When Trace Bonner launched Holy Cow in West Ashley’s South Windermere Shopping Center last summer, she didn’t know what to expect. Now she’s teaching 16 classes a week and adding another instructor. And while she credits the center’s success in part to its cute cow logo and convenient location, there’s no question that there’s a revived interest in yoga across America.
The ancient Indian practice of yoga first arrived in the US at the beginning of the 20th century, but didn’t really catch on until 1969 with chants at Woodstock. Now, after being overshadowed by the aerobics craze in the ’80s and early ’90s, yoga is once again attracting followers, with many looking for relief from ailments and injuries or from the stress of daily life.
Baby boomers, worn out from years of jogging and bouncy workouts, are back on board. But interest is growing with other age groups, too, from college students to senior citizens to celebrities.
The surge in interest is being fueled partly by doctors’ growing acceptance of yoga’s healing potential. Mainstream medicine has adopted yoga as a gentle therapeutic method for treating a number of illnesses, so more and more doctors are referring their patients to yoga. Initial trials have shown yoga can help people with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma and cardiac risk factors.
There are actually several branches of yoga, including bhakti, the yoga of devotion, and jnana, the yoga of knowledge. The most widely practiced branch in the US, the one typically offered at gyms and exercise studios, is hatha yoga, which is physical yoga. But there also are different styles of hatha yoga, from the exercise-intense power yoga to the gentle chair poses used in svaroopa yoga.
Many of the instructors offer integral yoga, which involves stretching and bending into various positions called asanas, as well as breathing exercises and deep relaxation. By practicing and learning asanas, students can gain flexibility, strength, stamina and improved circulation.Integral yoga is not religious, but it does offer an introspective, spiritual component that you won’t find in most exercise programs.
A typical adult class lasts 1 hour. First, the students center themselves through breathing, then come together as a group with a collective om. They do a quick series of cardiovascular movements, an hour of stretching and 20 minutes of relaxation while lying on their backs.
The relaxation period gives students a chance to turn inward. Some people are making lists in their head. Some people are asleep. Some people are just in a really great space, where they’re conscious of what’s going on in the room, and yet at the same time, completely and unequivocally out.