Yoga blends a variety of physical postures, meditation, breathing, and philosophy with a focus on body, mind, and spirit; and it’s not a stretch to say this ancient Hindu practice is growing in popularity. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, yoga is becoming more common among adults as a way to maintain health, improve fitness, and relieve stress. While many people associate yoga with stretching, for those who practice, this discipline is a way to enhance quality of life.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to unite or yoke together. “When you practice yoga you are making a connection with yourself,” said Heather Thomas-Leo, co-owner of The Yoga Center of Indiana. “Yoga returns us to our natural state. Modern lifestyles can make you feel disconnected. Often we aren’t even aware we have become numb to ourselves. Yoga re-establishes balance to the physical, mental, and spiritual body and promotes relaxation, calmness, and rejuvenation.”
The ancient practice is said to date back more than 5,000 years to its Indian heritage and was introduced to western society in the 19th Century, later evolving as a health movement in the 1930’s. While there is no formal way to track the growth of yoga, the results of a 2005 study by NAMASTA, the North American Studio Alliance, estimated 70,000 yoga teachers in North America. These findings were gathered from yoga publications’ readership surveys and teacher training certifications. Market research conducted by Gfk- MRI, claims the number of yoga practitioners has increased from 11 million in 2007 to more than 14 million in 2010.
Thomas-Leo has personally experienced the yoga boom in her business. Since opening the doors of her first studio with her partner, Karen Fox, in 2007, the Yoga Center of Indiana has doubled the average number of clients per day. “I have seen huge growth in the popularity of yoga and meditation. People are curious and looking for alternatives to their workout and are interested in the relaxation techniques.”
To keep up with the demand, the company is opening two new spaces in addition to two existing studios. Thomas–Leo encourages men and women to practice the art of yoga and take their personal experience to the next level by participating in teacher training courses. A few of her instructors demonstrate poses in the accompanying photos and share their reasons for choosing this form of exercise.
Letitia Haywood was an active runner but due to chronic knee injuries, she turned to yoga as a gentler way to stay in shape. “It’s a challenging, low- impact workout, and my practice helps keep me in balance – in perfect alignment in all things.” A psychotherapist by trade, Haywood now integrates yoga therapy into her patients’ treatments. “Yoga is a beautiful gift to share with others and a way to promote positive health in my clients.”
According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, yoga is low impact, safe for healthy people, and may help those with chronic back pain, as well as increase flexibility, reduce high blood pressure, and relieve anxiety.
“Yoga is liberation – freedom,” said Tracy Stoner, who has practiced for seven years and now teaches regularly. “My relationship with yoga has transformed me. It’s helped me to become more self-accepting, less angry and frustrated, stronger, balanced, more confident, and more present in my life.”
According to Thomas-Leo, yoga is our natural way. Everyone has practiced a posture at one time or another without knowing it. “As children we just do. We breathe deep, stretch our limbs, do backbends and know to close our eyes when we need to start over. Yoga reminds us to live like the child we once were, to live joyfully without worry or fear.” She says yoga is all inclusive. Anyone can participate and choose the way they practice to fit their individual needs. “Basic poses are not difficult, but will build strength and increase flexibility. There are many variations of standard postures that can make yoga very challenging, but the practitioner makes the choice.”
The positive energy flows after moving through a routine of postures, and classes at The Yoga Center close with meditation, a quiet time where students sit with crossed legs, eyes closed, heads bowed and hands together at their heart center. Teachers end each session with the gesture Namaste, a symbol of respect and gratitude, which means “I bow to you” and acknowledges the divine spark within each practitioner.
“Yoga is so much more than the postures,” said yoga instructor Staci Alfes. “The practice teaches life lessons that can be taken off the mat and into the world. The learning never ends.”
Learn more about The Yoga Center of Indiana by visiting their website at www.tycyoga.com or visit one of the studios – Broad Ripple, Clay Terrace, the newest location at Pit Fit on the west side of Indianapolis. A fourth studio will open at City Center by year end.
Find tips and stories about the practice of yoga by visiting www.yogajournal.com.Read more