Some practice yoga for strength and fitness. Others practice to sweat out last night’s silver coin margaritas. And some are on a path to spiritual transformation. Whatever the reason, Santa Fe’s yoga scene has exploded in recent years, which mimics the national trend: From 2008 to 2012, the number of yoga practitioners nationwide increased from 15 to 20.4 million. And while some longtime devotees might scoff at the westernization (or, some might say, the bastardization) of yoga, there’s no better time than now to get off the couch and into a downward-facing dog.
"Santa Fe has always been a Mecca for the healing arts, which raises the bar for the yoga offered here," says Tias Little, an internationally renowned instructor who moved to Santa Fe in 1990 and co-founded Yoga Moves (825 Early Street, Suite C, 505-989-1072), Yoga Source and most recently, Prajna Yoga (11 Toltec Rd, 505-988- 5248). "Spiritual transformation has always been linked to the desert," he adds, "but it takes a long time to develop real penetrating insight from a practice."
At their studio off Old Santa Fe Trail, Little and his wife, Surya, offer immersive yoga retreats and teacher-training classes centered around an interdisciplinary philosophy of posture-based yoga, contemplative arts, Feldenkrais (a method that focuses on the relationship between movement and thought) and craniosacral therapy (a form of bodywork that regulates the flow of cerebrospinal fluid by using therapeutic touch).
If that sounds intimidating, Fort Marcy offers beginner classes starting at $4 ($2 for seniors). "I want anyone in the community to be able to access high-quality instruction," says Julie Adams, a professional dancer who teaches yoga there twice a week. "Practicing yoga is extremely important for the tending of one's soul, which is why I've been teaching at Fort Marcy for more than 20 years," she says. "It's really the hidden resource for yoga in this city because the classes cost about the same as a cup of coffee."
Another hidden resource is the Santa Fe Community Center on Camino del Monte Rey, the only nonprofit studio in town, founded in 1995 by the now late Michael Maitreya Hopp.
"The word community has been in our name forever," says Natalie Pedro, the current director. "When Michael started it, there wasn't much of a yoga community in Santa Fe, and he wanted a place where anyone could practice regardless of race, gender or income."
The center offers 40 classes per week, some of which are by donation, and also facilitates the Yoga in Schools program, which offers yoga for third graders through high schoolers. "This place is a real labor of love," says Pedro. "Right now we're the cheapest full-service yoga studio in town."
At Yoga Source, co-owners Wendelin Scott and Amy Spurlock base their 50-class offering in the Buddhist philosophy of Sangha, derived from the Sanskrit word for "truth."
"It essentially means a gathering of people who are seeking the truth," says Scott. "That's the heart of our philosophy. We're a group of teachers who have deep admiration and respect for each other, and most of us have been teaching together for more than a decade."
Last year, Scott and Spurlock bought Spandarama Studio on Early Street. "We felt like the location and the beauty of that studio was really in keeping with the community-based vision of our San Mateo studio," says Scott. In addition to more class space, the Early Street studio adjoins Rasa, an Ayurvedic raw food café and juice bar.
A sampling of the hundreds of weekly classes on offer in Santa Fe:
Gentle Yoga at Fort Marcy Recreation Complex
90 Bishops Lodge Rd, 955-2500
Yoga for 12-Step Recovery at Santa Fe Community Yoga Center
826 Camino De Monte Rey, 820-9363
Hot Vinyasa at Blue Moon Studio
826 Camino de Monte Rey A5, 795-7778
The 26 sweaty, body-pretzeling poses at Bikram’s Yoga College of India
1310 Monterey Dr, 955-1515
Prenatal Yoga at Yoga Source
901 W San Mateo Rd and 815 Early Street, 982-0990
Friday night Vinyasa With Music or Sunday morning’s Gospel Yoga at Body
333 W Cordova Rd, 986-0362
But Santa Fe has larger appeal than its studios. "I'm creatively stimulated by the land—t he space here is huge," says Emily Branden, a writer, actor and yoga instructor who moved from New York to teach Vinyasa With Music at Body seven years ago. A departure from the more traditional silent practice, the flow of Branden's Friday evening class is accompanied by her ever changing, carefully curated playlist—from Led Zeppelin to Bhagavad Das—or visiting musicians like cellist Michael Kott.
Last October, Branden, accompanied by yogi rock star Michael Franti, taught a class of 200 at the Farmers Market's indoor space at the Railyard. "It was a peak moment for my teaching," says Branden. "I thought, 'Wow, Santa Fe, you have really evolved."
"It's a world-class scene here," adds fellow Body instructor Josh Schrei, who packs the house with his Gospel Vinyasa class on Sunday afternoons. "But the one issue I see is that there's not much communication between studios. I wish there were more."
That might change with the Santa Fe Yoga Festival on Labor Day weekend. The three-day event with space for 1,000 participants will be held at Bishop's Lodge Ranch Resort and Spa and includes classes from 29 world-renowned and local master instructors, an organic farm-totable dinner prepared by local chefs, Navajo drum ceremonies, Vedic chant sessions and live music under the stars with Ziggy Marley, DJ Vishnu, Boom Roots Collective and other local musicians.
"The festival is about love," says event organizer Kurt Young. "Yoga is the greatest medium to share and express love. We're hoping that everybody who comes feels that energy and leaves feeling a little more positive about life."