Vital signs

“I was never a gym girl,” insists Nicole Bookman, one of the four partners who own Namaste Yoga & Healing Center. Like many of us, Bookman was raised on the intimidating “feel the burn” philosophy of fitness.

“The first time I went to a yoga class, they talked about nonviolence,” she recalls. “About going into a stretch without hurting myself. I’d never heard of that before.”

Sure, yoga sometimes gets portrayed as the domain of freakishly limber folks who twist themselves into pretzel shapes, but the reality is vastly different. “Yoga means ‘union,'” notes Bookman. “The union of mind, body and spirit. Most people are drawn to yoga to connect with one of those areas.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, some 15 million Americans now practice yoga. Asheville alone boasts five studios in the yellow pages and countless programs offered at community centers, gyms and by private teachers. Three local yoga centers also have teacher-training programs, and all provide classes that start as early as 8:15 a.m., run as late as 9 p.m., and range from the self-explanatory “gentle yoga” and the meditative Sivananda to the more active “flow,” “hot flow,” “dynamic flow” and “ashtanga” styles. Fees for drop-ins run about $10-$13, depending on class length, and packages run from $70 for eight classes to $100 a month for unlimited classes, depending on the studio.

For many would-be yogis, cost can be a major issue. Because as this ancient Indian spiritual science has become not merely accepted but downright trendy in the West, it’s also gotten pricey. “Our average yoga student is a female between the ages of 30 and 40,” Bookman reports. “I think that’s kind of the age people can begin to afford to take care of themselves. But yoga, she maintains, “shouldn’t be only for people getting a weekly solid paycheck, so we’re trying to make it more affordable.”

So Namaste, a relative newcomer in town (the studio celebrated its first anniversary in September), decided to offer unlimited classes for $60 a month. “It’s amazing how many more times a person comes to class when they have the unlimited [membership] versus the 10-pack,” muses Bookman. “The average is three times a week. And they don’t just have to take yoga — they can go to kirtan [devotional chanting], belly dance, meditation or pranayama [yogic breathing].”

Most American practitioners tend to focus on the asanas, or postures, but these actually constitute only a very small portion of the broader yogic lifestyle, which also encompasses diet, meditation, the study of texts, and karma yoga (loosely defined as service). “In some of the yogic texts, a person should master meditation and pranayama before learning asanas,” Bookman explains. “But there are so many paths to yoga.”

Accordingly, Namaste doesn’t just teach asanas; the studio also offers intensive workshops on the yoga sutras (ancient texts that are the basis for yogic philosophy), workshops on raw food, and ongoing nutrition classes. There’s even an in-house herbalist, Corey Pine Shane, and every few months the whole Namaste community of family, friends and members comes together for an evening of music and potluck feasting.

“Our motto is, ‘This is not New Age, this is ancient,'” says Bookman. “It’s not all about ‘power yoga,’ or doing the toughest pose. The commercialism of yoga is geared toward the young, but yoga is open to everybody.”

So if you’re a yoga virgin, what can you expect? Bookman points out that “the person who’s never done yoga but is in good shape can do more than the person in poor health.”

And don’t despair if you’re not 20 anymore: Namaste’s “gentle yoga” class is attended mainly by folks over 50. And if you’re on a tight schedule, the studio’s one-hour classes (12:30-1:30 p.m.) cater to the lunchtime crowd. Loose-fitting clothing is the only requirement — mats and props are provided.

“Don’t judge it too fast,” counsels Bookman. “I recommend taking five classes with five different teachers.

“In yoga,” she continues, “you drop the ego. It doesn’t matter what the person next to you is doing. Every time you come to the mat, it’s the first time.”

Where to go

To learn more about the Asheville yoga scene, check out:

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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