Arlington, Va — With stress levels rising and purse strings tightening, how are yoga and Pilates studios faring in the recession? Better than you might think. In fact, some studios are reporting rapid growth and increased demand.

Hansa Knox, president of Yoga Alliance, Arlington, VA, says although some smaller studios face economic challenges, the yoga industry overall is thriving.

“Mom-and-pop studios are feeling the pinch more than franchises,” Knox says. “Utility prices are rising, and independent studios are cutting costs. Some [studio owners] are moving to in-home training or smaller studios, or focusing on specialty classes and alternative grassroots marketing.”

Franchises are generally able to market more and offer discounts that smaller studios may not be able to afford, better mitigating the ups and downs of the economy, Knox says.

Yoga and Pilates ranked in the top 20 most frequently offered programs at fitness facilities (61 percent and 68 percent of respondents offered programming, respectively), according to a 2008 survey by the IDEA Health & Fitness Association of individuals at health clubs, YMCAs, specialty fitness studios, corporate wellness facilities and other types of fitness facilities. Additionally, 55 percent of respondents offering yoga and 58 percent offering Pilates indicated program growth. Numbers for growth in the first quarter 2009 are not yet available.

Despite this growth, some operators are feeling the pinch of the economy. Suzanne Staples, sole proprietor of Lively N Fit Yoga and Pilates, taught Pilates in a chiropractor's office in Orange County, CA, before being laid off last month.

None of her 15 weekly clients could warrant paying out-of-pocket for Pilates Reformer classes, even though they loved them, she says.

YogaWorks, a network of 22 franchise studios, is growing on both coasts, opening two studios so far this year with three more studios slated to open in New York and California, says Phil Swain, YogaWorks president. Swain projects a 36 percent revenue increase for 2008-2009, up from 24 percent in 2007-2008 and 26 percent in 2006-2007.

“Our existing studios are maintaining. Class numbers are good,” says Swain, adding that few clients have left due to financial difficulties. “Even those who are laid off are finding more time to do yoga.”

However, Yoga Journal reports a decline in the number of yoga practitioners in America, from 16.5 million in 2004 to 15.8 million in 2008, yet spending has increased 87 percent to $5.7 billion per year.

The decline in practitioners isn't evident at Knox's Denver studio and educational facility, PranaYoga & Ayurveda Mandala Training Center, where the number of clients has doubled in the past year. She typically limits her classes to eight students, but she increased her advanced-level classes to 11 students and added instructors to accommodate three new classes and instructor workshops.

Davidson Reid, owner and executive director of Studio Lotus in Atlanta, also reports overall growth in the past year and the first quarter of this year.

“During the third quarter of last year, we did see a dip in revenue, but we made it up and grew 11 percent overall,” Reid says. “The first quarter of 2009 indicates a growth of 2.5 to 3 percent.”

During times of stress, yoga and Pilates are the last things people let go, Reid says, because clients are seeking stress relief. Reid has not changed his pricing structure, and cost is not a limiting factor, he says, adding that people don't mind spending money if they see results.

Knox says that the success of mind-body practices during the recession may be due to the fact that yoga and Pilates are generally less expensive than massage, and they are personally empowering.

“It's not just physical, it's not just stress reduction — it's empowerment that we don't feel in the world today,” Knox says. “People are coming because they want to regain control on a personal level.”

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