It is an integral part of the Berkshire landscape
It doesn’t take a guru to know that yoga is one of the hottest health trends in the Western world. And no one in the Berkshires—where the practice was popular long before it became the hip way to stay both physically and mentally fit—should be surprised that it was recently ranked one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. by industry research firm IBISWorld.
With roots stretching back decades, yoga is as integral a part of the health-conscious Berkshire identity as activities like mountain hiking and biking, or skiing and kayaking. With the recent industry boom and influx of specialty studios and practices, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. The Berkshires has long been a destination spot for serious yoga practitioners, says Jennifer Yarro, owner of Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams. She remembers hearing fellow yogis dishing on how great the yoga was here almost twenty years ago.
“It wasn’t like when you hear, ‘Oh, you have to go to New York City’ for this or ‘You have to go to Boston’ for that—no, you had to go to the Berkshires, which I thought was fascinating,” she reminisces.
No doubt the Kripalu School of Yoga, which has called Stockbridge its home for almost 40 years, had something to do with that
early reputation. Claiming more than 8,000 certified Kripalu yoga teachers worldwide and growing, the program continues to be one of the best in the country.
“Kripalu yoga is constantly shifting and changing, because we get to absorb and learn from the best teachers that are out there,” says Devarshi Steven Martin, dean of the School of Yoga.
While the Kripalu school continued to bring in thousands of dedicated teachers and students, it was local practitioners and enthusiasts who truly began to build the tight-knit yoga community that exists here today. When actress Karen Allen laid roots in the Berkshires in the early 1990s, she had not planned to open a yoga studio. Her motivation stemmed from the fact that there was not a good place to practice.
“People were teaching in church basements or they were teaching in their house,” Allen explains. “There was even a period of time when I was practicing in a restaurant! And it occurred to me that a way I could make a real contribution to the community would be to create a dedicated yoga space.”
So, in 1995, Allen opened Berkshire Mountain Yoga in a renovated barn space in Great Barrington. Little did she know that her studio would not only quickly flourish, but also jump-start a trend in the little town.
Nationally, according to the IBISWorld report released in the spring, Pilates and yoga ranked number 4 as the fastest-growing industries in the U.S., outpaced only by generic pharmaceutical manufacturing, solar panel manufacturing, and for-profit universities. The report stated that Pilates and yoga studios were highly resistant to the recession; instead of facing negative growth, revenue merely slowed. In the five years to 2017, industry revenue is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 4.8 percent.
It’s the community-minded approach, shared by many if not all Berkshire yoga practitioners, that made it possible for studios large and small to develop up and down the county, from the opening of Frog Lotus in North Adams ten years ago to Radiance Yoga on North Street in Pittsfield, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in March.
“We felt that since there was so much yoga here, we wanted to create something that was a little more niche, but also something that people would really enjoy,” says Gillian Gorman, who co-owns the studio with Steven Moraes. Radiance, specializing in heated vinyasa yoga, is representative of the specialty yoga trend of the past few years. One might assume that it would be hard to build such a niche business in the Berkshires, but, to the contrary, Radiance already has a large, dedicated following, including instructors looking for a different yoga experience. Moraes admits that they were even more compelled to open the studio after researching the market and finding that “hot vinyasa classes were by far the fastest-growing yoga trend in America.” Other hot new trends include anti-gravity or suspension yoga, hip-hop yoga, naked yoga and “doga”—meant for both dogs and their human companions.
Despite the profitability of these new markets,yoga is accessible to all parts of the community through personal trainings, recreation centers, and in-school programs. Many studios also offer free or donation-only community classes on a regular basis.
“It’s not like a fad—it’s something that’s been here,” says Yarro with Frog Lotus Yoga. “With that you see amazing, really seasoned practitioners, and it’s just a beautiful vibe.”