Yoga Enthusiast Says Exercise Gaining `Mainstream' Popularity

Article excerpt

Lorriene Wotawa leaves a weekly yoga class at Meramec Community College feeling recharged.

"I walk out, and it hits me how blue the sky is and how green the grass is," said the 49-year-old grandmother who took yoga to meet a physical education requirement when she returned to college.

Wotawa gains confidence and strength after she stretches, meditates, relaxes and breathes deeply for 90 minutes. "Yoga puts everything together - mental, physical and spiritual," she said.

Students like Wotawa take yoga classes throughout the area at a variety of sites: a fitness center in O'Fallon, Mo., a bookstore in Maplewood, a hospital in Richmond Heights, a school in East St. Louis and YMCAs in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Yoga arrived in the United States from India a century ago. So what's new?

"Yoga is more mainstream now," said Sharon Womack, president of the Yoga Association of St. Louis.

She said enthusiasts once had to find yoga centers. Now classes in the ancient art turn up closer to home and work - from corporate campuses in Creve Coeur to community colleges in Forest Park and Ferguson.

Popularity also rises as the mystery and mystic of yoga melt.

"This is not a religious experience," said Kate Raley, a yoga instructor. "It is spiritual. It doesn't matter whether you believe in God, Allah, heaven or earth.

"Standing in yoga you have a string that goes from the sky to the center of the ground, and it runs straight through your body. And that's what yoga makes you feel . . . . It brings you back in balance on your two feet."

Some students take part because they realize they can participate even if they can't bend like a pretzel.

"It's really learning to listen to your body," said Lyn Magee, a yoga instructor. "That's what yoga is all about."

Yoga lost students during the aerobics craze of the 80s. But many baby boomers return in the 90s because yoga keeps them fit and flexible without injury. Even Jane Fonda's latest video features a yoga workout.

Attendance is also up as doctors endorse yoga, including Dr. Dean Ornish. His much- publicized program to prevent and reverse coronary heart disease includes yoga.

"Just give yourself permission to let go of any anxieties or worries you brought to class - leave them at the door," Magee tells students starting a late afternoon yoga session at Captain School in Clayton.

For the next hour, Magee leads her class of elementary teachers through an experience so relaxing one or two fall asleep during the final moments of stretching and deep breathing.

Other students twist, turn, bend, sway and stretch in private lessons at home. One of Kitty Daly's private students is a 47-year-old blind woman who tried yoga to "heal" after finishing a doctoral thesis on medieval English literature. The student found holding her body in various postures, including a head stand, relaxed her. …

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