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Thursday, December 28, 2006

yoga in the news

once again, yoga manages to make it to the news. the last time i posted something, it was about the fame and fortune that was being bestowed on some yoga instructors; this time it's about the money that yoga-related vendors are making off the growing ranks of fashion-conscious yogis.

i found this on the business page of today's web edition of the new york times. here are some excerpts; click on this link for the complete article:

Meditate on This: Yoga Is Big Business
Published: December 28, 2006

Under dim lights and pulsating techno-trance music, the vast room at a recent yoga conference in a mountain town northwest of Boulder, Colo., looked like a rave club, without the drugs. Some 140 people formed fluid concentric circles around Shiva Rea, a globe-trotting yoga-dance instructor from Los Angeles.

In a room next door, 64 vendors of clothing, accessories, books, skin-care products and other yoga-related enticements attended to customers and watched the class from the doorway.

Welcome to the 11th annual Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park, Colo., where yoga students and teachers from around the country spent hundreds of dollars to take classes from renowned instructors like Ms. Rea, Rodney Yee, Richard Freeman and Seane Corn. And to shop.

The conference taps into an ever-growing pool of yogis. The number of Americans who practice yoga at least twice a week jumped 133 percent, to 3 million this year from 1.3 million in 2001, according to a survey conducted by Mediamark Research. The figures are based on interviews Mediamark conducts each year with roughly 26,000 people as part of a larger survey. (The margin of error is 5 percent.) As of last spring, more than 10 million people said they had practiced yoga at least once in the last 12 months.

In 2004, the most recent year tracked, Americans spent $2.95 billion on yoga classes, yoga-related products like clothing, books and mats, and on yoga retreats and vacations, according to a survey of nearly 4,800 people conducted for Yoga Journal.

Yoga has stretched far beyond its meditative, baggy-sweats roots to become a fashionable lifestyle pursuit appealing as much to competitive marathon runners and college students as is does to om-chanting meditators. Curve-hugging styles in Lycra, cotton and microfibers come from a variety of yoga-inspired brands, including Prana, Be Present, Inner Waves, and Lululemon Athletica, as well as Nike and Fila.

In a sign of how this niche is gaining mainstream appeal, last year Liz Claiborne bought Prana. Beaver Theodosakis and his wife, Pam, founded Prana 13 years ago in their garage in Carlsbad, Calif. They said they wanted to design flexible and stylish clothes for yoga practitioners and rock climbers. Prana’s sales had reached $30 million by the time Liz Claiborne bought it, according to Mr. Theodosakis. Neither company disclosed the purchase price.

Lululemon Athletica, a professed "yoga-inspired athletic apparel company" based in Vancouver, British Columbia, this year hired a former chief executive of Reebok, Robert Meers, to run the company. Lululemon is expanding in Japan and especially in the United States, where the company operates 10 stores and plans to open 30 next year and eventually 200, Mr. Meers said.

Increasingly, major corporations outside the athletics and mind-body arenas are aiming their advertisements at this lucrative market. Prudential Financial, for instance, is running a "Live Long Live Well" campaign. A svelte woman in her 60s stretches in a triangle pose in the ads. "Yoga personifies the idea of health, and we've been making a concerted effort to tie well-being into finances," said Maria Umbach, a vice president for marketing in Prudential's life insurance unit.

Ford Motor sought young and fit career women this year in its "Live and Drive" ad campaign for its $18,000 Fusion car. The ads featured a woman in her 20s taking a yoga class in which she is straining to lift her body vertically into an arm-stand pose that other students around her are holding perfectly.

Jewelry designers are also tailoring their products to serve this burgeoning niche. Sonja Picard, a Canadian designer, for instance, inscribes ancient Vedic sutras in some of her silver necklaces and bracelets. Price tags for these added touches can be heaven-high.

"We do charge more for the research," said Heather Askinose, a co-founder of Energy Muse Jewelry, whose tagline is "activating jewelry through intention." Ms. Askinose and her business partner, Timmi Jandro, promise their customers that each jewelry piece is strung by a Vietnamese family in Los Angeles. It is also "cleansed" of all human contact and energy for 48 hours in a room where it is "vibrationally aligned with music" before being wrapped in a cotton pouch. Each necklace comes with a message, or "intention" — confidence, tranquillity, happiness, performance, and so on.

Back at the yoga conference, Angie Amburgey selected a carnelian and turquoise necklace at the crowded Energy Muse kiosk. She said she was drawn to its "voice" message and its elegance.

"I can't believe I paid $100 for this necklace," said Ms. Amburgey, 32, a marketing professional from Columbus, Ohio, while rubbing the Chinese coin pendant on her necklace. "It's brilliant marketing, isn't it? I should know. But they said it'll help me with expression issues. Besides, I'm on vacation."