The great yoga debate: Burn up or wind down?

The house music is thumping, your legs are turning to Jell-O, and sweat soaks your hot pink halter top.

More fitness buffs are turning to such a yoga environment for a routine that burns. But some Utah yogis are calling for a return to more meditative, slower practices that defined the activity before its aerobics days.

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Utah’s Yoga Day

Gov. Gary Herbert has declared Wednesday, Sept. 25, State Yoga Day in Utah — and local yoga enthusiasts are gathering to celebrate.

Yoga studios, yogis and others are scheduled to take part in an event, “We Are Yoga Elevated,” Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. on the south-facing steps of the Utah Capitol, 300 N. State St., Salt Lake City.

After opening remarks at 6, an hourlong yoga class — accessible to all levels — will start at 6:15. That will be followed by giveaways from sponsors, which include the sports clothier Athleta and two Utah companies: Hugger Mugger and meSheeky.

Jamie Larson, owner-director of We Are Yoga SLC Yoga Studio and a driving force behind the State Yoga Day declaration, said in a statement that the event is “an unprecedented collaboration encouraging the unification of the yoga community and recognizes the value of yoga in our lives, our country and in our state.”

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“We’ve been doing this before anybody even knew what it was,” said Charlotte Bell, a Salt Lake City yoga teacher of about three decades, “when people were confusing it with yogurt.”

Bell is opening a downtown studio. Mindful Yoga Collective (223 S. 700 East), dedicated to the more traditional take on yoga, which includes holding poses for longer and moving more slowly. Such a practice better helps people meditate, honing in on their breath and focusing their minds, she said.

The incoming group of teachers at Mindful Yoga Collective are like Ph.Ds of yoga, she says, with decades of study and practice behind them. The point of yoga, Bell contends, is to steady the mind by calming the body. Strengthening and stretching are added pluses, she says, but they’re not the point.

Teachers at the collective stop short of waving off the intense variety altogether. But yoga should balance out the body, not overwork it, said Roz Newmark, another teacher at the collective.

“There’s a culture already revved up on cappuccinos and computers, and our nervous system is so fried,” Newmark said, so a little stillness could help most of us to relax. The slower classes offer an option for those who don’t want to twist into a pretzel. They also cater to people with injuries or others who have exited their 20s and want a reduced pace.

The new studio will focus on the fundamentals, helping people align their joints and muscles properly so they don’t get hurt, its teachers say. Classes will range from somewhat active morning sessions to more relaxed evening ones.

At Salt Lake City’s Centered City Yoga (918 E. 900 South), the number of people in power classes, or workout sessions, has dipped recently, said D’ana Baptiste, the studio’s founder. On the other hand, classes with words like “healing” and “restoring” in the name are on the rise. The workout classes typically attract newcomers who want to sweat and get their heart rate up, Baptiste said.

“Once we entice them with a workout, we get them to stay for the other classes,” Baptiste said. Those include yin yoga, which focuses on stretching and soothing the joints with incremental movements.

And even Baptiste wouldn’t have begun classes nearly three decades ago if they didn’t count for a workout, she said.

“People say, ‘I want the yoga arms, I want to look like Madonna, I want to have Sting’s arms.’ ” And it’s true, she said: “You get more flexible, you get stronger. It balances you out.”

But after some routine practice, “what’s cool about it is the goal stops being important. It’s the mere enjoyment,” Baptiste said, “of being with yourself.”

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