The Yoga Explosion

The Yoga Explosion

By Sara Vigneri

The truth is, yoga can be spiritual, or it can be exercise, or it can be both. It can be whatever you want it to be.

I have rarely felt as deep a sense of satisfaction as I did the day I learned to stand on my head. I had been practicing yoga for years, but only recently decided to make it a daily commitment. Amazingly, soon after beginning my daily practice I began to make big strides in the poses. For years, I resisted committing to yoga. The chanting, incense, breathing, bowing and overall touchy-feely nature of yoga turned me off. But eventually my body rebelled against the gym and I found myself heading to the calm and quiet yoga studio merely as a low-impact replacement to the treadmill.

Clearly, I’m not the only one in the Lehigh Valley who is spending more time in the yoga studio. In recent years, new studios have sprouted up across the valley with more opening as I write this article. For example, two women in their fifties who taught yoga in their living rooms are in the process of opening a studio called LivingRoom Yoga. “Our living rooms were so full, it was prohibiting us from allowing more yoga clients to attend or offering classes when it would suit them best,” says co-owner Teri Goszka. “We both sensed it was time to go bigger, to take yoga out of our own living rooms.” So Teri teamed up with Linda Sheftel to open a studio this September in Emmaus.

Part of the boom in yoga studios in the valley is the availability of local teacher training programs. “The older, established studios are all training teachers,” explains Jacque Porterfield, who owns Lehigh Valley Yoga Studio. “And now those teachers are opening their own studios.” More teachers also means more classes which allows more people to fit yoga into their schedules.

Enter any yoga studio and you will get a sense of the community within its doors. “We try to create a warm friendly environment where everyone feels welcome,” says Alysha Pfeiffer, manager and instructor at the Yoga Loft in Bethlehem. “People often find their way into the yoga studio because they don’t know anybody and they are looking for like-minded people and activities.” The Yoga Loft, for example, organizes volunteer activities like serving dinner at the homeless shelter Victory House. But every yoga instructor I spoke to said the same thing – the yoga studio is a judgment free zone. There are all types of people practicing yoga in all shapes and sizes and they are all made to feel welcome.

In fact, many studios welcome newcomers by offering the first class free of charge and Lehigh Valley Yoga Studio offers the entire first week for free. And that initial class is often all it takes to get people hooked on yoga. “Yoga teaches us to accept what we have, to work with what we’ve got rather than against it,” explains Britt Tagg, a yoga instructor at West End Yoga and Emmaus Yoga. “We spend so much time competing in our lives. On the mat you do your practice and you see where it takes you.”

But what about all that chanting? Does yoga need to be a religious or spiritual activity or can it be purely exercise? These questions were recently tackled when parents sued a San Diego county school district claiming that teaching yoga in school violated the separation of church and state. But the claim was rejected by a Superior Court judge who said yoga is not inherently religious.

The truth is, yoga can be spiritual, or it can be exercise, or it can be both. It can be whatever you want it to be. Which is why you can find a lot of interesting approaches to yoga in the valley. Tagg, for example, offers a yoga class called Stand Up Paddleboard or SUP Yoga. The Yoga Loft runs a program called Y12SR yoga that combines yoga and a 12-step program to help people living with addiction. The Yoga House in Kutztown offers Sling Yoga, which incorporates a hammock and gravity to help release tension. Lehigh Valley Yoga Studio will soon offer yoga and pole dancing. And practically every studio is offering some version of yoga in the heat. For example, Bikram Yoga Lehigh Valley raises the temperature to 105 while Lehigh Valley Yoga Studio’s hot room cranks it up to 110 degrees.

I had to wonder if there are yogis in India rolling their eyes at us for trying to mix up their ancient practice, veering yoga away from the spiritual and into something completely unique. “Of course they are rolling their eyes,” agrees Tagg. “When I first heard about SUP Yoga I rolled my eyes. I thought it was so gimmicky and weird and a fad that would go away. Then I did it and I was hooked.”

And even if you approach yoga purely as a fitness activity, you might find some additional benefits. Research has shown that yoga helps with depression, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis or rehab from stroke.

Basically, whatever brings you to yoga isn’t important. You will likely get more out of it than you expect. “I don’t care if it’s yoga and wine and yoga and horseback riding,” says Pfeiffer. “Yoga is going to do the work it’s meant to do once you start practicing.”

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