Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 16 News List

Breathe in and workout

Yoga is thousands of years old but is more relevant today than ever in reversing the negative effects of materialism and a sedentary lifestyle

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

He was king of the gym but when it came to the yoga mat he was bottom of the class.

Like many other urbanites, public relations consultant John Hanlon wanted a break from the routine of lifting weights when he took a yoga session at a California Fitness branch in Taipei last weekend.

A ripped physique didn't help as he struggled to balance and maintain poses that others found relatively simple. The yoga mat, it seems, is a great leveler.

"It's not easy," said the former US army soldier. "It exposed weaknesses in my body I didn't expect. I was shocked and amazed. It was a humbling yet fulfilling experience."

Hanlon said he would be doing more classes in the future. He noted the workout hardened stomach muscles he hadn't exercised before and he felt calmed.

"Focusing on one thing made me concentrate, not like in the gym where I'm thinking of what I'm going to do next. It was like a one-hour vacation," he said.

Hanlon is not alone. Sting, Quincy Jones, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna are well-known personalities who have also discovered the benefits of yoga, and there are now an estimated 16.5 million adherents in the US, according to Yoga Journal.

Where America leads the world follows, and Taipei has experienced its own yoga explosion in the past few years.

Regional manager Michael Kyprianou said California Fitness has run yoga classes since it started in Asia 10 years ago but demand had increased dramatically.

"The appetite for yoga is absolutely amazing. The growth we have seen in the various branches of this discipline in our California Fitness clubs around the region has been phenomenal," he said in an e-mail response from Hong Kong.

An ROC Yoga Association (中華民國瑜伽協會) representative said it had around 10,000 members and there was strong growth, but it's the so-called "boutique yoga centers" that are expanding quickest. The yoga center Space attracted 10,000 members to its Anhe Road branch last year.

Space Director William Hsieh (謝維倫) was also on the gym's exercise treadmill before he discovered yoga, which was first practiced around 5,000 years ago in India.

"Gym shortens the muscles, whereas yoga makes them more flexible. You could say [bodybuilders] are technically deformed. They can't even straighten their arms," Hsieh said.

"There has been a natural evolution of yoga from a traditional ascetic practice. In the past two or three decades it has become more systematized and repackaged by Western practitioners," he said.

"Yoga, for me, is a dynamic form of meditation and exercise," said the former record label boss who was born in Taiwan but lived for many years in California. "It gives you a lithe or feline look rather than muscular bulk."

Though more men are becoming drawn to this type of figure than the muscle-bound look (with its related health problems), women are leading the yoga revolution.

They comprise around 80 percent of clients at yoga centers that were polled. They seek physical well-being, weight loss and a mental or even spiritual dimension to their exercise.

Travel journalist Sabine Mou (牟秀英) used to go to the gym and had done yoga before at a small studio, but was converted after her first session at Space.

"I wasn't so happy about my job and other things, but after the first lesson I was smiling all the way home," Mou said. "Previously I had been going to the gym for three years. You can make a beautiful body but at the end of the day you face a machine."

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