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Where America Practices

Get out of the city and visit these 10 fantastically yoga-friendly towns.

By Amy Wolf and Charity Ferreira

WhereAmericaPractices

Yoga has long had a stronghold in major metropolises like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, where vibrant yoga scenes feed off a smorgasbord of studios and styles, great instruction from master teachers, contemporary innovations like AcroYoga, and energizing classes where the collective enthusiasm of a hundred students can make for a radically uplifting practice.

But yoga is also flourishing in smaller cities and towns across the nation, each of which has its own unique yoga scene to offer. In Manitou Springs, Colorado, you can drop in to the town's city hall for a donation-based yoga class. In Sun City, Arizona, you can join the more than 200 retirees whose yoga club practices six times a week. Bozeman, Montana, boasts more yoga studios (eight) than gates at the local airport (five).

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, hundreds of people join local kirtan wallah Ragani for a monthly kirtan night, a tradition celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

It's inspiring to see how the country's many yoga communities embrace the practice and adapt it to suit their local style. To celebrate the variety and uniqueness of yoga in the United States, we put together a list of 10 towns where your practice (and your life) can be shaped by that magic combination of ingredients that nurtures a thriving yoga community: Gorgeous studios and world-class yoga instruction. Beautiful scenery and proximity to nature. A culture of healthful living. Like-minded people who value service, giving back, and balance. And above all, a sense that your community and surroundings are a source of support and inspiration.

Asheville, North Carolina

The Scene: There can't be very many towns in the United States where you can take a yoga class just about any time of the day, listen to one of six local kirtan bands, get your harmonium repaired, and undergo the supervised Ayurvedic cleansing program known as panchakarma. But for yoga practitioners in Asheville, that's only the beginning of what makes their community great.

In a telling indicator of the cooperative vibe among the studios here, students can find the entire town's offerings at a glance on the website of the Greater Asheville Yoga Association. Visiting yoga greats include Doug Keller, Kino MacGregor, Rod Stryker, and David Swenson. But Asheville residents have plenty of local instructors to choose from, too, at studios like Asheville Community Yoga, which offers all of its classes by donation; Lighten Up, the town's first Iyengar studio; West Asheville Yoga, host to regular kirtan events; and Asheville Yoga Center, which has a full schedule of classes and workshops.

The town is also a hub of alternative healing, with three Ayurvedic centers, including the Blue Lotus Ayurveda and Panchakarma Clinic and Day Spa. In the spring of 2011, the local Laughing Waters Retreat Center hosted A Day of Yoga and Healing, during which more than 15 local yoga teachers offered classes in different styles as well as workshops on Ayurveda and meditation.

Some claim that nearby Mount Mitchell is a vortex and repository of spiritual teachings. Regardless of your faith in vortexes, the town's proximity to the forests and trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes Asheville a great place to hike, bike, and otherwise enjoy the outdoors.

Fun Fact: Asheville has been named the "most vegetarian-friendly" small city in America by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Shout Out: "People in Asheville are really in tune with how we're connected with the web of life," says Jackie Dobrinska, a yoga teacher who co-founded the Greater Asheville Yoga Association. "We're always thinking about how we can be mindful of that connection."

Austin, Texas

The Scene: The city that proudly bears the slogan "Keep Austin Weird" boasts an exuberance and a largeness of spirit that are the hallmarks of the town's yoga community. Maybe because of Austin's eclectic nature—a thriving live-music scene, combined with the intellectual richness that comes from being a university town as well as the state capital—yoga manifests itself in all kinds of ways, on and off the mat. Renowned Ashtanga teacher David Swenson calls Austin home. Ashtanga, Anusara, and Baptiste Power Yoga thrive here, as do many other styles (hiking yoga, paddleboard yoga, or MP3 power yoga, anyone?). On Austin's annual Free Day of Yoga in September, studios all over town offer free classes to attract beginners and give others a chance to try a new style. And every October, Lululemon Athletica sponsors Yogasm, a free festival of art, music, and yoga featuring artists like MC Yogi and Govinda that attracts more than 1,000 people to Republic Square Park.

Jyl Kutsche, who co-founded Community Yoga Austin, a nonprofit studio that offers donation-based classes whose proceeds help bring yoga to students, prisoners, and the elderly, says the open-minded culture is the reason new ideas catch on so quickly in Austin. "There's no idea you could throw at people here that they'd think is too crazy. It's more like, 'OK, let's do it. Yoga on paddleboards? Bring it on!'"

That might explain why Austin is the birthplace of MedMob, a movement of meditation meet-ups across the country, spread virally through Facebook and other social media. Founded by a group of local yoga teachers, including the owner of donation-based Black Swan Yoga, the group's goal is to expose more people to meditation and show how simple acts create major shifts.

Fun Fact: Lance Armstrong, one of Austin's most famous residents, tweets about his yoga practice, and restorative yoga classes for cyclists are offered regularly at his bike shop, Mellow Johnny's.

Shout Out: "Austin has so many events that tie in music, yoga, and community,"says yoga teacher Malia Scott. "The scene is really alive here—so exuberant, diverse, and fun!"

Boulder, Colorado

The Scene: There's no getting around it: A city with a reputation for being one of the healthiest, happiest, most livable places in the country, Boulder has an unbeatable yoga scene, too. Richard Freeman, the master Ashtanga Yoga teacher in the tradition of K. Pattabhi Jois, has taught at his studio here, Yoga Workshop, for more than two decades. Master teachers of all styles—everyone from Nicki Doane to Rod Stryker to the kirtan wallah Girish—offer workshops at Om Time yoga, located smack downtown. Other popular studios include the Iyengar Yoga Center of Boulder; CorePower Yoga, which has three locations in town; and Studio Be Yoga, which offers classes in styles from Anusara to Yin. Just a half hour away is Shoshoni Yoga Retreat, where you can immerse yourself in yoga and meditation.

