Yoga is taking on all forms
Wed, May 1, 2013 at 13:17
Patricia Amend in CBI

It’s not just about downward dog anymore …

Recently, yoga has been taking on some unusual new forms, and begun showing up in some unlikely places. In the process, it’s been attracting interest and gaining converts 

In fact, this mind/body phenomenon’s new tagline could very well be “expect the unexpected.” 

“The growth of yoga over the past decade has been amazing, and this is due, in part, to the fact that the practice is highly adaptable to individuals of different ages, abilities, conditions, and situations,” says Jonathan Urla, an instructor who specializes in mind/body classes. Urla teaches at the Sports Club/LA and the Reebok Sports Club in New York City, two large, luxurious, urban facilities owned by Millennium Partners Sports Club Management, LLC, based in Boston. 

Other mind/body disciplines, such as Pilates and tai chi, have also been evolving and morphing, but, when it comes to radical reinterpretation, yoga is leading the pack.

Urla is personally familiar with yoga’s chameleon-like possibilities, having successfully combined the practice with Pilates to create a dynamic hybrid, Yogilates. 

Urla’s experience suggests that, by introducing and leveraging variations on yoga, clubs can improve class attendance and enhance member satisfaction. “Fusion and specialty classes  increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining more clients,” he attests. “That’s particularly true in the case of  members who are looking for something new and different, as well as among those who may be intimidated or put off by traditional yoga.” 

Lashaun Dale, the senior national creative manager of group fitness for Equinox Fitness, the New York–based chain of upscale, full-service clubs, concurs. “When done really well,  reimagined, customized classes can be simply great,” she enthuses. “Yoga is such a vast system, with such a deep toolbox of methodologies and techniques. It can be made to work in virtually any setting, with any demographic, to suit any purpose.”

Of course, before a club offers any new embodiment of yoga, Urla cautions, it should consider the appropriateness of the program and the quality level of the instruction. 

Some classes, he points out, have been created merely to feed off the popularity of yoga; they may be superficial and lack any thoughtfulness or respect for the tradition. In certain cases, imaginative practitioners go too far, combining exercise elements that simply don’t go together very well. That can yield classes with scant attendance and a short lifespan. 

“It’s worth remembering that mind/body programs tend to attract more sophisticated members, who can tell when something just isn’t working,” Urla observes. Dale agrees. “Mixing and matching, and personalizing the practice for a specific audience, can definitely be a good thing, but the adaptation you’re thinking about introducing has to make sense,” she says. “Many of the greatest innovations we’ve seen have  occurred because experts tinkered with existing systems. At the moment, we’re observing the evolution of yoga as it twists and turns to meet the demands of the modern world. I’m pleased to see so many smart, caring, motivated, crazy pros making a difference by pushing the boundaries.” 

How can a club determine if a new yoga variant is a good one? 

Dale suggests asking the following important questions: Does this combination make the experience better? Does the instructor have the necessary skills in the selected disciplines? Can they offer the clientele being targeted the modifications that might be required to meet their needs? 

“The proliferation of permutations of yoga has been tremendously beneficial to our culture,” concludes Urla. “While the results have, in some cases, been a bit commercialized and  adulterated, we are, without a doubt, better off with all of this innovation than we would be without it.”

Dale is also confident that yoga is in very good hands. “Our industry is composed of amazing professionals who are doing remarkable things,” she says. “I think whenever and wherever we can do something to enhance health, vitality, and mindfulness—we, as a society, win.”

The many faces of yoga

The following are just some of the many innovative variations on yoga that are now making an impact in the health and fitness industry.

“Broga” for men: With an emphasis on core-strengthening, muscle-toning, and functionality, Broga is described by cofounders Robert Sidoti and Adam O’Neill as “a yoga class  geared for men, where it’s okay if you can’t touch your  toes.” Taught in neutral-colored studios, the classes feature yoga, along with lots of squats and push-ups, all performed to a steady stream of alternative and rock music. 

