Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Susan Bryant, center, leads students in a wellness yoga class at the Sports Barn fitness complex in downtown Chattanooga.
A local fitness facility is trying a new marketing effort to reach a segment of clients who might not otherwise try a yoga center.
The Sports Barn is offering yoga memberships that allow month-by-month renewals for people who don't want to sign up for annual contracts.
Yoga is one of the fastest-growing sports in America, according to a survey taken by the Yoga Journal. In 2001, 4.3 million Americans practiced yoga. By 2008, that number had more than tripled to 15.8 million participants, 72 percent of whom are women.
Madia Swicord, who teaches in her own studio as well as at the Sports Barn, said she believes the growing number of venues offering yoga and competing for business reflects this boom.
"I've never seen so many people practicing," she said. "I think this growth is supported by these different locations [offering classes].
"What I've seen over 15 years of teaching is that people practicing yoga like their certain places, but since they are growing in such numbers, they may now be more open to other spots.
"I don't think there is another gym with a yoga studio in its facilities," she said. "I thought it would be very smart for [Sports Barn] to have that edge."
The base deal is $90 a month for unlimited classes at any Sports Barn facility, although the majority of yoga classes are offered at the downtown and Hamill Road locations, according to David Brock, Sports Barn managing partner.
The membership also allows access to other classes and the full use of the facility.
Additionally, there are varying levels of discounts to the new yoga membership depending on services the client wants and the length of time for which they join, Brock said.
"If you sign up for three years, you can pay as little as $55 a month," he said.
"Yoga memberships allow people who don't want to sign up for a long length of time to use our facilities on a month-to-month basis," Brock said.
"We're trying to get word out about our new studio downtown and, with more than 40 classes a week, it's a value when it comes to yoga."
A regular Sports Barn membership is $65 a month for a one-year contract at one branch, $75 a month for a one-year contract that allows use of any of the three locations.
Pro Athletes Practicing Yoga
* LeBron James
* Shaquille O'Neal
* Tennis star Andy Murray
* Professional hockey player Tim Thomas
EXAMPLES OF YOGA FEES
* Madia's Studio: Eight classes for $80, $12 for class drop-ins, no membership contracts; private yoga lessons available.
* North Shore Yoga: Current special for new students only: $10 for 10 days. Regular rates for returning students range from $14 drop-in fee for one class to $130 for 30 days unlimited use. Also available: annual unlimited pass for one member, $1,100; unlimited family pass for one year, $1,800.
* Rush Fitness Center in Hixson: $39 a month with a 24-month membership contract, unlimited access to facility.
* Sports Barn: $90 per month with unlimited yoga classes and use of facilities, no annual contract; discounts available if joining under lengthier membership.
* YMCA: If member only wants yoga classes, may purchase a group exercise card for $72 with 12 visits per card. Regular membership fee is $58 a month with a one-time joining fee of $75. There is no contract; however, member must give 30-day notice if not renewing the next month.
Sources: Venue management
Adults 30-54 are the largest practicing age demographic in the national yoga survey. Locally, baby boomers are the fastest-growing numbers of new practitioners, say yoga instructors, who find boomers are seeking the wellness benefits of yoga.
"We are seeing more people ages 50 and older, especially at our North location because it is in a suburban area," said Becky Dempsey, a Sports Barn yoga instructor.
"Yoga focuses on the postures that build strength, flexibility and relaxation techniques. I'm hearing more people who come for benefits yoga has on hypertension, blood pressure reduction, any stress-related illness, insomnia.
"Wellness yoga classes tend to stay away from poses that will put increased pressure on shoulders and wrists or things that irritate the hips," she said.
TVA engineer A.J. Javadi has been a Sports Barn member for 25 years. He said he started yoga two years ago to help him with his golf game. While watching a tournament on television, he heard the commentators discussing a tour player and how he had extended his range of motion through yoga.
"As many do, I had the wrong idea about what yoga was. I was thinking yoga was something where people meditate. I never thought it was for flexibility. I went to the Sports Barn class not really knowing what to expect."
Javadi said that within six months after joining one of Dempsey's classes, he saw a difference in his game.
"First of all, the extension I was getting was totally different than before. The distance you get when you play improves because your muscles are relaxed and extended; you are more accurate."
Then he noticed improvements in his everyday lifestyle.
"That stiffness, that twinge, you have in the morning in your knees and shoulders, I never had again," he said.
Dempsey said Javadi has since referred several golfers into her classes.
"I recommend it to anyone playing any sport," said the golfer.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...