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Recession relief -- many are stretching for it

  • Story Highlights
  • Even in tough economy, pinched consumers hanging on to yoga classes
  • One yoga instructor tailors class according to amount of stress in room
  • Some teachers are offering "pay-what-you-can" plan to help strapped students
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By Karin Caifa
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(CNN) -- As recession-rattled Americans look to stretch their dollars, it looks like yoga is a little luxury they're holding on to -- or adding to -- their schedules in the hopes of shedding some stress.

For many, the ancient practice of Yoga offers a sense of control, in uncertain economic times

For many, the ancient practice of Yoga offers a sense of control, in uncertain economic times

"I've definitely been feeling more stress over the last five or six months that wasn't there previously," Washington yoga instructor Kyra Sudofsky said of her students. "And I do think that a lot of it has to do with the economy."

Sudofsky says evening classes that normally host 18 to 28 students are now packed with more than 30 people, many of them looking for an inexpensive way to release anxiety in a rocky economy.

"I have students coming up to me before and after class talking about friends being laid off from work, or they've lost their jobs themselves and they're looking for an outlet," Sudofsky said. "So yoga is filling in the gap and just a great thing for them to do when they're going through this stressful period in their lives."

Sudofsky says she tailors her class routines to the amount of tension she feels in the room when students hit the mats.

"We're trying to get students to learn how they can control their stress levels and how they can control their thoughts," she said. "If I'm sensing extra stress in the room that evening, I'll actually keep them in a relaxation pose for a longer period of time before we start our more physical poses."

Experts vouch for the therapeutic value of physical activities like yoga in terms of stress relief.

"Whether it's going to a yoga class, a Pilates class or just a very inexpensive walk around the block in the neighborhood, in the park with your kids, if you get moving, you're going to feel better," said Dr. Katherine Nordal of the American Psychological Association.

And students say they reap those benefits at a relatively low cost.

"Looking at a movie or even a couple of drinks after work," said yoga student Natanya Alon, who practices at Sudofsky's Inspired Yoga, "I feel like it's an inexpensive way to deal with stress."

Sudofsky's classes range from $8 to $15 per class, and her Washington studio recently offered a "bailout special." Fliers for the unlimited discount pass say "it'll make you feel like 700 billion bucks," a play on the recent government package offered to the nation's struggling financial firms.

In other areas of the country, instructors are making an effort to reach out to recession-stressed Americans by increasing the number of "pay-what-you-can" classes and even free sessions to make potential students feel welcome.

"A lot of studios across the country -- East Coast to West Coast -- are promoting these classes, so people also start to see this as another effort for stress management," said Terri Kennedy, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Yoga Alliance, an international group that provides support services and yoga teacher certification.

Kennedy says the link between stressful times and increased interest in yoga is nothing new. She opened her own studio in New York's Harlem after the September 11 terrorist attacks, she says, "for that very reason."

She adds that she and the instructors she speaks with have noticed more calls from curious students who are "not your average yogi," including more executive and business types who are looking for answers to questions like, "How do I start meditating?"

Students also enjoy being part of a community,and having a place to share their anxieties.

"Recently, I left a job that was more or less killing me," yoga enthusiast Lydia Charles said. "And my family was like, 'In this economy?' And I was like, 'No, you don't understand.' And one of the first places I announced that was yoga class."

And for many, the ancient practice offers a sense of control, in uncertain economic times.

"It's something that they can cultivate a little bit more of in their lives," yoga enthusiast Carolyn Manning said, "when so much of their life feels out of control."

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