The yoga boom
Durango grows into a yoga epicenter

Instructor Kathy Curran, at front, leads an intermediate yoga session at the Smiley Building on Tuesday. Dozens of instructors, numerous studios and a multitude of local students are giving the discipline a home in Durango./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Katie Clancy

It’s right out of a movie : FADE IN: The YogaDurango Studio, circa 2003, a dim, windowless, single-studio space in a brown office complex.

A teacher with thick black eyeliner covered in tattoos sporting red spandex guides a sweaty room of beginners who fumble and wobble through the poses.

“It’s the lion breath,” the teacher explains, opening her mouth, bulging her eyes and unrolling her tongue in a ferocious exhale. The students follow; a few drool down their sweatpants.


YogaDurango, 2010, a bright studio, gleaming hardwood floors and windows with mountain views. A diverse, crowded class sits on designer mats chanting “Om” before effortlessly folding themselves into pretzels.

If you want to track the rise of yoga from its humble beginnings to local fitness mainstay, then following YogaDurango from that corner studio to its current status is a good start.

The center recently launched the first local teacher-training to be recognized by the national certifying giant Yoga Alliance and now has two spacious locations, one on Florida Road and another, opened in August, on Main Avenue. The studio employs 12 teachers and just graduated 18 fledglings from the teacher-training program, a 200-hour course that covers Sanskrit, philosophy and Ayurvedic nutrition in addition to physical postures.

These days, yoga is everywhere. Yoga and hip-hop. Yoga and pilates. Yoga and beer pong. Media Market Research, a national research firm, cites yoga as the fastest growing form of fitness in America, with more than 16 million current practitioners.

Even with the pressure of the recession, yoga is clearly going strong. How can that be?

Ironically, some say we can thank the slow economy. “The yoga market grows when people look for an escape, a way to relax amidst this financial storm,” Bill Harper, publisher of Yoga Journal, says.

Local yoga instructor Christina San Pedro sees it as a positive thing. “People are waking up to the need to balance their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives right now. Yoga is the fine balance between effort and relaxation.”

Kathy Curran, informally known as the Divine Sage of Yoga in Durango, believes yoga is powerful medicine. “Yoga’s ability to alleviate human suffering is enormous,” says Curran, a certified instructor who has taught for more than 30 years.

Durango’s progressive reputation has also given local yogis confidence to practice freely. Lakshmi Van Atta moved here from the northern California yoga community of Ananda nearly 10 years ago. “We came to Colorado looking for an open-minded town,” says Van Atta, who organizes local monthly Kirtans, a form of devotional chanting. “When we found Durango, we knew we could maintain our yoga practices here.”

Although Indian philosophy has mingled with Western culture since the time of Plato and Aristotle, it wasn’t until 1893 that the United States caught wind of yoga principals. Pioneer gurus like Swami Vivekananda and Parmahansa Yogananda (author of the bestseller Autobiography of a Yogi) paved the way for household names like B.K.S Iyengar.

A young Durango yogi relaxes during Erika Berglund’s youth yoga class in the Smiley Building./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Eighty years after yoga’s introduction to the United States, another popular “guru” also began to spread the news to Westerners: the television. This is how local James Turner, 63, was converted. After a girlfriend turned Turner onto the PBS show “Lilias! Yoga and You” in 1972, he was hooked.

“I learned about yoga from the TV. My first real class was when I moved to Colorado in the early ’80s, where only a few studios existed on the Front Range,” said Turner, one of the recent graduates from YogaDurango. “To think that there would be so many yoga teachers as there are now – inconceivable.”

When Curran moved here 23 years ago from Boulder, she feared she was entering a “yoga wasteland.” But it took only a few years for her to develop a following that is growing even to this day. She now has her own studio where she teaches group and private classes five days a week.

Although 80 percent of yoga is practiced by women, new niches among children, baby boomers and athletes are growing roots.

Turner looks forward to teaching older people in nursing homes and group classes, working to dispel the common myth that yoga is just for the fit, young and female. Another YogaDurango graduate, Margaret Simon, 54, also wants to devote her work to older, less-experienced practitioners. With a large base of retirees in Durango, Simon sees the need to reach this demographic. “I truly believe that anyone can do yoga. It’s about cultivating a nonjudgmental environment, where everyone accepts where they are.”

Curran also speaks to the practicalities of yoga for the aging. “The form I teach, Iyengar, really helps us grow old with grace, as it is adaptable to injuries and the aging process. I really don’t know how people age without it.”

While many adults discover yoga at an older age, a number of teachers are gearing their classes toward children. Obesity and bullying are areas where yoga has made inroads.

“Our children need to tap into their inner strengths and develop body awareness to confront these issues,” yoga instructor Katie Walsh explains. She is beginning to offer “Calming Kids,” a yoga-based program that works on building confidence, social skills and self-esteem. “If they begin to learn these tools now, it will enhance their lives and hopefully carry on into their adult lives.”

For the “Type A” physical personality, coach Steve Ilg teaches “High Performance Yoga” at The Hub Training Center, an intense class geared toward athletes. For Ilg, who “trained under a black wolf in the wild as a young boy” in Durango, outdoor athletes are the closest manifestation of an ancient warrior. “Athletes’ endurance and strength catalyze many yogic principals,” he explains.

During his weekly class, incense smoke wafts past a row of National Championship jerseys mounted on the wall. “I just got done with a 60k this weekend,” his student, Lisa Ford, shares nonchalantly, unrolling her mat. Ilg joins his hands in prayer position. “You are a very fierce yogini,” he says and bows deeply.

Ford likes Ilg’s class because it challenges her physically and is “closer to what ‘real’ yoga is in terms of emphasizing meditation.”

Which begs the question: What is “real” yoga? In ancient Sanskrit, yoga means to “yolk,” or unify, the body to breath, the individual to a higher self. “Yoga existed thousands of years before the physical postures. As time passed, humanity’s concentration skills became more lax, and the yogis had to develop the physical containers to hone our skill of focus,” Ilg explains.

Yogis everywhere debate whether Americans are addicted to asana, the physical postures. Ricardo Moreno, a Kundalini instructor who teaches at Peaceful Spirit treatment center in Ignacio, sees the real beauty of yoga in its ability to connect people to an inner strength.

“It allows us to hold steady when our exterior worlds are in flux,” he explains.

Despite the controversy, most agree that any amount of yoga is good. “As long as it imparts conscious breath and movement, I think it’s a positive thing,” Ilg says.

Iyengar-trained teacher Noah Richstone agrees. “It’s about bringing what we learn on the mat into the everyday world. Even if the practice brings you to sit quietly for a few moments and become more in touch with your body, it’s a blessing.” •

For a complete directory of yoga centers/teachers in town, visit



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