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The New York Times “Now Let Us All Contemplate Our Own Financial Navels”

By Abby Ellin

Everybody, it seems, is bailing out of the rat race and starting a yoga business to help make a better, more balanced world. Either that, or to capitalize on a trend….

According to a survey of 4,700 people conducted by Yoga Journal, the number of Americans who practice yoga regularly jumped 34 percent last year, to 7.2 million from 5.6 million in 2003. The magazine also says Americans spent $2.95 billion a year on yoga classes and products like mats, clothing, vacations and books.

While people aged 35 to 54 formed the biggest group of practitioners, Yoga Journal said, the biggest growth is among those aged 18 to 24. The surging interest in yoga reflects a love affair with spas and feeling good from the inside out. According to the International Spa Association, the number of spas in the United States has increased 25 percent since 2002, to 12,100 today, up from 9,632, generating revenue of $11 billion….

Another exercise workout that has been gaining popularity for businesspeople is Pilates, a regimen developed by the German boxer Joseph H. Pilates in the early 20th century. The Pilates Method Alliance, a professional association, reports that the number of Americans who practice the discipline regularly has surged more than sixfold since 1991, to 11 million people from 1.7 million. In that period, the number of instructors increased to 14,000 from 200.

Such an explosion is not without its costs, says the group’s president, Kevin A. Bowen, who worries that people without proper credentials are teaching the workout. Because of that concern, the alliance established the first national-level certification test for the Pilates method in May….

The popularity of Pilates isn’t without its benefits to entrepreneurs, either. Ask Mika Street, a 25-year-old with a degree in history and finance who was languishing in her New York job at a consulting firm.

“I would go to work every day and want to bang my head against the computer,” Ms. Street said. At the end of 2003, she took a leave of absence, went to Costa Rica for four months to study Spanish and then headed to South Florida to be with her parents. She spent a lot of time doing Pilates, and in June 2004, after a 600-hour apprenticeship, was certified as a Pilates instructor. That is when she had an epiphany.

“Why stay in this job when I could be teaching and helping people?” she said….

It isn’t just the little guy who is jumping on the bandwagon. Stephen M. Case, founder of AOL, just sank $500 million into Revolution, an investment company focusing on health and wellness. Among its holdings: Miraval resort and spa in Tucson, which offers yoga and meditation classes, equine therapy and a sexuality program. Then there are George Lichter, 54, and Rob Wrubel, 45, the former chief executives of Ask Jeeves and Ask Jeeves International, currently at the helm of Yoga Works, a national chain of 14 yoga studios that they began acquiring in 2003. So far, their company has brought in $10 million to $30 million a year, Mr. Lichter said.

“The fact of the matter is that the health care system has fallen apart; things are not as available as they once were,” he said from his cellphone in Santa Monica, Calif. “There’s this big realization out there that all of a sudden I have to and can make myself healthier.”

That’s what Shana Meyerson is banking on. Ms. Meyerson, 33, is the founder of mini yogis yoga for kids, a studio in Los Angeles that she began in 2002. Ms. Meyerson studied pre-law at Cornell and had worked from Microsoft to movie studios. She was in business school at U.C.L.A. when she started doing yoga. Faster than you could say namaste, a Hindu invocation used in yoga ceremonies, she started a company and fled school.

Since then she has made six figures and has two video deals pending. And she has triumphed over all the doubters who urged her to rethink her career shift. “The same people who were laughing me out of business school,” she said, “are now asking for advice.”



Originally seen in The New York Times

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