By Catherine Jenkins
Point Park News Service
When her mother invited Karen Conley to a yoga retreat center of a decade ago, Conley fell so hard for the discipline that she opened a studio in Pittsburgh.
On a whim Alyssa Knierim, 21, signed up to take a yoga class simply because her sister’s friend had started teaching one locally.
“Turns out that I loved it,” Knierim said. “Yoga allows my body and mind to become one and work in harmony. It’s completely amazing.”
Testimonials such as these are part of the reason why this eastern physical therapy, dating back 5,000 years, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in western Pennsylvania over the past decade.
According to the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, its original intent was to draw concepts from Hindu, Jainism, and Buddhist religious traditions in India, in order to address health concerns by motivating individuals through exercise of the mind, body and soul.
Its different forms and intensities contribute largely to its increase in popularity. The most popular serve as an intense workout program such as Ashtanga, or Bikam also known as hot yoga. For others a relaxation technique is favored such as Vinyasa flow.
Although yoga has been practiced in the United States since 1893, participation has been rapidly growing in the past decade. From 4.3 million people in 2001 to an estimated 22.1 million, yoga’s popularity is at an all time high, based on 2012 data provided by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
In 2001, Karen was visiting her mother at a yoga retreat when she met Baron Baptiste who was teaching power Vinyasa yoga. Karen soon attended one of his teacher trainings and found that the movement in yoga was healing. Excited to share her passion for the practice with others, she and her husband Sean opened their very first yoga studio in 2001.
“We both fell in love with yoga and we just wanted to share it,” said Sean. “It was just for fun and nothing more than that. We had no idea that it would grow the way it did and has.”
According to Sean, yoga had barely made its way into Pittsburgh at the time, and there was only one other studio in the area. Their first few weeks and months only typically had 5-12 students per class and about 50-100 in a week.
Over time that began to change and due to requests from students living in other areas, the Conley’s later opened a second studio in the South Side and a third location in Wexford.
“We feel very lucky,” Sean Conley said. “We feel very fortunate that most new students who come to the studio typically return due to the experience they received, which is largely due to the teacher’s effort.”
Today, these Power Vinyasa Flow-based studios have around 10,000 students coming through every month.
“I started yoga because it helped me become more flexible and relieved a lot of my stress,” said Rachel Calhoun, 21, who recently earned a certification as a YogaFit teacher. “One of the best benefits has been becoming physically stronger which has helped in toning my entire body.”
According to clinical trials published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, yoga is better than traditional exercise when it comes to balance, strength, stress levels, kidney function, and metabolic function. These physical benefits are what seem to attract the majority, but many will tell you that the mental aspect is also key.
“I feel relaxed and balanced, both inside and out after a good yoga class,” said Knierim, who was eager to discuss how positive her experience has been.
While Knierim fell into yoga on a whim almost two years ago, she has become a devotee. For her, it is not necessarily about the exercise, but for both the mental and spiritual benefits, which was easy to see while watching her and others students alike physically relax as they walked into a dimly lit studio, unrolled their mats and instinctively let their muscles ease from posture to posture.
“People tend to think that it [yoga] is all about stretching, until they actually get to the class and their illusions burst. They have never had anyone guiding them to spend time discovering their own bodies and thoughts,” said Douglas Bentz, a master teacher of contemporary jazz dance, choreography, contemporary partnering and yoga at Point Park University.
Bentz, sometimes referred to as Swami Doug by his fellow yogis, first stumbled upon yoga when he was young man as a way to cope with an illness. He said that his interest never fully peaked until he and his wife were offered a seven to 10 day retreat to Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. After which he began seriously training, and from there he decided to develop a class at Point Park University.
There are a wide assortment of studios and yoga class offerings throughout the region, ranging in price from $8 to $85 dollars per session. Many of them offer pay as you go situations, which are donation based only workshops.
For more information on other classes, styles offered, or locations you can find a list of certified yoga practitioners in the region by going to www.yogaalliance.org. Information for Amazing Yoga teacher trainings and programs and Yoga on Centre can be found at the bottom of this article.
Yoga on Centre
6016 Penn Circle South
East Liberty, 15206
*Also offering 20% student discounts
730 Copeland Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
South Side Location
1506 E. Carson Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
2642 Brandt School Road
Wexford, PA 1509