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India looks to capitalize on growing popularity of yoga in the U.S.

Sudeshna Sen, a 24 year old student at St. Xavier College in Maidan, Kolkata practices yoga in front of the Victoria Memorial. Sen has been a yoga practactitioner for three years, attending a Power Yoga class in the city (Photos: Lisa Gomes)

Sudeshna Sen, a 24 year old student at St. Xavier College in Maidan, Kolkata practices yoga in front of the Victoria Memorial. Sen has been a yoga practactitioner for three years, attending a Power Yoga class in the city (Photos: Lisa Gomes)

by Emma Beyer
COLUMBIA, Mo. • Traditional Indian music fills a two-room yoga studio. Dozens of colored mats rest on the floor, facing a shrine. On the wall is a framed picture of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the father of modern yoga, near a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh.
The teacher at AlleyCat Yoga calls out positions — tree pose, child pose, warrior pose — as students bend their bodies in rhythmic motions to quiet their frazzled minds. Class ends with a final unison, “Namaste.”
More than 8,000 miles away, a handful of men and women roll out mats inside the Mystic Yoga Cafe in Kolkata, India. Here, the room resembles a dance studio, with simple decor and full-length mirrors covering the front wall. There is no music, no special chanting. Stifling temperatures above 100 degrees don’t deter participants, who attend mostly for fitness or weight loss.
These disparate scenes may be the opposite of what many expect. While yogis in the United States are increasingly reconnecting with yoga’s spiritual roots, many in India are influenced by America’s commercialized approach to the practice and are becoming more consumer-focused themselves. Yoga reflects a reality of globalization — the exchange of ideas that shape cultures across our connected world, now more than ever.
Such exchanges help drive a booming yoga industry. More than 36 million U.S. practitioners spent $2.5 billion on yoga classes in 2016, according to the Yoga in America Study conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance. In the St. Louis area alone, there are nearly 50 yoga studios offering classes of all kinds.
In India, the number of yoga practitioners soared 30 percent last year, prompting a 35 percent increase in demand for yoga trainers catering to Westernized natives and international tourists, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India.
In 2016, the study reported that Americans spent $16 billion on yoga classes, clothing and accessories. Businesses profited from consumers’ interest in yoga — perhaps none more so than yoga retail giant Lululemon, which charges up to $128 for a pair of yoga pants.
Some yoga instructors say this consumerism can be a good thing.

A group of men and women strike a pose at the Mistic Yoga Cafe in Kolkata.

A group of men and women strike a pose at the Mistic Yoga Cafe in Kolkata.

“Do I like looking cute in my yoga pants? You bet. Do we capitalize on that? Yes, we live in America,” said Kathy Kessler, a yoga teacher at Halcyon Spa & Salon in Augusta. “But because it’s become commercialized, so many people were exposed to it that weren’t before. If someone comes to the mat, they’re going to evolve and understand the therapeutic benefits of it.”
Yet many U.S. yoga practitioners are looking to the past to recapture that centuries-old spirituality at the core of the practice.
“One huge aspect of yoga is breathing and meditating, and I do that as much as possible throughout my week,” said Lucille Sherman, a recent University of Missouri graduate who has been practicing yoga since childhood. “Yoga helps me center myself. I’m a better person when I practice.
“It reminds me to sit still and take in life as it is, just for a moment,” she said.
Types of yoga that reconnect Americans with the deeper side of the practice are gaining momentum. These include Kundalini, which blends physical and spiritual practices such as dynamic breathing and mantra chanting to awaken the conscious. Kessler offers Kundalini, as well as gong healing and other more spiritual classes.
“(Kundalini) is much more spiritual than what has happened to yoga as it’s been mainstreamed,” said SiriAtma Kaur, a Kundalini teacher at Urban Breath Yoga in St. Louis. “It’s 16 times as powerful as other forms of yoga in getting into upper states of consciousness and achieving balance. The formulas are so powerful, you radiate. You look different.”
Instead of trendy yoga pants embellished with bright colors and bold patterns, Kaur said Kundalini practitioners opt for plain white clothing made of cotton, wool or silk to “brighten their aura” and prevent static electricity from altering their personal electric charges. The attire is topped with a headscarf to keep the Kundalini energy, awakened during yoga, from escaping through the top of the head.
Thanks to pop star practitioners such as Katy Perry’s ex-husband, Russell Brand, Kundalini communities are active on the U.S. coasts. Recruiting members in St. Louis is tougher, but any American looking to reconnect with yoga’s traditional roots can find several tools in Kundalini practice, Kaur said.
One such tool is the ringing of the disharmonious gong, which helps students reset and balance their minds. Another is the Japji, or Song of the Soul, recited by the ancient sikhs that allows yogis to explore the depths of their souls.people,” the trainer said. “When people feel and see the change, they will automatically adopt it.” (-St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


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