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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Atlanta Embraces Its Yoga Identity

What is the most popular form of yoga in Atlanta?

HOT yoga.

Joking aside, the Yoga Alliance reports that hot yoga and vinyasa are indeed the most popular forms of yoga in the United States, and Atlanta is no different, says Katz, also co-organizer of the Southeast Yoga Conference (SEYC).

Born and raised in Atlanta, Katz also characterizes Atlanta teachers as full of warmth.

“I’m biased because I grew up here. But as yogis we are very warm, friendly for the most part, open to new ideas,” says Katz. “I do think that southern yogis are very social because there’s a lot of community connection that happens off the mat, like in the market place, everybody’s hugging everybody basically.”

Last year the SEYC, one of two annual yoga conferences held in Atlanta, drew nearly 300 people, about 70 percent of whom were from Georgia. SEYC partnered with three different studios and had 12 presenters in 2016. This year the conference, held September 8 to 10, is partnering with 12 different studios, and has 15 different presenters. Registration is on target to meet and possibly surpass last year’s.

“It keeps growing in popularity and I think that’s a good thing. I think more yoga is always better,” says Katz. “There are more teacher training programs, there are more yoga teachers. More yoga teachers mean more yoga students in general. One kind of builds on the other. It’s a good snowball effect.”

The Yoga Alliance’s Andrew Tanner says that Atlanta has greatly increased its number of yoga schools in the last five years. At current writing, Atlanta has 785 teachers registered with the Yoga Alliance, and 63 registered schools. In the top five Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (SMSAs) in the Southeast, Atlanta is second only to Miami, which has 848 teachers registered with the Alliance.

Jessica Murphy, organizer of another established Atlanta yoga conference, the Dirty South Yoga Festival, agrees that business is booming.

“I got my training about 4 years ago,” says Murphy, who also teaches yoga. “I feel like I crossed over the barrier at the same time as a lot of people came in and got their feet wet, and you saw this reverberation of people introducing people and it just kind of blew up. I think it’s good, because I’m of the belief that the more people who practice yoga, the more people [are] being able to access the gifts of yoga.”

Murphy said the fourth annual Dirty South Yoga Fest, held July 29-30, attracted 500 people over two days. She said all the teachers are from Atlanta, though the attendees can be from as far away as Alabama, Florida and South Carolina. She hopes the Dirty South name conveys a message about the Atlanta yoga scene.

“The ‘Dirty South’ in our name is meant to be both playful and an homage to the art, music and culture that put Atlanta on the map,” writes Murphy in a recent email. “By using ‘Dirty South’ as a tribute we are claiming the South as a place to be recognized also for great yoga. When we say ‘real, raw, southern yoga’ we hope that it conveys a message of authenticity. We see beauty in being able to show up to your yoga practice as you are.”

Murphy said she sees a lot of opportunity for students and teachers in Atlanta to broaden their knowledge and expand their practice within the next 10 years.

Octavia Raheem, owner of Sacred Chill {West} yoga studio on Bolton Road in Atlanta, has lived and practiced yoga in Boston, Arizona and now Atlanta. She teaches restorative and yin yoga, and says Atlanta’s teachers and yoga scene are characterized by a newness that comes with openness and curiosity, which helps to create the wide range of yoga available in Atlanta.

“Yoga’s very old. But then in Atlanta I feel like it’s a little bit younger in terms of being mainstream. A young person is open to the exploration of the answer, as opposed to ‘This is the answer,’” Raheem says. “Atlanta’s in the southeast and we’re in a place where we’re answering that question.”

But she also believes Atlanta’s yoga scene is maturing.

“We begin with the body, and the body is the way in. But my personal revelation as a teacher and student, it’s like ok, and now what? I see here in Atlanta, we are ready to dive below that surface,” Raheem says. “I see a lot of classes; adding meditative classes, or restorative classes, and it’s not just sweating and working out. The vibe of my south, so I speak from that perspective, it’s a little bit slower and I’d like to think that equals a little bit of mindfulness. Mindful and slow, which is the essence of yoga.”

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