More Americans than ever are tying themselves in knots, in a good way. A 2012 study on Yoga in America found 8.7 percent of Americans practice yoga, and the number of yogis has increased by 29 percent increase since 2008.
During this time, a number of yoga studios in Southern Maine have expanded their offerings from the traditional yoga class to include workshops and retreats, while others have built on traditional vinyasa styles of yoga to create their own unique brands of yoga.
At Freeport Yoga Company and Greener Postures Yoga in South Portland and West Falmouth, instructors come from all over – including Boston and New York City – to lead workshops. Gretchen Campos, director of operations and a teacher at Greener Postures, said the workshops “give students a chance to experience something new without travelling to get it.”
Campos said many students are drawn to the workshops because they “hit a plateau” in their regular practice and are seeking a new challenge.
One challenge of a workshop is the length: they are longer than regular classes, typically lasting anywhere from two to five hours, and are usually held in the afternoon on a weekend.
The length means the workshop can move more leisurely than a standard yoga class. Most workshops start with an opening talk, where the instructor outlines the agenda and goals for the class. There’s time to break during the teaching for questions and discussions about poses and sequencing. Campos said that while stopping a class may feel jarring, in a workshop it’s expected and even encouraged.
In a workshop, the focus is often more specific than a regular class. Classes are taught in a style, such as vinyasa flow, where the student moves quickly through the sequence of poses. But a workshop might break down the yogic style to a very specific component, which could range from pelvic alignment to a style of breathing called pranayama.
The focus of a workshop may also be toward a specific clientele, such as Yoga for Emotional Health and Healing, a class at Greener Postures for clinicians, health professionals and yoga teachers; or Yoga for Runners, a Freeport Yoga Company class. Workshops are also offered in a general style, much like a regular yoga class.
Terry Cockburn, owner and founder of Freeport Yoga Company, said the workshops typically attract students with a regular practice who “come to a variety of classes throughout the week but are curious about the practice and eager to learn more.” She said one of the benefits of a focused, in-depth workshop is that it can inform and improve a student’s regular practice.
Campos, who is leading a basics-focused workshop at Greener Postures in February, said if students want to achieve the yogi holy grail of arm balances and headstands, they have to be comfortable with the basics of the postures.
Campos described herself as a “bricklayer” whose teaching tries to give students a solid foundation. If students can “put their hands on the mat securely and keep their chin lifted in poses that are simple, it sets the muscle memory,” Campos said, that allows for growth in the practice.
Cockburn, a certified running coach, offers Yoga for Runners workshops. She said many of her students who are runners come to the studio wanting to try yoga, but they may not know the style of yoga that best suits their needs as an athlete. Cockburn said her workshop focuses on yoga that doesn’t leave students too sore to run, and instead complements their running regiment.
Aleksandra Townsend, founder and owner of Spiral Tree Yoga in Portland, said some of her students seek out workshops because they “want to deepen their practice and learn more about other aspects of yoga.”
Townsend said the workshops complement a regular practice, giving students “a different venue to explore and ask questions. We lecture things a little more clearly, and explain them on a deeper level.”
Spiral Tree Yoga is also unique for its family-oriented yoga offerings. Townsend said she opened the studio when she wanted to “break barriers for parents to access yoga, and create a place for families to practice yoga together.”
There are a number of different offerings: classes that are for parents only and child care is provided, classes geared toward children and teens, and classes where children and parents practice together. In the “Little Yogi Family” workshop, a parent and young child can learn yogic breaths, asanas, and relaxation techniques together.
Hustle and Flow is another studio in Portland that offers a distinct style of classes. B-Girl Yoga, for example, integrates aspects of breaking (also known as break dance) into a traditional, flow-style yoga class.
Harmon said the seemingly divergent practices “in reality are very similar and have a lot of the same postures.” Arm balances and headstands of yoga are similar to breaks and freezes in breaking, requiring the movers to balance on their hands or head.
She said the studio draws people who “want to move in their yoga.” They’re often serious yogis who like to dance but are maybe intimidated by choreography-heavy dance classes.
Students who return to more traditional yoga classes after B-Girl practice may find they want to move more in their postures and “go a little deeper because the body is not just holding the posture for five breaths,” Harmon said. “You realize you don’t have to be stagnant in the postures.”
Harmon said her vision for the studio is to empower all people, but especially women, to be their most authentic selves.
“The things we do might be a little out there,” Harmon said, “but we do that on purpose because we want people to feel like they have a place to come and let their freak flag fly.”
And this seems to be a common theme – the diversity of offerings has helped studios attract a unique and loyal clientele, a group of people who form a community around a studio that fits their needs.