Yoga’s popularity stretches from nudists to infants

By Annette Reuther, IANS
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

BERLIN - In the new movie “Eat, Pray, Love”, actress Julia Roberts practices not only eating and love-making, but also yoga. With the help of celebrities such as Roberts, yoga has become an activity for the masses.

Now practiced by a broad range of people from nudists to babies, yoga has spread from its origin in India into western societies. Some would say the promotion of yoga in the US and Europe has become strident and commercial.

Yoga has spread so far that newborn babies now have an opportunity to get into a course just a short time after arriving in the world.

Some babies are already spirituality connected to yoga when they are born because their mothers attended yoga courses for pregnant women while they were still in the womb.

From yoga for infants still in diapers, the little ones can progress to yoga for babies, yoga for young children and then on to teenage yoga, adult yoga, yoga for women in menopause and yoga for seniors. Yoga is also offered in prisons and nudist camps.

The meditation, stretching and strengthening exercise that just a decade or so ago had an esoteric image, today is mainstream, accompanying many modern-thinking people throughout all phases of their lives. This is true even when in some yoga courses there isn’t much left of the original Indian philosophy that promotes the wholeness of the body and soul.

The latest trend from the US and spreading to other countries is yoga for babies that are still nursing. In Germany baby yoga is still “taking baby steps”, said Katja Kunipatz, who offers Pitimini yoga for infants at her studio in Berlin. People often don’t understand what the course is supposed to achieve.

“It’s not about the babies saying ‘Ommmmm’,” she said. “It’s about building a relationship between parents and their child. It’s good for both of them.” Children get the benefit of movement and massages, while mothers have a chance to relax.

This is what five-month-old Dilay is supposed to experience, but she prefers fidgeting to relaxing. Her mother, Derya Kleinert, tries to make her stop by singing and stroking her, but the her restlessness doesn’t end. The participants who get to do the course with a silent doll are the happiest.

In adult yoga classes importance is placed on relaxation and serenity. Many participants aim to relieve stress, solve back problems or perhaps simply firm up their bottom by doing positions with names such as downward facing dog, cobra pose and sun salutation.

Health insurers accept yoga in some cases as preventative medicine. However, doctors generally don’t think much of new types of yoga courses, such as those for babies. It has not been scientifically proven as having a positive effect on infants, said Stephan Esser, chief executive of Germany’s association of paediatricians. “But it can’t hurt anything as long as the infants don’t have to attempt the back-bending sun salutation pose.”

“Yoga has shaken off its image as an esoteric activity and become a mass movement,” said Doris Hafner, chief executive of Germany’s professional association for yoga teachers. “The numbers are constantly increasing.” One reason for the sustained growth of yoga is the constant development of new ideas. One example is holding yoga classes on the roof of high-rise buildings.

“It is an indication of the deep yearning in our consumer society to attain wholeness,” said Hafner.

But even this yearning for wholeness has been turned into a consumer product. Celebrities such as Madonna and Jennifer Aniston show off physiques hardened in yoga classes. Even Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond, supposedly does gentle yoga stretches. Clothing makers such as Adidas offer designer yoga mats by Stella McCartney. There also are breathable mats made of merino wool and Hello Kitty mats for children.

An Adidas spokeswoman said the company’s yoga clothing and accessories collections are becoming more extensive because there is “constant demand” for the items. She declined, however, to provide revenue amounts.

It is generally difficult to describe the yoga industry in numbers. The German association of yoga instructors says there are more than 20,000 yoga teachers and 5 million yoga participants in Germany. A survey conducted by a major German market research company revealed that 8.5 percent of German households have at least one person who does yoga.

The actual figure is believed to be higher because anyone who wishes may call himself or herself a yoga instructor in Germany. No certification is required. This is also true in the US and many other countries. Hafner said the reason there are a lot of “black sheep” in yoga is because it encompasses an “open concept”.

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