A few years ago, finding a yoga class in Dallas was about as easy as finding a historic home in the suburbs. Sure, there were a few around, but the people who cared or even knew about them were overwhelmingly outnumbered by those who didn’t.

Today, yoga classes abound, particularly in our neighborhood and other central Dallas communities, where an increasing number of hip, young homebuyers are flocking. A handful of yoga studios call Preston Hollow home, and many local gyms in the area offer classes as well. And in attendance at those classes? What was once a handful of happy chanters is now a roomful of high-energy moms and hands-free mobile-phone business types.

What has caused the sudden interest in a practice that has been around for thousands of years? Is it just another fitness fad, soon to go the way of vibrating belts, high impact aerobics and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies?” Or will this age-old wellness regimen show staying power?

To find out, we talked with yoga enthusiasts in our area and received some interesting answers.

Preston Hollow resident Kendall Inman is one of yoga’s relatively new converts. She’s also an excellent example of the type of folks finding yoga these days.

The former marketing executive briefly tried yoga in college, before spending her 20s handling multi-million dollar accounts such as Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karen and Guess Apparel.

But in her 30s, Inman found herself with a new marriage, stepchildren and a young son. Craving a more meaningful and peaceful personal life, she took up yoga again, and this time in earnest.

“It saved my life, actually,” she says. “I was looking for some peace. I had a toddler, was doing weights and going to the gym, and it just wasn’t doing anything for me. I wasn’t sleeping well and the weight wouldn’t come off.”

She took classes locally at first, and eventually became so dedicated that she traveled the world to study with yoga masters. Why? Because yoga is different from other fitness programs, she says. It helps people become both physically and mentally strong.

“I felt more balanced internally and externally,” she says. “I began sleeping better and feeling better. Friends started telling me I seemed more grounded and relaxed. Yoga just brings out a kindness in me. It makes me feel more accountable, more honest.”

And she smiles as she adds another bonus: “And I lost 20 pounds.”

Inman now teaches yoga at Goodbody’s and TownNorth YMCA, and she recently started her own company, Living Yoga, to bring yoga masters to Dallas for weekend workshops.

Yoga, she says, has become her life.

“It just makes you feel really, really good,” she says. “People start doing yoga for its physical aspects, but as you start opening up the body, the mental stuff also comes. You open up a lot of things inside as well.”

With testimonials such as Inman’s floating around, yoga’s growth was inevitable. And so, it seems, was its commercialization.

Just ask Maurie Smith, who opened Yoga for Life, a yoga studio that teaches traditional forms of yoga, in 1999.

“At the time, there were only three real yoga centers,” she says. “And even two years ago, you could give me the names of any yoga teachers, and I’d know them.”

Since then, however, the number of teachers has increased dramatically, Smith says, adding that many recent instructors aren’t certified. And even if they are, she says, different certifications mean very different things.

Also changed, Smith says, are the types and quality of classes offered.

Two of today’s most popular styles are power yoga, in which poses are moved through quickly to keep the heart rate up, and heated, or Bikram, yoga, where students exercise in temperatures as high as 105 degrees.

Traditionally, yoga’s approach was meant to calm the mind, body and spirit. So why turn it into yet another sweaty workout?

“It’s called capitalism. The U.S.A. dollar signs got in their eyes,” says Smith, referring to people who’ve come up with “improvements” to traditional yoga. She considers these new developments “fad yoga,” but is nevertheless concerned that traditional disciplines will get lost among them.

“I think there’s a chance of traditional yoga being around even less,” she says, “because it doesn’t make enough money. Traditional yoga is not about pushing yourself, so its benefits can take time. And as Americans, we’re not geared to be patient for something to be good for you. So people go to these other classes.”

And those classes, combined with teachers who aren’t well trained, can lead to injuries, she says.

“If we get to where we’re governed by a state arm, you’ll see a big change,” she says. “A lot of those teachers won’t be around.”

One teacher Smith expects to be around for years is Serina Cox. She has been practicing yoga seriously for about 10 years, after having back surgery for a ruptured disk.

She teaches at Yoga For Life, Presbyterian Hospital’s cardiovascular center and Greenhill School. Recently, she became involved in a research project at Southwestern Medical School, studying yoga’s effect on depression.

Cox practices the Scaravelli method of yoga, a relatively gently style that requires its teachers be extensively trained and experienced. She was once involved in a very rigorous style of yoga, but realized it wasn’t for her.

“There’s lots of stuff of rigor in life, and not many things contributing to calm and relaxation,” she says. “I think people need to take some kind of yoga that’s slow and mindful.”

Her methods are reminiscent of the last time yoga enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity, in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the focus was on a no-pressure, feel-good, I’m-OK-you’re-OK kind of discipline.

“No one ever asks you to do those wild poses with Scaravelli,” Cox says.

“We don’t worry about what the pose looks like, but what it feels like. If you’re in pain, you’re not doing something good for your body, even if you look good doing it.”

Cox says she regularly receives feedback about the difference Scaravelli yoga has made for students.

“We hear these stories all the time,” she says. “People are always telling me about how yoga has changed their lives. They’re able to do things they could never do before.”

And that’s why Cox doesn’t worry yoga just being a passing fad. “I think some aspects of it will ultimately end up on the faddish side,” she says. “Things like hot yoga and power yoga. But the more traditional methods are here to stay.”

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