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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hot, naked, outside and for everybody: Sydney's yoga obsession

ECGMA says: Here I am, signed up to do Tai Chi?!?!

Infatuation with body bending and twisting has led to local versions of traditional exercises -- some are even prepared to take their clothes off and do it on cliff faces
Yoga by the sea
A stretch in Pacific sunlight: Yoga by the sea

Yoga's no longer an exclusive domain in Sydney -- there's a style for just about everyone.

People are doing "Salutes to the Sun" and "Downward Dogs" naked, in hothouses and by the beach.

Roughly half a million people across Australia practiced yoga in the last year. In Sydney, the five-millennium-old exercise regime has boomed since 2000.

Everyone from school kids to the elderly is getting into the groove. Yoga has moved into workplaces, community centers and schools -- even some jails are offering it to their inmates.

Whether to treat stress, back pain or get close to god -- as old hippies would say -- it's happening, man.

Naked yoga

Naked yoga in Sydney
Nude stretches in St. Peters for men who want to express nudity and energy at the same time.

Male-only naked yoga rolled out Sydney mats in May 2005.

"A group of naturists were looking for yoga classes which combined their love of getting around without clothes on and wanting to do yoga," says Naked Yoga Sydney founder, Steve (who asked not to be named in full).

While these bends and stretches are popular with the gay community, Steve insists there is nothing sexual about it. 

"If they think this is some sort of 'laugh and tickle' they've got the wrong idea," he says. "It's serious yoga done without clothes on."

"When you're doing yoga with nothing on there's not much to hide behind and that really opens people up mentally and spiritually."

Class numbers have grown steadily since the studio opened: now about 20 people attend the four classes offered each week.

"Some men, when they go along to a regular class and see a woman beside them taking their leg up over their head -- because they're hips are really flexible -- might feel inadequate," says Steve. "When they come to this class they feel more at home."

Naked Yoga Sydney, 31 Princess Highway, St. Peters, +61 (0)407 281 433,

Outdoor yoga

Yoga by the sea
Rolling mats out at Bondi Icebergs for a fresh, windy morning yoga session.

Bondi beach –- synonymous with healthy, happy, sexy bodies -– is where many go to tap into their spiritual side while toning their backsides.

Sasha Hawley, founder of Yoga by the Sea, runs classes adjacent the Bondi Icebergs Pool. These high-impact, Vinyasa Ashtanga flow classes raise the heart rate and build muscles.

"We see a lot of surfers, young women, athletes and mums in yoga classes," says Hawley.

Travelers and mediating hippies also drop by.

Yoga here includes, "dolphin or whale spotting during classes," she says. "As well as being splashed by the odd wave while working on your tan."

Yoga by the Sea, 1 Notts Ave., Bondi Beach, +61 (0)411 336 476,

Bikram Hot Yoga

Bikram Hot Yoga means going through a series of 26 dynamic poses in a humid 38 C room. It's like exercising in a sauna.

The style is named after the guru, Bikram Choudhury, who in the 1970s merged a bunch of traditional yoga practices into a steam room -- to mimic heat conditions in India.

Now a multimillionaire, Bikram was the first to copyright and franchise yoga.

Bikram Yoga Darlinghurst, 1/256 Crown St., Darlinghurst, +61 (0)2 9356 4999,   

Inside Football clubs

Paul Foley manages the South Sydney Juniors in suburban Kingsford. The footy club, probably better known for its beer and pokies than its spiritual offerings, is bowing to the demand for yoga classes. 

"People kept requesting them so we kept providing more," says Foley.

The club teaches hatha yoga -- developed in India to prepare the body for a higher meditation  -- which involves deep breathing and simple postures.

"[After classes] more of the older ones go downstairs and bet on the pokies, have a cup of coffee or have a few drinks," says Foley.

But not everyone is a club stalwart. Foley has noticed an age divide. "Younger ones are more likely to just use the yoga facilities," he says.

South Sydney Juniors Rugby League Club, 558 Anzac Parade, Kingsford, +61 (0)2 9349 7555,

For the young and old

Old yoga
Showing yoga is not just for the fashionable and young: ladies at Oatley R.S.L. and Community Club.

At Penshurst Girls' High School, teenage girls have been practicing yoga in the school gym since teacher Kerri Morris-Beverstock decided to try something different.

Morris-Beverstock says the girls enjoy the meditation, shavasana. "It's like having a little sleep," she said.

But as well as the young, she teaches the elderly -- some as old as 89 -- at Oatley R.S.L. and Community Club.

"We do a lot of breathing and stretching but we don't often get off our backs," says Morris-Beverstock.

These classes are tailored to the older age group and involve more breathing and less movement than your average yoga course -- so don't expect to see them doing handstands any time soon.

Oatley R.S.L. & Community Club Limited, 70 Restwell St., Bankstown, +61 (0) 418 235 495,

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