NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
A century ago, yoga was an itinerant roadside attraction rumored to cause insanity and tarnish any lady brazen enough to attempt a triangle pose. But in the 1960s, it became part of the counterculture after The Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and returned with caftans, beads and sitars. New Agers embraced yoga in the '90s, and these days yoga has exploded into the mainstream. An estimated 15 million Americans practice one version or another of a discipline that dates back more than 5,000 years, some more spiritual, many less, and a lot of them very big business indeed.
Today's celebrity yogis are far from menacing novelties or fringy New Agers. They're brands unto themselves, complete with book deals, fashion lines, studio franchises and intellectual property lawsuits. Yoga lingo crops up in ads for everything from face lotion to beer, and some tout a good dose of downward dog as a cure-all for everything from back pain to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Later on in the program, we'll go to Times Square where preparations are underway for New Year's Eve, and we'll have your letters. But first, yoga's path from the margins to the mainstream and its transformation from meditation to mass-market workout. And we want to hear from you. Is yoga everywhere the sign of a more enlightened lifestyle or a sign of overexposure? Join the conversation. Our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we begin today with Hanna Rosin, a Washington Post staff writer. Her article "Striking a Pose" for Harper's magazine talks about yoga's potency as both exercise and market force. She's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to talk to you.
Ms. HANNA ROSIN (Staff Writer, The Washington Post): Nice to talk to you.
CONAN: Yoga started as a spiritual practice. You conclude that there's not much left of that.
Ms. ROSIN: Well, for the hardcore yogis there's a lot of spirituality, and they're always trying to bring it to the rest of us. But for many of us, we just use it as exercise during the day, just a quick pick-me-up, as I put in my story.
CONAN: A Red Bull.
Ms. ROSIN: A Red Bull, as I put in my story, although the spirituality is always there, and they're always trying; and there are those purists who do it themselves and invite us to do it with them.
CONAN: And you say that those purists who invited us Westerners to cleanse our bodies and our minds with yoga, they're distressed now that we're actually listening to them.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, I mean I think they probably wanted to own it as their own property, and now it suddenly must be annoying to see, you know, nice, fit, toned women walking around with their little tangerine-colored mats and, you know, thinking of it as the same as aerobics. Because for a real yogi, it's not about the body and it's not about your well toned armed. It's about your spirit and how you live your life. And certainly for the rest of us, it doesn't necessarily translate that way.
CONAN: And now there is marketing plans that you compare to Starbucks.
Ms. ROSIN: Yeah, I mean you - if you read about yoga nowadays - somebody did a map of all the new yoga studios in DC, and what they discovered was that it mapped with DC's gentrification. So that if you had a neighborhood where, you know, yuppies were moving in, the first thing to be put there would be the yoga studio to make people feel comfortable that this was a cutting-edge neighborhood, not a scary neighborhood.
CONAN: And not a scary neighborhood.
Ms. ROSIN: Right.
CONAN: And I guess we should make it clear there seem to be endless varieties of yoga to choose from.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, and ever more so. I mean I feel like every week I hear about some new, interesting innovation coming from the West Coast. There's yoga that's influenced by judo. There's yoga that's influenced by dance. There's every kind of yoga. And I keep thinking that's it, we've reached the peak of it, there's nothing more. It's like step aerobics; it's going to disappear. And then, lo and behold, comes yet another trend.
CONAN: And yet another celebrity yogi.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, yes, there are so many celebrity yogis now. I think there's competition among celebrity yogis for - and more and more people have heard of celebrity yogis. I used to think it was just my friends who were yoga teachers, but now, you know, you hear the name Rodney Yee, or Sheva Rea, or Baron Baptiste, and people seem to know who these people are.
CONAN: And, well, they seem to have lives that are worthy of the tabloids in some respects.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, it used to be that they were kind of in the background in the tabloids. In the '90s, you would hear about them as, you know, peak performance specialists to this or that star, and then over time they themselves became the stars.
CONAN: And brand names. There's a lot of marketing going on.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, it's amazing. There's always - there's everyday a new copyright dispute over certain words like prana or ohm or - you know, these things are in dispute in the courts now because everybody wants to own them.
