Detroit — To say that yoga is popular in Detroit is an understatement. Just about every health and fitness center offer classes in the spiritual practice.
Such was witnessed Saturday when more than 2,000 yoga mats covered the surface of Ford Field for the chance to set an indoor record for the largest yoga class.
“Love is my religion,” the crowd sang along with Ziggy Marley, as they stretched toward the rafters while Yoga Shelter founder Eric Paskel led them through a series of poses designed for all body types and levels of ability.
“There’s not a single person in here that needs to lose a pound,” he told the crowd of men, women and children. “There’s not a single person in here to needs to gain a pound.”
The “Yoga Rocks Ford Field” event was coordinated by the sport and social group ComePlayDetroit as well as Yoga Shelter which has five local studios, one in California and two satellite locations.
“What’s nice about yoga is it’s something anybody can participate in. That’s why I think it’s been successful downtown and really everywhere,” said Justin Jacobs, founder of ComePlayDetroit. “People can do it at their own pace. It’s a judgment free zone where people can work on themselves.”
The Guinness World Records website says the largest yoga class involved 29,973 students at Jiwaji University in India on Nov. 19, 2005. An estimated 10,000 people gathered at New York's Central Park in June 2010, the World Record Academy website said. A Naam Yoga "super class" drew an estimated 15,000 in Mexico in 2012.
That Yoga Shelter and ComePlayDetroit were able to get more than 2,000 to attend yoga class Saturday is a testament to the growing popularity of the practice in the area.
“There’s a lot of demand for it now with the growing Midtown and Downtown communities,” said Jacobs.
Yoga has become a downtown Detroit phenomenon, says Lynda Herman, a yoga teacher and past president of the Yoga Association of Greater Detroit.
“Within the last five years, we’ve seen studios pop up all over downtown and western Wayne County,” said Herman, whose organization represents around 120 yoga teachers. “Then we’re also seeing struggling studios that are not doing well and they close down. It depends on the demand.”
Interest in yoga has grown in recent years, particularly in downtown and midtown Detroit. Near Wayne State, there are three boutique yoga studios and a yoga center within about a mile of each other. There are other pop-up sites around downtown.
The competition doesn’t bother Naomi Gold, who opened up the Yoga Shelter in midtown in June 2012. She says there are plenty of different styles to interest a wide variety of clientele.
“We’re all family. If someone is doing yoga, I’m happy,” said Gold. “There’s so many different types of yoga just like so many different types of restaurants. There’s a lot more people getting into it here and I think it will continue to grow.”
The varieties include bikram or hot yoga done at higher temperatures, vinyasa or flow yoga that focuses on breath while moving through poses, classes for beginners and many other variations.
Then, there are specialty classes such as those offered by Detroit Flyhouse, near Eastern Market.
“We don’t teach traditional yoga and we support those who do,” said Micha Adams, who has been offering aerial yoga and acrobatics with business partner and fiance Matt Buss for more than five years. “What we do is...more of a circus art but with the same kind of intention you will find in many yoga classes: to honor your limitations, to take a breath and expand your perceived limits and to accept where you are in the moment.”
And all of that is done while hanging from silks 15 feet in the air.
“I like the experience that it gives us. It’s something other people don’t do,” said Brittany Sanojedny, a student at Wayne State University who has been taking classes at Detroit Flyhouse for a few months.
Added longtime student Janet Hughes, “It’s addicting. I love it. It’s a really safe place to challenge yourself.”
Building a following has also helped BE NICE Yoga owner Monica Breen stay in business.
The studio began with pop-up yoga events working out of the Buhl Building in 2001. But loyal clients eventually allowed her to get her own space in Midtown in 2012. Many are college students and residents of Detroit, but some are suburbanites and city eastsiders.
“Our clients are discriminating and smart. They want an authentic yoga practice with skilled and experienced instructors,” said Breen. “They are interested in the big picture that comes with regular practice.”
For Detroiters who live outside of the midtown and downtown areas, access to yoga classes and affordability can be an issue, says Herman. Classes at a studio can run anywhere from $10 to $12 for an hour session, up to $15 to $18.
One organization that is working to make yoga more accessible to Detroiters is the Yoga By Design Foundation, led by Lynn Medow. Funds raised at the Ford Field event Saturday will go to benefit the foundation’s programs.
“It’s definitely reflective of income disparity,” said Medow. “This is a chance to bring yoga to people who don’t have access or who couldn’t afford yoga.”
The Birmingham-based foundation typically provides grants to the teachers and a partner will provide a space, she says.
Breen has funded programs at Mariners Inn, for homeless men struggling with addiction and The Empowerment Plan, for homeless women. Other programs that receive grants from the foundation include ones at Freedom House for political refugees and the Detroit Lions Academy, an alternative middle school.
Medow says the practicing yoga can help those who are struggling “to develop a non-reactive mind, so when something occurs that is very stressful in life you are able to step aside or step back.”
“People think it’s a practice of tying yourself up in knots. But it’s so much more,” said Medow. “It’s actually untying yourself.”