Take a breath—a long, slow, healing breath. Yes, the economy is awful, war is being fought on two fronts, and the environment needs help. But, don't worry, there is calm amid the chaos—as your yoga friends will tell you about this ancient practice that relieves stress, increases flexibility, and has lots of other benefits for your mind and body. But finding inner peace can be confusing with so many yoga disciplines out there. So which is the best path for your mind, body, and spirit?
"If you don't like one kind, try another," advises Rachel Permuth-Levine, a deputy program director at the National Institutes of Health. "The benefits are universally the same."
And good news, Baltimore has become a hotbed for great yoga instruction with teachers trained all over the world by legendary practitioners B.K.S. Iyengar, Bikram Choudhury, and Baron Baptiste as well as swamis, gurus, and other living masters. Here's a guide to various area studios and what they offer. Happy searching and namaste.
Baltimore Yoga Village, 3000 Chestnut Ave., 410-662-8626.
With burning incense, gongs and dream catchers, and classes that begin with ancient chanting in Sanskrit, this two-year-old studio in Hampden's historic Mill Centre will instantly transport you to a hilltop in the Himalayas. Owner Anjali Sunita did her teacher training in Kerela, India, and came back to her native Baltimore to open a yoga studio cum spiritual life center that embraces not only the physical part of yoga (asanas) but the meditation, the devotional singing (kirtan), and the coming together of like-minded yogis and yoginis. In addition to offering two to four yoga classes a day—in a variety of traditions from vinyasa to traditional hatha—Yoga Village also features classes and workshops in herbal interventions, devotional singing, and qigong.
Philosophy: An ashram-like community center and place to study all the precepts of yoga, focusing on the physical and spiritual.
Classes: Hatha, Anusara, Kundalini, vinyasa, stretching and strengthening, therapeutic, prenatal, yoga and meditation, community and senior (special $8 rate). Cost: $15 for 90 minutes.
Special features: On-site massages including fertility, tui-na (ancient Chinese medical massage), and Swedish.
Top teacher: Jean Jacques Gabriel, the only certified AcroYoga (a kind of acrobatic yoga) teacher in Baltimore, is known for his energizing workshops and vinyasa flow classes. He also teaches in area prisons.
Studio mantra: "Peace in our heart. Peace in our city," says Sunita.
Bikram Yoga, 911 West 36th St., Hampden, 410-243-2040; 6935 Oakland Mills Rd., Columbia, 410-381-1866; 40 Cranbrook Rd., Cockeysville, 410-683-9642. (Studios are individually owned.)
There's yoga and then there's Bikram Yoga. Created by Calcutta-born Bikram Choudhury, Bikram yoga is a patented, systematic series of 26 postures repeated twice in a 105-degree room. A tsunami of sweat will pour off your body as you move through the asanas. (Some practitioners lose several pounds of water weight during a single class.) The beauty of Bikram is that wherever you go—Kuala Lumpur to Costa Rica to Cockeysville—the class is always the same, so once you get the basics down, you can work on refining the poses. Madonna, Raquel Welsh, and Nicole Kidman (who stopped by the Cockeysville studio several years ago while filming The Vanishing) have all been to Bikram. Though it's the yoga that many yogis love to hate, there's no denying that during that final savasana, you'll be dreaming of coming back for more.
Philosophy: The heat loosens you up and allows you to release toxins, and work deep into the muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, and every cell from top to toe.
Special features: All area studios have large dressing rooms and showers. Bikram Hampden also includes a wellness spa. Yoga cost: $17 for 90 minutes; introductory rates also available.
Who joins: While all ages can be found in a class, this yoga is extreme and tends to attract younger, athletic types and people with Type A personalities.
Top teacher: Because the yoga dialogue is scripted, some Bikram teachers can sound on the robotic side. Kyle Kessenich, who teaches at the Hampden and Cockeysville studios, gives personal attention to every student, customizes each class, and is the teacher whose class other teachers love to take.
Studio mantra: "You are never too sick, too old, too weak, never too late to start from scratch," is one of Choudhury's favorite sayings.
Charm City Yoga, 107 E. Preston St., midtown Baltimore, 410-234-8967; 901 Fell St., Fells Point, 410-276-9642; 7 Allegheny Ave., Towson, 410-296-4288.
When Kim Manfredi and her husband, Chris, opened Baltimore's first hot yoga studio in 2001, they started with a couple of classes and a few space heaters in a converted space above Manfredi's decorative painting studio in a 1900 carriage house on East Preston Street. Eight years later, this perennial City Paper darling is going stronger than ever with a new, light-filled location in the heart of bustling Towson. Unlike other studios that offer a hodgepodge of classes and more Buddhas than a temple in Thailand, Charm City keeps it simple with few distractions other than a full roster of signature stretching and strengthening vinyasa-based classes from sunrise to sundown.