CONAN: Can you own movements that date back 5,000 years?
Ms. ROSIN: Well, yes. I mean there are Supreme Court cases - I mean actually I'm not sure if it was a Supreme Court case. There are cases about copyrighting sequences, whether you - like a song...
Ms. ROSIN: ...people try and think of a yoga sequence as a song, and can you own that song? But then of course, you know, there are people fighting, oh, you stole my sequence and you stole my sequence and, you know, that kind of thing.
CONAN: And does it require any sort of, you know, degree, any kind of qualifications to be a yoga instructor?
Ms. ROSIN: Well, you're supposed to get yoga training. But if you've taken yoga classes in any city, you will know that there's a vast difference between yoga teachers. There are fabulous yoga teachers and there are less fabulous yoga teachers, but they all should have gone for a teacher-training program.
CONAN: And how expensive is it, or I guess how expensive can it be?
Ms. ROSIN: Yoga can get expensive. You know, if you're - if you can do without your $800 Gucci mat, then it's not that expensive. But, you know, usually a class is $17, $18, but that's probably about as much as a step class used to be in the '80s.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Our number, again, is 800-989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com. And we'll begin with Christian(ph), Christian calling us from Portland, Oregon.
CHRISTIAN (Caller): Hi.
CHRISTIAN: I had a quick story for you. I'm a three-year practitioner and just have really loved the physical and spiritual and psychological benefits of yoga, but something very weird is going on alongside the commercialization. One year ago this week, I got invited to an introductory level bikram yoga class. For people who don't know, it's a really athletic form of yoga that's done in a very hot room. And about midway through the class, the instructor stopped the action to tell us about this new thing that was happening called competitive yoga, competition yoga...
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHRISTIAN: ...and that they're, you know, they're trying to make it an Olympic level sport, and it's going to be really great. And she singled out these two people in the class who were allegedly our state yoga champs to show off to this group of absolute beginners how physically perfect you can be at this.
It was like this theater of the obsessive, just a completely bizarre thing that had nothing to do with what yoga is supposed to be about, you know, accepting your body and, you know, just being more fit and feeling better about yourself.
CONAN: So can we expect to see you in the Olympics, Christian?
CHRISTIAN: That'll be the day.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHRISTIAN: I'm sticking in the class for the, you know, the ladies with the mismatched leotards. That's more my thing.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROSIN: I have to say that's so great. I could not have made that up. I mean that is exactly the opposite of the spirit that one tries to impart in the yoga class. Don't look around, just worry about yourself, your inner being. And, you know, to have yoga-lympics is just really too much.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Christian, thanks very much. We appreciate the call.
CHRISTIAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to Shaim(ph), Shaim's with us from Tucson, Arizona.
SHAIM (Caller): Hello, this is Shaim. Hi, Neal, how are you?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
SHAIM: See, I grew up in India, as you can imagine. And we as children did yoga in the morning to kind of get set for the day. This was your time of peace with yourself. And now as Americans do it here, I watch these toned bodies in Tucson and Phoenix walking with their yoga mats, and I'm amazed at the marketing, and this must be making the real yogis in India turn in their graves.
CONAN: Or get a plane ticket and come to the United States to cash-in.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SHAIM: Exactly. Great show. Bye.
CONAN: Thanks very much.
Ms. ROSIN: You'd be surprised. You know, school children in the U.S. do that, too. They do that before they take their tests. You know, their famous no child left behind test, they do a lot of yoga. This is yoga for calming down. I mean I think it'd be hard to find an L.A. public school, even private school, that doesn't do a little bit of yoga in its classes.
CONAN: I wonder, did - you're a practitioner of yoga yourself.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, I am.
CONAN: And yet you take a pretty hard-edged attitude towards some of this marketing.
Ms. ROSIN: Yeah, I mean I kind - I try and keep a twin mind about it. I get so much out of my classes and I love them, you know. At the same time, I sort of live it or remove from them. The marketing is just funny. I mean just the idea of selling a kind of, you know, beer or, you know, pork loin chili, or whatever it was that I...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROSIN: ...from, you know, from yoga it just means that it's so ubiquitous you just have to tap into it. It must be talked about, and marketing buzz is the familiar or something.
