While we’re unsure about the exact origins of yoga, we do know that it has been readily accepted in the U.S. and that its popularity continues to grow. “I think it’s fair to say that yoga is now its own, bona-fide industry,” said Melissa Gutierrez, yoga teacher and co-founder of SMARTer Bodies in New York. “It’s more than a fad now.”
Yoga has numerous benefits and a growing industry suggests more and more people are reaping those benefits. There are ups and downs to that expansion, though, and a big industry means that consumers need to be smarter about identifying true yoga. “Quality is a concern with yoga instructors,” Melissa said. Instructors need only 200 hours of education to teach and the weak job market is encouraging more people to become instructors. “While 200 hours might be enough time to teach a class, it isn’t enough time to work with the human body,” Melissa said.
Melissa completed 200 hours of instruction at the Karuna Center for Yoga & Healing Arts in Northampton, Massachusetts but then decided she wanted to work in the fashion industry with her sister. While she enjoyed that job, she was restless and unsure about where she wanted to be. She eventually left the fashion industry and turned to the Breathing Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote the highest possible standards in yoga education. After completing an additional 200 hours there, she said she had a better understanding of the anatomy, breathing therapy and how they relate to yoga.
Today’s yoga market comprises all ages, but Melissa believes the fastest growing group is professionals in their 20s and 30s. She said yoga has helped some people learn how to calm down amid a culture that doesn’t know how to relax. In some cases, yoga has saved the quality of their lives. Industry growth has encouraged the establishment of organizations like Yoga Foster, a nonprofit initiative that brings free yoga classes to kids in New York City communities.
Another benefit of yoga’s expansion is its increasing availability for children, Melissa said. “With kids, it’s sort of go go go from the start. Kids have their own pressure.” She said most activities today bring with them a performance aspect and expectations that the child will be able to produce something. Yoga, on the other hand, is just for the child to feel good. “It teaches kids that you can control your quality if you can control your breath.”
Yoga’s popularity also means that people can get caught up in the wrong kind of yoga. “Telling people that they will burn calories during a yoga class is the wrong message. Take another class like kick-boxing if you’re looking to burn calories. It’s ok if that’s what you want, but when you add other goals to yoga besides self-exploration, it becomes something else,” Melissa said.
This expansion means that students need to take their yoga practice into their own hands. They need to be able to identify quality teachers who will help them maximize all that yoga has to offer. If a teacher leads the class into a pose, such as Warrior I, and then tells those students who are unable to complete the pose to just go into Child’s Pose and doesn’t offer modifications and progressions, that instructor might be less experienced, Melissa said. Other red flags include an instructor who doesn’t reference real anatomy during the class or appears afraid of or unsure about a student’s injury.
“Be in a class that’s more about feeling and less about stretching as much as you can,” Melissa said. She emphasized the importance of breathing, saying that during every pose you should be able to focus on your breath. You can use your breath as a measurement of whether you’re taking a pose too far. “The second your breath changes you’re going to a place I can no longer advocate,” she said.
Melissa predicts that the trendiness of yoga will continue for the next decade or so. Then, the demand for higher-quality teachers will move to the forefront. “Consumers will be savvier and it will boil down to those teachers who really make a difference.”