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Yoga for modern | Yoga has become an urban science Learn more

Yoga for modern urban living: yoga is now a lifestyle

Is it any wonder that models wrap their wrists in mala beads, fashion designers are heading to India for yoga retreats and there's a new line of sportswear that takes its name from the Sanskrit mantra om.

For the uninitiated, yoga is pretzel poses and a vague reminder of the Beatles' visit to the Maharishi in the 1960s.

Gurmukh Kaur, the white-turbaned founder of the Center for Living, rides in a limousine, in a blaze of strobe lights, with one of her students, singer Courtney Love.

What she does is kundalini yoga, Love told a reporter covering the party for fashion bible Women's Wear Daily. It's better for me than Prozac, and the clothes are nice, too.

Ms. Love isn't the only celebrity singing yoga's praises, or helping to catapult the 5,000-year-old practice to the forefront.

Yoga Zone, a modern New York yoga studio with a half-hour weekday show on the cable network Health Network, has an entire catalog devoted to the joy of yoga. In addition to the predictable array of videotapes, non-slip mats and meditation cushions, there are several pages of clothing and accessories.

Yoga for Women | a woman guide to yoga and meditation

Cotton and lycra hipsters are the ultimate Yoga Zone look for practice and beyond. Slim-strapped camisoles and sleeveless tops with subtle embroidered logos come in black, slate, maroon, moss green and other quiet but trendy colors.

Even jewelry has a fashion angle: pendant necklaces with the Chinese symbol for clarity or the Sanskrit symbol for om are crafted by fashion duo Me & Ro. 

Yoga for modern urban living: Most urbanites start with a class

The best place to start is with a class, where a teacher can show you how to adapt the postures using props and help you learn the proper technique for the postures.

The good news is that yoga classes have never been more available. You'll find them in small studios, health clubs and gyms. The hard part is finding a class that's right for you. Studios that are dedicated to yoga also encourage a more dedicated practice. The same students return to class week after week, and instructors usually follow a particular yoga discipline. Some classes are geared toward beginners.

Whether you're considering a studio or classes at a health club, here are some tips for finding qualified instructors and classes that suit your needs:

Define your goals Do you have chronic back pain or other physical limitations? An Iyengar-based class, with its emphasis on proper form and use of props, would be ideal. Looking to improve concentration and reduce stress. Consider a class that incorporates meditation. Looking for a challenging workout. Try an ashtanga class.

Ask about the instructor's background. There is no national yoga certification program yet, although some disciplines have their own rigorous teaching certification programs. You want an instructor who has been practicing and teaching for a long time.

Look at the space. Look for spacious, well-ventilated rooms. Plenty of props, sticky mats, straps, foam bricks, blankets and bolsters are also a good sign. Ideally, yoga rooms are quiet, but that may not be the case in a gym where students have to deal with loud music and noisy weight machines.

Yoga for modern urban life: Yoga helps relieve modern stress

For Gail Stuart, who is finishing a series for beginners, yoga is an antidote to the stress of her job at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she works with psychiatric research. She just walks through the whole process and feels like she's escaping. It's a different kind of exercise, she says, a welcome alternative to aerobics or exercise machines, which remind her of a torture chamber.

Yoga is the most prominent form of the burgeoning mind-body health movement, which includes tai chi, qigong and other forms of meditative exercise.

The practice of yoga should integrate all aspects of human existence. While many modern Western practitioners focus on physical asanas, for others, yoga is an all-encompassing way of life and a path to happiness.

What is Yoga and How do I get started in yoga?

Given yoga's lofty goals, it is delightfully simple and can be done anywhere, anytime. Taken to its extreme, yoga encompasses everything from a moral code and dietary practices to deep meditation. Most commonly, however, it is a combination of asana, pranayama (breathing exercises) and some meditation.

Yoga would be an effective and relatively inexpensive substitute for many anxious and stressed patients, although they would probably also need to be motivated to be physically fit.

Yoga for Modern Urban Living: Ancient Practice Adapts to Modern Life

  When Trace Bonner launched Holy Cow in West Ashley's South Windermere shopping center last summer, she didn't know what to expect. He now teaches 16 classes a week and is adding another instructor. And while he attributes the center's success in part to its cute cow logo and convenient location, there's no doubt that there's a renewed interest in yoga across the United States.

The ancient Indian practice of yoga first came to the U.S. in the early 20th century, but didn't catch on until 1969 with the chants at Woodstock. Now, after being overshadowed by the aerobics craze of the 1980s and early 1990s, yoga is once again attracting a following, with many seeking relief from ailments and injuries or the stresses of daily life.

Baby boomers, exhausted from years of jogging and lively workouts, are back on board. But interest is also growing with other age groups, from college students to seniors to celebrities.

The surge of interest is due in part to the growing acceptance by physicians of yoga's healing potential. Conventional medicine has embraced yoga as a gentle therapeutic method to treat a range of illnesses, so more and more physicians are referring their patients to yoga. Initial trials have shown that yoga can help people with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma and cardiac risk factors.

Yoga for Modern Urban Living: Hatha Yoga - Most Popular in the U.S

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 U.S., which is usually offered in gyms and exercise studios, is hatha yoga, which is physical yoga. But there are also different styles of hatha yoga, from power yoga with intense exercise to the gentle chair postures used in svaroopa yoga.

Yoga for modern | Yoga has become an urban science Learn more

Many instructors offer holistic yoga, which involves stretching and bending in various positions called asanas, as well as breathing exercises and deep relaxation. By practicing and learning asanas, students can gain flexibility, strength, endurance and improved circulation.

Integral yoga is not religious, but offers an introspective spiritual component that you won't find in most exercise programs.

A typical adult class lasts 1 hour. First, students focus through the breath, then come together as a group with a collective om. They do a quick series of cardio moves, an hour of stretching and 20 minutes of relaxation 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 sleeping. Some people are just in a really great space, where they are aware of what is going on in the room and, at the same time, they are completely and unequivocally outside.