Philosophy: The studio is vinyasa based, though each teacher has his or her own style. "Some of our teachers have trained in three traditions," says Manfredi. "Every tradition has a piece of the puzzle, and no one guru, no one teacher has the way for another person."
Classes: Hot vinyasa, beginner yoga, community teen yoga, rock-and-roll yoga. Cost: $15 for 90 minutes.
Who joins: The downtown studios draw young urbanites and coordinated corporate types. Towson draws students, stay-at-home moms, and in-shape professionals.
Special features: Several community classes (cost $6) a week are on every studio roster; with sinks from India and green slate showers, bathrooms are a sanctuary of calm. You'll feel instant release even before striking a pose.
Top teacher: Manfredi, who fell out of a third-story window in 1982 and suffered temporary paralysis and nerve damage, inspires with her passion for yoga, which she credits with aiding her recovery along with surgery and family support. She has studied with yoga luminaries including Pattabhi Jois in India and the late Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, spiritual leader of Pennsylvania's Himalayan Institute, and trained the Ravens for several seasons, including private sessions with linebacker Ray Lewis.
Studio mantra: "Do what you do for the benefit of all people," says Manfredi. "Always, this is the path of the yoga."
Golden Heart Yoga, 179 Admiral Cochrane Dr., Annapolis, 410-224-3278.
Though Golden Heart Yoga opened its doors just five years ago, it has quickly established itself as the premiere yoga studio in the Annapolis area, winning Best of Annapolis from What's Up? magazine three years in a row for best yoga and meditation center. Owner Jenny Otto, who, after 27 years of study, is known to be one of the most skilled yoga teachers in the area (and was one of the first certified Anusara teachers in the country), is nationally recognized for her in-depth understanding of therapeutics and anatomy (even dissecting human cadavers to further her knowledge of body structure) and has trained with yoga masters, osteopaths, chiropractors, and Rolfers (who manipulate the body's connective tissues to release stress). Where other yoga studios are sometimes thinly veiled aerobics classes, Otto aims to introduce the art and science of yoga. "We are more old school in our approach," says Otto. "I consider the style of what we do as more authentic. We are the only ones in Annapolis who explore the poses and break them down."
Philosophy: Classes are primarily a mix of Iyengar and Anusara. "The teachers recognize that they don't live in the student's body," says Otto. "We are not about imposing what doesn't feel right to you."
Who joins: The majority of practitioners are between 40 and 60.
Classes: Yoga fundamentals, ageless yoga, Iyengar. Cost: $20 for 90 minutes.
Special features: Internationally renowned teachers such as ParaYoga founder Rod Stryker and chakra expert Anodea Judith offer workshops; the studio enjoys reciprocity with Yoga Center of Columbia for missed classes.
Top teacher: Molly Harding is the area's preeminent prenatal teacher. In addition to teaching asanas, Harding preps expectant moms on the birthing process and bringing up baby.
Studio mantra: "Bow with gratitude for the present moment," says Otto.
Greater Baltimore Yoga, 9628 Deereco Rd., Timonium, 410-560-2980.
Long before a yoga studio sprouted up in every zip code, Stan Andrzejewski, founder of Greater Baltimore Yoga, was teaching warrior pose in the area's first yoga studio in Timonium. Twenty-one years later, Greater Baltimore Yoga is still going strong, and Andrzejewski, a physical therapist for 34 years, continues to espouse his philosophy that yoga can cure what ails you. A typical class at GBY is one part hatha yoga and one part physical therapy. While many yoga teachers love to spout scientific jargon, Andrzejewski—who peppers his classes with information about occipital ridges, the sacroiliac joint, and perineum—really knows anatomy and can help you achieve each posture by helping you conceptualize what you should feel.
Philosophy: Classes focus on "movement therapy" and how to stop perpetuating injury and promote healing.
Who joins: Doctors and physical therapists love to refer their patients to Andrzejewski's studio, so GBY tends to attract a more mature client base seeking relief from neck and back pain, joint ache, osteoporosis, and other medical issues.
Classes: All levels, beginner to advanced; yoga over 50, gentle yoga. Cost: $22 for 90 minutes for drop-ins; $17 for registered students; other rates available.
Special features: Free meditations four times a week. Private, one-on-one yoga-therapy sessions are available every weekday afternoon.
Top teacher: Twelve-year veteran Julie Madill, who is also a certified karmic astrologer, is known for her healing style of teaching that nurses and nurtures body and soul.
Studio mantra: "Skillful, conscious movement," says studio manager Jean Dunn.
Ojas Wellness Center, 10 Fila Way, Suite 1, Sparks, 410-472-7077; 1505 Sulgrave Ave., Mt. Washington, 410-664-6527; 9419 Common Brook Rd., Suite 104, Owings Mills, 410-356-7080.