CONAN: Is this an element of hypocrisy?
Ms. ROSIN: I suppose you could call it hypocrisy, except that it's different people doing it. So probably the marketers who are using yoga to market their, you know, chili or their beer don't - couldn't care less about actual yogi, whereas a real yogi probably wouldn't do it.
CONAN: Let's talk with Bailey(ph), Bailey with us from Battle Creek in Michigan.
SALLY (Caller): Hi.
SALLY: This is Sally from Battle Creek -
CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry.
SALLY: But close enough.
CONAN: Close enough. I apologize.
SALLY: No, no problem. I just wanted to say I spend almost no money on my yoga. I use the Rodney Yee tape, and I'm 56, and I have increased my mobility like 200 percent.
CONAN: And that is an account - and Sally, thank you for that - but she is hardly alone. There an awful lot of people in this country, Hanna Rosin, who say that they love this and it makes them feel so much better.
Ms. ROSIN: You know, I am one of those people. I am inflexible as a two-by-four, really, and since I've done yoga I would say I have also increased my flexibility, you know, 200 percent and learned all sorts of other things. And if you have the discipline to do it at home with tapes, well, you're one of the lucky ones. I mean then you can avoid all the classes and the hype and the buzz and just pop in your tape and go about your business.
SALLY: I went on a two-week kayak trip, and I found most of the kayakers were using yoga.
Ms. ROSIN: Everybody. It's amazing. I mean the place where I go, it's like the whole Georgetown Lacrosse team. There's football players and basketball players who come in the studio. My husband who would, you know, two years ago die before he went in a yoga class, finally felt that it was inevitable and the time had come, so.
SALLY: OK, thank you.
CONAN: Thank you very much for the call. Do you expect that, like you mentioned step aerobics or pilates or something like that, this is something that is going to crest and fade away?
Ms. ROSIN: Well, you know, there are times when I've thought that, and then comes a new trend and some new interesting thing from California. And also yoga has a 5,000-year-old tradition to draw on, you know, which step aerobics does not. So presumably there's a large well that they can draw from, and people coming back from India, so maybe it's here to stay. Who knows? Judo's certainly here to stay in America.
CONAN: And it does seem to keep refreshing itself. As you say, new forms of the discipline keep popping up.
Ms. ROSIN: Yes, new forms, new more dynamic forms, new slower forms, forms for every type of person - hot forms, cold forms, new clothing. I mean it just taps into every part of American society that - and it works.
CONAN: And do you think, as you continue to practice this, is this a lifetime for you?
Ms. ROSIN: I feel like it is a lifetime for me because it's also a practice that you can grow old in. You can't, you know, you don't feel like you can run forever and you don't feel like you can play basketball forever, but you really can do yoga forever. You're always hearing about the 80-year-old who can still do a headstand and, you know, all sorts of people can do yoga.
CONAN: Do you continue to get better?
Ms. ROSIN: I do get better. I do get better. I do get better and more flexible.
CONAN: Well, we wish you many new poses in the new year.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROSIN: Thank you.
CONAN: Hanna Rosin, thanks for joining us today. She's a staff writer for The Washington Post and author of “Striking a Pose,” which was published in Harper's magazine.
Ms. ROSIN: (unintelligible)
CONAN: Excuse me, The Atlantic Monthly, an incorrect attribution there, so we apologize for that as well.
Anyway, we're going to be talking more about yoga when we come back from a break, particularly its history and how it made the transition from an oddity to mainstream America. Again, if you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking about yoga this hour. Once largely a spiritual pursuit, now thriving as a workout regimen in big cities and small, all across the United States. How do you like your yoga - hot, cold, or perhaps you like the hybrids? Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com.
We have an e-mail from Gary who writes please clarify that you're talking about various flavors of hatha yoga. There are other kinds of yoga, such as karma yoga, kundalini yoga, tantric, et cetera. I don't believe The Beatles brought back hatha yoga. So we stand corrected there.
While yoga may be a media darling today, that was not always the case. Robert Love is author of “Fear of Yoga,” an account of yoga's origins in the United States and its rocky rise to popularity. He's also editor at large for Best Life magazine. He joins us today from his home in New York City. Nice to have you on the program.