“Snowga” for skiers and snowboaders: This winter-related program, the brainchild of Anne Anderson, a certified ski and yoga instructor, integrates those two activities. During the 90-minute session, participants rehearse meditative breathing techniques as they head up the mountain on chair lifts. Then, on the way down, they engage in a “meditation in motion”; the skiers, for example, squat low and bend at the waist, performing what’s known, in yoga, as the chair pose,  but what is, effectively, a skier’s racing tuck.  Yoga for heart patients: A new research report, published  in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology earlier  this year, confirms yoga’s efficacy as a treatment protocol  for individuals with atrial-fibrillation, a common heartrhythm disorder and a leading cause of stroke. The  first-ever study, conducted by doctors at the University of  Kansas Hospital, found that patients who practiced yoga  regularly experienced half the number of episodes of  irregular heartbeat. Lead investigator Dhanunjaya  Lakkireddy, M.D., notes the findings could have a “huge  impact on public health,” given that “many of the current  conventional treatment strategies include invasive procedures or medications with undesirable side effects.” 

Yoga for mental health: Another recent study, this one  reported on in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, examined  more than 100 earlier studies on yoga’s impact on mental  health. It concluded that the discipline has potential as a  possible adjunct treatment for a number of conditions,  including depression, schizophrenia, and ADHD. Lead  author Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy feels that yoga shows  tremendous promise as an alternative therapy, noting that  it appears to act in a way similar to that of antidepressants  and psychotherapy. It also causes certain changes in brain  chemicals, including serotonin, a neurotransmitter linked  to feelings of well-being. 

“Tantrum yoga” for stress-reduction: Tantrums are  commonly associated with the toddler set, but, today, an  older cohort is also working out their frustrations with  explosive outbursts. Created by Hemalayaa, a yogini,  dancer, and fitness educator, tantrum yoga is touted as a  therapeutic stress reliever. On her website, Hemalayaa  says she’s “committed to being in the best state of health I can be in. And if I have to scream to feel great, I do.”

Yoga raves: Yogic chants set to a rock beat are what drive  yoga dance raves. Commonly held in nightclubs, but adaptable to virtually any venue, these events feature yoga, along  with dance, nonalcoholic cocktails, food, and socializing.  Described by one enthusiast as “healthy hedonism,” yoga  raves are considered a better-for-you substitute for the  smoking, drug use, and drinking encountered at many  club-based dance parties.  Classroom yoga for kids: More and more private and public  schools are incorporating yoga into their curriculums. If  taught carefully by specially trained teachers, it can yield a  number of positive outcomes—from enhancing concentration, to helping kids learn how to manage their energy.

To  accommodate the growing demand, groups such as  YogaKids International, an Indiana-based provider of  kid-centric yoga education, are providing professional  assistance.  Yoga behind bars: While many prisoners still cling to the  bodybuilding culture long associated with prison life,  many others are obtaining solace and positive results from  yoga. James Fox, the founder and director of the Prison  Yoga Project, a California-based program that brings  yoga into jails, believes it can work wonders for the incarcerated. Speaking in a Time magazine video documentary,  he notes that prisons are breeding grounds for negativity  and violence, and that yoga can offer some much-needed  calm. A study at the North Rehabilitation Facility, a  minimum-security jail in Seattle, Washington, found that  inmates who practiced meditation, a common component  of yoga, had a 25% improvement in recidivism, as compared  to nonpractitioners. 

Paddleboard yoga: An inevitable derivative of stand-up  paddle surfing (SUP), one of the fastest-growing outdoor  sports, this program combines hatha and vinyasa yoga  poses with the ancient art of surfing. It can be practiced,  initially, on a surfboard sitting on the beach, or on any body of water indoors or outdoors. The program helps increase  balance, flexibility, and, particularly, core strength,  allowing practitioners to perform postures while positioned  on a board floating on a moving, fluid surface. Among its  celebrity fans: Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston, and Matthew  McConaughey. Predictably, given the frequent crossover  between mind/body disciplines, paddleboard Pilates, which  introduces resistance bands to the process, has also  arrived on the scene.

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