A few years ago, finding a yoga class in Dallas was about as easy as finding a historic home in the suburbs. Sure, there were a few around, but the people who cared or even knew about them were overwhelmingly outnumbered by those who didn’t.

 

        Today, yoga classes abound, particularly in our neighborhood, where many hip, young homebuyers are flocking. At least five yoga studios call our neighborhood home, and many local gyms offer multiple classes. And who’s attending these classes? What once was a handful of happy chanters is now a roomful of high-energy moms and hands-free-mobile-phone business types.

 

What caused the sudden interest in a practice that has been around for thousands of years? Is it just another fitness fad, soon to go the way of vibrating belts, high impact aerobics and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies?” Or will this age-old wellness regimen show staying power?

 

To find out, we talked with four local yogis and received some interesting answers.

 

 

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        What accounts for yoga’s sudden and extreme increase in popularity? Jessica Young, who has taught yoga for five years and owns Yoga Power in Lakewood with her mom, thinks it has to do with today’s hectic pace.

 

“We all need the ability to slow things down and work without stress,” she says. “Yoga is physically challenging, but it’s not just a workout. You start opening up different areas of the body, and you open up a lot of emotional things, too.”

 

Ally David, who owns and teaches at Bend Studio on

Swiss Avenue

, agrees.

 

“We’re all seeking more balance,” she says. “I think it’s the state of the world today.”

 

David, who has taught for eight years, started practicing yoga as a college student. “I was a Type A personality,” she says. “I had to have straight As and was totally stressed out. I went to a yoga class and found it physically and emotionally challenging, almost like therapy.”

 

        She became certified in the Iyengar method of yoga, one of the leading traditional forms of yoga. Iyengar’s first level of certification is a three-year program, requiring teachers to practice with a yoga master for a year and have hundreds of hours of experience before even applying for certification. David is one of three Dallas yoga instructors certified in the method.

 

Another is Randy Just, who has practiced yoga for 20 years and owns BKS Iyengar Dallas Yoga Studio near Mockingbird Station.

 

“The certification process is brutal,” he says. “We’re tested on anatomy, we have a written test, and we have to study a long time.

 

But while many teachers have years of experience, yoga’s rapid growth in popularity has produced an equally rapid growth of newer, less experienced teachers.

 

“Some teachers just take weekend courses and start teaching,” Just says. “But you have to know what you’re doing. You have to take into account what you’re doing to people. I saw a six- or seven-month pregnant woman doing this pose,” he says, demonstrating a sort of semi-backbend, “and in a heated room. I couldn’t believe her teacher let her do that.”

 

Young says the only way to know a yoga teacher’s experience is by asking. “There’s no requirement that you be trained at yoga before you start teaching it,” she says. “The yoga world is trying to put something into effect for that, and hopefully it will happen some day. But now you just have to research the different classes and instructors. It’s good to ask if they’re certified and how much experience they’ve had.”

 

        The tricky part, though, is that certification can mean any number of things. Because some groups offer certification after a single weekend workshop, knowing that someone’s certified doesn’t always amount to much. So ask specific questions to get honest answers.

 

        In addition to a litany of new teachers has come plenty of different yoga styles, as well, with one popular example being power yoga.

 

How is power yoga different from the more traditional forms? Though no two classes are the same, traditional yoga generally focuses on, well, focus. It involves slowing down the body and calming the mind. In some cases, students hold poses for several minutes as they concentrate on the simple act of breathing in and out.

 

        Power yoga, in contrast, usually takes students in and out of increasingly difficult poses, keeping the body moving to keep their heart rate up. In short, power yoga was developed to appeal to the masses — more workout, less mind/body/spirit mumbo jumbo.

 

Because the poses are moved through very quickly, there can be more chance for injury. Still, David says she likes power yoga and teaches it at her studio.

 

“It depends on the class,” she says. “I think a lot of power yoga classes are really good workouts. And on some level, they can be spiritual a little bit, too.”

 

        Heated yoga is another popular trend. It was started by a man named Bikram, a former India native who now lives in Hollywood, collects Rolls Royces and teaches his brand of yoga to the rich and famous. 

 

Bikram came up with the idea to heat a room to around 105 degrees and lead sparsely clad students through 26 yoga poses. The idea caught on, and now his studios are located across the country. Our neighborhood was home to the first Bikram studio in the Dallas area, though there are now five, with plans for more.

 

        “It’s not as hot as a sauna,” says neighborhood branch manager David Buckner, shaking his head as he anticipates the question. “But it is hot.”

 

        Buckner hired on with Bikram Yoga in January, leaving his job as a full-time attorney to help manage the studio and open new ones. A former weightlifter, football player and marathon runner, he says he was hooked after his first class.

 

“It was brutal,” he says. “But I felt so good when I was done.” Since then, he says he has lost 30 pounds and has never been in better shape.

 

Buckner says although people often want to improve their lives once they start attending, the class focus is strictly physical.

 

“If you want sweet talk, chimes and music, you need to go somewhere else,” he says. “We’re not that.”

 

        Not that by a long shot, according to some. The folks at the neighborhood studio have become known around town as the “Yoga Nazis” for their unusually strict rules.

 

        “I’ve heard that,” says Buckner, when asked about the moniker. “And we’re trying to overcome that image.”

 

Still, he says, “we do set pretty high expectations for our students. First-timers must arrive 15 minutes early, and everyone needs to be on time. We make sure they position themselves so everybody can see, there’s no drinking water through the first few poses, no sugar drinks are allowed, that kind of thing.

 

“Some people get mad or upset, but we have to follow the rules. And some of those who get mad are the very ones who end up telling on others later.”

 

        Telling on each other? In yoga?

 

“This is Type-A yoga,” he says. “Our students are Type-A personalities.”

 

        And the reason for the heat?

 

“It’s to warm up muscles without pulling them, to allow for a deeper stretch,” he says. “It also promotes sweating, to get the toxins out of your skin.”

 

David attended a class led by Bikram in California, but says it’s not for her.

 

“I think 105 degrees is a little extreme,” she says. “You can push yourself too far and not realize it, because your muscles are so loose.

 

“It’s just another way to make money,” she adds. “But whatever pulls people into yoga, I think, is still good.”

 

And, given the number of people flocking to classes these days, will our neighborhood still be a Mecca for yoga five or 10 years from now? Or will it eventually go the way of other fitness fads?

 

        “I hope it’s not just the new trend,” says Buckner, who says his shop’s average class size has fallen. “It’s a concern, but yoga has been around for thousands of years. The benefits are so great, I think it will last.”

 

        “It will be very interesting to see what happens,” Young says. “It just depends on why people are taking it. If you’re looking for instant gratification, taking it for only the physical results, you probably won’t stick with it for long.”

 

Just seems to agree.

 

“Those who are just in it for a good workout will go to the next thing before long — bouncing balls off the wall or whatever,” he says. “But those who are dedicated and study with upper level teachers will survive and flourish.”

 


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