High-caliber athletes are drawn to Boulder for its combination of high-altitude air, nearly year-round sunshine, and wide open spaces (which are so loved that residents voted for higher taxes to maintain them). "It's such a pleasure to teach here because people are so incredibly fit," says Anusara Yoga teacher Amy Ippoliti, who lives just outside of town. "But that intense athleticism is somehow balanced by a spaciousness of spirit that you can't help but feel when you see all that open prairie leading up to the vast mountains."

A similar balance is evident in Boulder's equal embrace of the entrepreneurial and the contemplative. The town, which has been called the Silicon Valley of the Rockies, is home to TechStars—a mentorship and seed-money program for startups—as well as the University of Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Naropa University, a liberal arts school founded by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche that emphasizes meditation and compassion along with traditional Western academics. "People here are über-positive and über-creative, and that gets reflected in their practice," Ippoliti says.

Fun Fact: The yoga lifestyle is big business here, and not just for studio owners. The Boulder area is the birthplace of the organic yoga clothing and product companies Prana and Gaiam, the spiritual book and audio publisher Sounds True, the pharmacy chain Pharmaca, and the yoga music recording label White Swan Records, to name a few.

Shout Out: "In big cities, people do yoga to stay sane," says Valerie D'Ambrosio, who organized Boulder's Hanuman Festival, a four-day yoga and music event. "In Boulder, people do yoga to come back to what matters. It's more about a craving for connection to Self and to community and to the Divine."

Encinitas, California

The Scene: Some of the biggest yoga movements in the country got their start in this laid-back coastal town. Paramahansa Yogananda completed his Autobiography of a Yogi on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean here in 1945, giving birth to a spiritual legacy that continues to thrive through the Self-Realization Fellowship. And in 1975, David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff brought Sri K. Pattabhi Jois to this beach town in San Diego County on his first trip to the United States, essentially anointing Encinitas as the birthplace of Ashtanga in America. Jois returned many times over the course of two decades and called Encinitas his American home.

Opportunities to find sanctuary here are many. Tim Miller, the first American to be certified by Jois, runs the Ashtanga Yoga Center in neighboring Carlsbad, where students can choose from a variety of classes or do an independent Mysore-style practice. This year, the Jois family opened Jois Yoga, a studio that aims to become the Western counterpart of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore. Just down the highway is the internationally known Chopra Center for Wellbeing, which offers workshops on meditation and holistic health.

Fun Fact: There's a surfing spot in Encinitas known to surfers around the world as "Swami's," after Paramahansa Yogananda, whose Self-Realization Fellowship Temple sits on the cliff above.

Shout Out: "There's a very special energy here," says Lynn Alley, a longtime yoga teacher at the Chopra Center. "The closeness to nature that you feel here, to the ocean, to history—it expresses itself in so many ways."

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Scene: The adaptive yoga workshop at the nonprofit Mind Body Solutions, which draws participants from all over the world to the Minneapolis area, is a teacher training program like no other. Its creator, Iyengar Yoga teacher Matthew Sanford, developed the training based on his own experience of living with paralysis from the chest down. Sanford's studio, Mind Body Solutions, located in nearby Minnetonka, offers classes for traditional students and adaptive yoga classes for those with mobility issues, who are assisted into postures as a way of deepening the connection between mind and body—a connection Sanford says is available to everyone.

Since 2009, Sanford's adaptive yoga training program has trained more than 100 yogis to teach students with disabilities. "I want to be a resource for other teachers and students, to get as many teachers as possible in the Twin Cities teaching a wide range of abilities and disabilities," Sanford says.

Yoga is truly for everyone in Minneapolis. The city has a long tradition of supporting philanthropy and volunteer work, and that same spirit thrives in the yoga community. The nonprofit studio One Yoga partners with a variety of other local nonprofit groups to bring on-site yoga classes to those in need. The studio's instructors have taught yoga at the bedsides of people with life-threatening illnesses, to teen mothers, and to Spanish-speaking immigrants enrolled in English-language courses.

Yoga is also the impetus behind monthly community fundraising events organized by the Gorilla Yogis, who use social media to draw up to 300 yogis to a designated spot—whether it's a baseball field, an art gallery, a music venue, or the banks of the Mississippi. Local instructors offer classes for a suggested donation, with proceeds benefiting a different local nonprofit each month.

Fun Fact: The City of Lakes is also a city of parks: It has more than 180 parks and 6,732 acres of parkland and water, including some 50 miles of trails for walking, running, and biking year-round.

Shout Out: "We have a lot of yoga here, but there's also this spark of energy you can feel, that people are craving more than just the physical aspects," says Jessica Rosenberg, co-creator of the Gorilla Yogis. "How do you combine breath and movement to become whole, and then carry that energy off the mat?"

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August 2011

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Reader Comments

Ellen

If only DC weren't so expensive! There are so many wonderful studios, but as a poor graduate student, I can't afford to pay for a membership.

Pat

I live in Boulder and yoga here is a joke. Classes are all about competition and showing off.

I have spina bifida and enjoy a gentle home practice. More than one studio here has treated me like a pariah because I don't have the perfect body.

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