With airy yoga studios, walls of water, cork flooring, and an organic-chic aesthetic, you'll feel tranquil just walking into this yoga center, which offers an endless variety of classes and top-notch teachers. If you've never tried yoga, Ojas is a good place to get started with plenty of choices for the beginner or for those who have been injured by other forms of exercises. "Our classes are not fling-yourself-around yoga classes," says owner Kelly Wilkes. Teachers guide classes in a range of styles and offer modifications for almost every pose.
Philosophy: The emphasis is on restoration of mind and body with yoga and Pilates teachers, acupuncturists, and masseuses all working together to design a program for you to heal that chronic back pain, release that tight hamstring, or cure your inflexibility.
Classes: Yoga for kids, beginner, and advanced beginner. Cost: $10-18 for 75 minutes.
Special features: One of the best introductory offers in town, including a $10, 20-day special for two classes or one private lesson for $50; after class, sign on for a service, including a cupping massage or yogurt, power-peel facial.
Who joins: Ojas tends to attract a chi-chi clientele from moms to high-powered industry and corporate types.
Top teacher: Moira Sweeney (who is also at Yoga Center of Columbia) teaches yoga in sign language for the hearing impaired.
Studio mantra: "If you are empty and depleted, you are in no place to help others," says Wilkes. "Find the time to take care of yourself so that your happiness is overflowing to everyone around you."
Susquehanna Yoga & Meditation, 12-A W. Aylesbury Rd., Timonium, 410-308-9950.
Susquehanna Yoga is the only certified Iyengar studio in town and is known for top-flight instruction. Suzy Pennington, who opened her studio 13 years ago, was the first female yoga studio owner in the area and has studied with living master B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter, Gita, in Pune, India, as well as Iyengar masters Ann Baros in Bali and John Schumacher in Bethesda. Beyond the physical benefits of yoga, Pennington, who has 10,000 hours of teaching experience, believes: "Yoga is a study, a lifetime self observation. You are a piece of the universe, and the more you know yourself, the more you understand the universe."
Philosophy: Iyengar yoga classes focus on precise physical alignment and holding poses. Iyengar employs the use of props from sticky mats to blocks, blankets, straps, and chairs. Teachers certified in Iyengar are some of the best trained in the business and have gone through several years of training (unlike other forms of yoga in which a teacher can get certified in two months) and must pass a national certification exam. "Igenyar yoga occupies the mind by training it to focus on different parts of the body," explains Pennington. "By doing that, you learn to breathe and you learn to mediate without even realizing it."
Special features: Susquehanna has the only ropes wall (used for inversions, backbends, and twists) in Baltimore; the Asian-art-filled studio is worth the trip if only to see the Chinese calligraphy desk and Tibetan Thangka scrolls used for meditation classes.
Classes: All levels of Iyengar yoga, meditation, pranayama breathing. Cost: $18 for 90 minutes.
Who joins: Susquehanna draws a wide range of predominantly female practitioners ages 30 to 75. Nicole Kidman, designer Donna Karan, tennis ace Pam Shriver, Kelly Ripken, and Maryland Public TV's Rhea Feikin have all done ustrasana (backbends) here.
Top teacher: 15-year veteran Linda Howard (who also teaches at Ojas and Golden Heart Yoga) has a way of simplifying difficult kinesthetic actions into a language we can all understand. Ask around for a good yoga teacher, and Linda is resoundingly recommended by practitioners and pros.
Studio mantra: "Precise alignment of body and mind," says Pennington.
Yoga Center of Columbia (8950 Route 108, Columbia, 410-720-4340) & Riverhill Yoga (6100 Day Long Lane, Suite 230, Clarksville, 410-720-4340)
With four filled-to-capacity yoga studios between two locations, this center is one of the premiere places to practice in Howard County. In fact, a thousand practitioners come here every week. A perennial winner of Columbia Magazine's Best Yoga Studio Award, this 18-year-old studio offers one of the most diverse schedules in town. There are 90 classes to choose from in prenatal yoga, power flow, and all levels of yoga (in Anusara, Iyengar, and other styles) for beginners to Cirque du Soleil aspirants. With an average of 10 years' experience, instructors are extremely seasoned. Still need to get the issues from your tissues? This center also offers Reiki and therapeutic massage.
Philosophy: "Yoga for everybody," says owner Kathy Donnelly.
Who joins: Six-week-olds and up.
Classes: Foundations of meditation, power flow, yoga and abs. Cost: $16 for 90 minutes.
Special features: Forget the Buddhist belief that desire causes suffering, and enjoy the extensive retail boutique to cater to all your yoga cravings from Dharma magnets to glass-fused wind chimes. Teens and seniors receive a 10 percent discount on classes.
Top teacher: Moses Brown took his first class 18 years ago to heal battered knees. His classes are packed, and he's known for his light-hearted approach and sense of humor.
Studio mantra: "Yoga for all bodies, living life fully, with strength, flexibility, and balance on all levels, body, mind, and spirit," says Donnelly.