a stressful day, I'll go into the bathroom and do some breathing exercises.’ Belfiore, who owns an insurance company, learned the technique during a 10-week Yoga and Nutrition for Weight Loss class at Prema Yoga in Pawling, N.Y. Instructor Toni Caravello mixed discussion of conscious eating and the glycemic index with asanas (postures), breath control and meditation. ‘My blood pressure is down 15 points and I lost two inches on my body,’ Belfiore says. The businesswoman does not fit the old yoga stereotype of the counterculture hippie or more recent image of the body-conscious Hollywood starlet. She is part of the growing number of executives, athletes, writers, musicians and mothers-to-be who have made the ancient practice part of mainstream America. ‘Yoga is now yoga lifestyle,’ says Dayna Macy, a spokeswoman for Yoga Journal. The magazine's paid circulation, which includes newsstand sales plus subscribers, is now 350,000, up from 170,000 in 2000. ‘Yoga has taken over a much wider space in our culture.’ Americans spend $2.95 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, DVDs, videos and magazines, according to a recent study by Harris Interactive Service Bureau on behalf of Yoga Journal. ‘It has become commodified, a big business,’ Macy says. ‘It is up to the consumer to be a savvy consumer. ... If what you want is six-pack abs, you can make that a goal. If you want to make it a spiritual practice, you can make that a goal.’ ‘Yoga is so ubiquitous, you can pretty much find something to fit you.’ Carol Sandroff participated in a recent one-day yoga class geared toward gardeners at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. ‘I hoped it would get me into shape to do my weeding so I wouldn't be in too much pain the day after,’ Sandroff says. Instructor Susan Olsen of the Yoga Mountain school in Cornwall led participants in a series of poses that stretch the lower back and strengthen the ankles, knees and hips. The class began and ended with meditation and visualization. ‘We're gardeners of the earth, but we're also tending our own internal garden,’ Olsen says. Macy, of Yoga Journal, said many of today's yoga practitioners first experience it at a health club. ‘What tends to happen is if you become more serious about your practice, you come to a yoga studio because of the environment,’ she says. ‘Classes in gyms are often held in multipurpose rooms with big mirrors. I personally don't find mirrors conducive to yoga. But it serves as a great introduction.’ She predicts yoga will be used more and more in therapeutic settings. ‘Yoga for blood pressure, for weight loss, for depression, heart health, and so on,’ she says. ‘I think it's the next big arena.’”

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