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More People Learning To Become Yoga Instructors
Special to The CourantApril 29, 2009

Paula Scopino, left, is the owner of Sacred Rivers Yoga in Glastonbury. She provides accredited classes for yoga instructors who are looking to enter the field or expand their knowledge. Following along are students (from left) Renee Ulbinsky of South Windsor, Gayle Melillo of Cheshire, Barbara Fasulo of Cromwell, and Sharon Cormier of Tolland. (RICHARD MESSINA / HARTFORD COURANT / April 5, 2009)

Hold that pose.

A record number of people — from freshly minted college graduates to downsized Wall Street financiers — are poised to enter a booming industry. They're taking classes to become certified yoga instructors.

Almost 16 million Americans practice yoga, and they spent $5.7 billion on yoga classes and products in 2008, almost double the amount spent five years ago, according to a survey by the Yoga Journal, the largest-circulation yoga magazine in the nation.

"Enrollment has increased significantly," says Cathy Husid-Shamir, spokeswoman for the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass., the nation's largest yoga center.

As the economy has soured, more baby boomers have enrolled in Kripalu's monthlong yoga training programs.

"There are senior-level people in the Wall Street banking industry, doctors, artists, even farmers," Husid-Shamir says of Kripalu students.

Anne Anderson, 54, of Simsbury, was recently certified through Kripalu's training program and taught her first yoga class in Hartford. A graphic designer, Anderson says there were 58 people in her yoga training class at Kripalu, ranging in age from about 30 to 70. "There were many women in my age group re-evaluating their lives," she says.

Michelle Brunet, 40, of Westport earned her credentials to teach yoga five years ago through Kripalu and recently returned to the center for further training.

"I really did notice that the median age level was much higher than when I took [yoga training] five years ago," she says.

Brunet said she worked as a secretary, a leader with Weight Watchers and a fitness teacher before becoming a full-time yoga teacher. Now, she says, "I wake up every morning, and I feel so blessed to do what I love."

They're joining an increasingly diverse population of teachers in training. "We have new people coming to the trainings in their 70s" to teach yoga to the elderly, says Steven Hartman, dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga.

To meet the increasing demand for training, Kripalu is building a 34,000-square-foot addition to better accommodate yoga-training programs and guests who visit the center's year-round yoga and health retreats.

200 Hours Of Training

There are many ways for aspiring teachers to get the required minimum 200 hours of training it takes to become certified as a yoga teacher. At Kripalu, the one-month full-time program costs $4,425, which includes rooming in a dormitory and meals. Prices are higher for private rooms.

Another route to certification is through accredited part-time training programs at local yoga studios.

Paula Scopino, owner of Sacred Rivers Yoga in Glastonbury, says baby boomers taking her accredited yoga training classes have included attorneys, teachers, stay-at-home moms and physical therapists.

Some plan to use their training to teach colleagues at work, "to spread the benefits of yoga," Scopino says, while others use their training to improve their own yoga practice. The Yoga Alliance — a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that registers certified yoga teachers from 900 accredited yoga schools — has registered more than 19,000 yoga teachers since it opened 10 years ago. Two-thirds of them have been listed in the past 5 years, says spokeswoman Danielle Tergis.

"We've seen a 10 to 15 percent growth rate [of teachers registered] every year over the past five years," she says.

Yoga teachers must have at least 200 hours of experience to register with the alliance. The alliance doesn't keep statistics on the ages of applicants.

Tergis says the alliance is getting 50 to 100 applications a day from yoga-school graduates.

"Our staff is maxed out right now," she says. Yoga's popularity had made it a staple at gyms and hotels as well as yoga studios. The Yoga Alliance urges anyone who takes a class to make sure the instructor is certified, because injuries can occur when poses are not performed correctly.

Jude Russell, an electrical engineer from Hartford, recently completed her training at West Hartford Yoga. Russell , 48, who now teaches yoga part-time at the West Hartford studio, says she decided to become a teacher after many years of practicing yoga. She describes herself on her website as a "yoga addict."

"It has to do with doing something because your heart and your spirit directs you rather than because you're making money," Russell says.