Yoga is an ancient discipline, but that doesn't mean it never changes.
Every teacher tries to bring something new to his or her students — and every student to his or her own practice.
For some, it's a spiritual, mental and physical experience based in traditions they deeply respect. For others, it's a good excuse to buy a cute pair of yoga pants.
Whatever gets you in the studio door. Pants, chants or any one of the myriad types of yoga you can sample these days — everything from hot yoga to power yoga to chair yoga to aerial yoga to "Mommy and Me."
Yoga is a very broad term, says Mark Drost, co-founder of Evolation Yoga, which offers teacher training worldwide, including in Tampa, where his company used to be based.
There can be some abuse of that broadness, and having all those "brands" out there can get confusing, Drost says. But it all boils down to intentions.
"If it gets you to go deeper, then good," he says. "If not, it's just a fad, and it will disappear.
"It isn't about pitching a particular system, or focusing just on the poses," Drost says. "As teachers, we meet people where they are, with what they have. We take them and help them grow."
More than 36 million Americans practice yoga, according to the 2016 Yoga in America survey. And that number is growing. The people who show up for trendy classes like Goat Yoga, the newest offering from Namaste Yoga Studio in Lutz, are mostly newcomers, says owner Adrienne Reed. Gimmicky classes are fun and low pressure, and they often serve as stepping stones for those who might be on the fence about trying yoga.
Because, let's face it, the whole thing can be pretty daunting. Take, for example:
The vocabulary and symbols: Try Googling just one yoga term. Prana. It's a rabbit hole. Likewise chi, om and namaste (all Sanskrit words the average Joe likely throws around with absolutely no idea what they mean).
The poses: Downward dog? Doable. Dragonfly? Not so much.
The bodies: Um, yeah. Anybody can do yoga, and you'll see all shapes and sizes in the studio. But the die-hards are hard-bodied, lean and tight.
The discipline: It can take hours to perfect a posture, and people who love it work at it. According to the Yoga in America survey, 59 percent of those who do yoga (whatever type) practice at least once a week.
Because of the intimidation factor, getting people interested with an intriguing format is just good outreach, Reed says. (Next up for her studio — a bit more kitsch: Beer Yoga, which blends your favorite beverage with a move toward mindfulness, starts Aug. 18.)
A venue change also works.
Walking into a studio, where all the regulars know what they're doing and you don't, can be challenging, says Rissa Wray, owner of Moving Meditations in St. Petersburg. "It's hard to step into someone else's community."
Off-site, by-donation classes, including those held every Thursday at the Gallery in downtown St. Petersburg, offer convenience, a strong teacher and a great aesthetic, Wray says. "You get the yoga experience without the barriers."
And you still get the mental and physical benefits: better breathing, flexibility, overall fitness and stress reduction — just to name a few. You don't have to go very deep into the postures to do that, Drost says. "Any class, any focus can help reduce stress and improve awareness of the body."
That's the backbone of yoga, says Erin Wheeler of Lucky Cat Yoga in Tampa. Wheeler and her husband, Eric, teach at different studios and venues around Tampa Bay, including the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
Though they hope to open their own brick and mortar studio in September, the couple have enjoyed the geographic and demographic diversity they've encountered as "nomads." They've introduced students to Dark Wave Yoga through funky themed events with moves and music inspired by pop culture (the TV show Stranger Things, for example, and the movies of Wes Anderson). And they've taught Mommy and Me classes at local libraries.
It's all out there, Erin Wheeler says. "You just have to find the teacher and class you connect with."
Then take advantage of the abundance to try new things … and old.
Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.