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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Friday, Aug. 31, 2012

Free yoga comes with higher consciousness



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Free yoga comes with higher consciousness photo
Hyosub Shin
Yoga instructor Kathryn Masuda instructs during a donation-based yoga class offered weekly at Nirvana Yoga in Atlanta. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Free yoga comes with higher consciousness photo
Hyosub Shin
Laura and Todd Robinson (foreground) take this donation-based yoga class offered weekly at Nirvana Yoga in Atlanta on Saturday, Aug. 25. As the popularity of yoga continues to expand, businesses in the metro area make the practice accessible to all through free or donation-based classes. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

By Nedra Rhone

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Leigh Anne Neal always felt empathy for the homeless. She volunteered to work with them and would always talk to them, so years after she began practicing yoga in college, it seemed natural to share the practice with others in need.

In 2006, she opened Nirvana Yoga in Grant Park, but recognized she was catering to a select group. “Because you are a business, you realize only a certain segment of the population can come,” Neal said. “How do you make it accessible?”

Neal began taking yoga on the road to homeless shelters and a women’s safe house in town. At the studio, she offered $5 classes each weekday at noon (drop-in rates are normally $12) and on Saturdays at 11 a.m., the class is donation based. “You can put in a quarter or a dollar and we give 100 percent of the proceeds [to charity],” Neal said.

From yoga studios to retail stores to poolside at luxury hotels, free or donation-based yoga classes are popping up everywhere. In some cases, the trend marks an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the practice. But it has also been driven by the desire of some practitioners to democratize the benefits of yoga.

“It’s about making yoga accessible to people,” said Neda Honarvar of Tough Love Yoga, which is located inside Youngblood Gallery and Boutique. “I wanted people who wouldn’t normally do yoga, to do yoga. That is why we do weird stuff at our studio.”

Metal yoga (yoga performed to heavy metal) and a yoga bikini boot camp are some examples. Last year, they held free classes in the park until the instructors were mugged, Honarvar said. Despite a market that would allow higher rates, Honarvar keeps fees at $10 per class and will barter with anyone who can offer a needed service.

In April, Free People, a women’s clothing boutique in White Provision launched a free monthly yoga class, in part, to promote their new line of yoga gear. One Sunday a month, Tough Love instructors guide 15 to 20 people through poses right in the middle of the store.

“The event is meant as a way to give our customers a unique experience to come and enjoy the store,” said Beth Wehagen, director of stores. “Most attendees are interested in yoga as well as Free People.”

Lululemon, the yoga and running apparel store with two metro area locations, offers free in-store classes every weekend and while the traffic no doubt helps encourage shopping, the company has a reputation of supporting yoga-related causes even when there is no apparent financial gain.

Scott Feinberg, runs a 100-percent donation-based yoga studio in Jupiter, Fla. Feinberg, who trained at Peachtree Yoga Center in Sandy Springs, believes the increase in free and donation-based classes is partly the result of a higher consciousness among the growing number of yoga practitioners.

“A good majority of people in America may come to yoga for the first time to become more flexible and have healthier bodies, but the growth trend of their practice is that it becomes more about the mind, the spirit and the way we live as total beings,” Feinberg said. “You don’t see people starting from an enlightened perspective and becoming more materially driven.”

After gathering a crew of yoga practitioners for a weeklong trip to help revitalization efforts in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Feinberg and Amy Lombardo created the nonprofit, Karma Krew to mobilize yoga communities for community service.

“Yoga is about recognition of our interdependence and raised consciousness,” Feinberg said. “If consciousness is raised, how does it show up in our community?”

Locals who attend free or donation classes offer a range of reasons for participating. At Red Hot Yoga, the donation-based class Saturdays at 12:30 p.m. attracts a cross-section of people, said Wes Vaughn, who founded the studio with his wife, Bethany. Out-of-towners looking for a class, regulars who like the time slot, curious first-timers and folks who can only afford to attend the free class are among the visitors in any given weekend, he said.

Even among yoga newbies, there is evidence of enlightenment. Todd and Laura Robinson of Midtown initially just wanted to check out the Saturday class at Nirvana Yoga. They liked it enough to return each week — both for the exercise and the feeling of doing good.

“The class is great,” Laura Robinson said. “And it is nice to have our donation go to a good cause.”

September is national Yoga Awareness Month. Visit yogahealthawareness.org for a listing of events and studios offering a free week of yoga. Below is a sample of places where you can enjoy free yoga, this month and beyond.

Nirvana Yoga

11 a.m. Saturdays. Donations accepted - proceeds go to charity.

464 Cherokee Ave. Ste. 201

404-420-0999. www.nirvanayogaatlanta.com

Lululemon (2 locations)

9 a.m. Saturdays. Free.

1168 Howell Mill Road N.W.

404-898-0774. www.lululemon.com

11 a.m. Sundays. Free.

3400 Around Lenox Road N.E., Ste. 102A

404-816-7678. www.lululemon.com

Free People

11 a.m. One Sunday per month. Free.

1170 Howell Mill Road N.W.

404-817-8355. www.freepeople.com

Red Hot Yoga

12:30 p.m. Saturdays. Donations accepted.

721 Miami Circle, Ste. 106.

404-474-7052. redhotyogastudios.com

W Buckhead “Planking on Peachtree”

6:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Oct. 23. Free (Valet parking is $8. Mats and towels provided).

WET Deck at W Atlanta Buckhead

3377 Peachtree Road N.E.

Reservations: www.watlantabuckhead.com/yoga

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