Across the state, yoga teachers are spinning out instructions and inspiration, while students of all ages bend, stretch and sometimes creak their way into unfamiliar positions. What keeps them coming back is a feeling of relaxed fitness and overall well-being that has fueled a yoga boom in Baltimore.
But booms crest, and not everyone is convinced that yoga's latest surge in popularity can support all the studios and teachers that make up the Baltimore-area yoga scene. Some are even wondering how much yoga is too much.
As one of the area's pioneering yoga teachers, Stan Andrzejewski has watched the growth of yoga locally and nationally. With about 1,300 students at studios in Timonium, Annapolis and Harford County, he often sees a dip in spring and summer enrollments, and this year is no exception.
Is the local market saturated? "I think so," says Andrzejewski, who opened his first studio in 1990. "Two years ago, there was a big spurt, ... [but now] with all the competition, it's slowed down everywhere."
Saturated or not, events of the past year have taken a toll. After a heavy dose of snow last winter, a war in the spring and a slumping economy, Susan L. Pennington of Susquehanna Yoga Center in Timonium says her business dropped "by a good third" from its previous level of about 400 students.
But if the increased competition puts pressure on the business side of yoga, it's good news for consumers. More trained teachers and new takes on traditional styles of yoga are broadening the market and appealing to a larger audience. Classes convenient to people in a wider geographic range are now offered.
"As far as I'm concerned, business is great. There's a ton of demand," says Patti Quicksilver, who teaches at Susquehanna Yoga Center, Meadow Mill Athletic Club and Maryland Athletic Club, as well as privately.
The past year has seen the opening of two more studios in the area, each devoted to popular new forms of yoga, and both are filling a busy schedule of classes.
Quantum Yoga and Wellness Inc. in Baltimore offers Anusara yoga, a new take on the precise style of the Iyengar tradition, and has served more than 1,000 students since it opened in October. Quantum director Mona Hoff describes Anusara as "yoga evolved to the next level," a reference to its emphasis on combining Western knowledge about physiology and anatomy with an Eastern understanding of how energy flows through the body.
Meanwhile, Bikram, a franchised form of strenuous "hot yoga" performed in 100-degree temperatures, opened a studio in Cockeysville last summer. With many celebrity clients nationally, Bikram yoga has found a niche among those who like a physically challenging workout.
Reggie Meneses, managing director and owner of the local franchise, says "at least 2,100 people" have given Bikram's hot workout a try here.
The diversity of yoga classes in Baltimore is a far cry from an earlier yoga craze, when there was little awareness of different styles of yoga and classes were generally confined to church basements and neighborhood centers, while many would-be aficionados resorted to copying poses pictured in yoga books.
As yoga has taken hold in this country, the market for classes has become more competitive and sometimes less meditative than serious practitioners would like. But so far the local yoga scene seems to have avoided the complaints of greedy behavior or ethical lapses that have occasionally surfaced on the national scene.
"I don't think anybody's going to get rich on yoga in Baltimore," says Diane Finlayson, owner of Yama Studio in Charles Village and an announcer at public radio station WYPR. "If they can make a living on it, God bless them."
When talk turns to money and yoga, sooner or later the subject is Bikram Choudhury, who revels in a lavish lifestyle supported by his Los Angeles-based empire of franchised Bikram centers and teacher training, along with lectures, workshops and related products.
"He's outrageous and he says he is," says Andrzejewski. "Yoga is a powerful tool, but it can be treated in many ways."
Andrzejewski and others predict that many people drawn to yoga in its current wave of popularity will move on to other pursuits, particularly those who are more interested in the physical exercise than in the meditative aspects. But some will incorporate yoga into their daily routines, undertaking what serious yoga practitioners describe as a personal "yoga journey."
Even if the current boom crests and recedes somewhat, no one expects yoga to fade away. Yoga offers some of the best aspects of many physical pursuits, notes Quicksilver.
Combine its ability to strengthen, relax and rejuvenate the body with what she calls its several-thousand-year-old "self-help tradition," and, she says, "I don't think it gets any better than that."
The major styles