Mr. ROBERT LOVE (Author, “Fear of Yoga"): Thank you, Neal, happy to be here.
CONAN: So when and how did yoga arrive in the United States?
Mr. LOVE: Well, yoga arrived in a cloud of ideas from the Orient in the early 19th century, and it was primarily the interest of (unintelligible), like the Transcendentalist, who were looking at texts. However, the idea of hatha yoga was something that Americans almost were repulsed by or repelled by, including Mark Twain, who observed these yogis, or sakirs(ph), in India on beds of nails or hanging from a hook, things like that.
Mr. LOVE: Hatha yoga became early on associated with extreme forms of asceticism.
CONAN: And that is something that, again, has never really taken hold in this country.
Mr. LOVE: No, it's not an American way of looking at things. But the funny part about yoga is that it has a kind of a secret history that people don't really seem to either talk about or know about. And it became attached to vaudeville, to modern dance with Ruth St. Denis, and kind of started to occupy a place in American consciousness through the work of a guy named Pierre Bernard, who was known in the yellow press of 1910 and thereafter as The Great Oom or The Great and Omnipotent Oom.
CONAN: The Great and Omnipotent Oom, now that's a title to conjure with.
Mr. LOVE: Mm-hmm.
CONAN: Who was he, and what did he do?
Mr. LOVE: Well, he was the real deal. He was - I believe he was the first American yogi. He was certainly the first American hatha yoga - yogi. And he was educated almost by happenstance by a man that he met in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1888 who was a tantric yogi, a man who is not very well known, whose lineage is not very well known, who's name was Sylvais Hamati.
Mr. LOVE: And Bernard stayed with Hamati for something like more than 10 years, from the time he was 13 until his 20s.
CONAN: And how did he become a popularizer in the United States, though?
Mr. LOVE: Well, what happened is he was sort of a natural teacher and showman, but he became known really through the offices of some of the great American families - the Vanderbilts, the Goodrichs - which bankrolled a yoga sanitarium on 53rd Street in New York, where ladies were receiving yoga along with other kinds of modern, up-to-date therapy like aqua therapy and such.
CONAN: Yeah, but they had an awful lot to overcome. In 1911, Current Literature Journal lambasted yoga as proving the way that leads to domestic infelicity and insanity and death.
Mr. LOVE: Well, you see, the thing about yoga is that we've always seen it through the lens of our Americaness. Whether it was a novelty or in a 1910, '11, at the height of the white slavery scare, we saw it as a threat. We saw these yogis as importing a dangerous breed of knowledge that had something to do with the body, that had something to do with sexuality, and was something definitely to be feared. Women did leave their families, occasionally would give their money to yogis, and this was seen as a completely threatening and corrupt practice.
CONAN: And so what was the moment of transition, do you think? Because these days, as you write, yoga is virtually bulletproof.
Mr. LOVE: Sure. Well, I mean it - to go from the ‘20s to the ‘90s, the real transition - several transitions happened. One of them was that in the 1930s, stars in Hollywood started to embrace it, from anywhere from Cole Porter, who started to do yoga to help with his injuries, to Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. But the real turning point for yoga, moving from a threat to a panacea, was in the early ‘90s when it was discovered that, as a course of exercise, it could actually lower blood pressure and contribute to longevity.
CONAN: So it was the health part of this that really made it take off, you think.
Mr. LOVE: Absolutely.
CONAN: And as that developed - and it certainly, as you've been describing, stars and celebrities have always been part of the mystic, if you will.
CONAN: Since the ‘20s, since we were reading about the great American families as entertainment, through the rise of Hollywood in the ‘30s and the rise of gossip columnists, yoga has become associated with elites, with movie stars, with intellectuals, and sort of drizzled down from there.
CONAN: You write that these days yoga has achieved the category of platform agnostic. Now describe what that means and why it's such a good thing.
Mr. LOVE: Platform agnostic should be said with reverence. Because down in the marketing department, platform agnostic means that you can do anything with the idea of yoga. As Hanna said, you can sell chili with it. It will be - it will attach to sales of iPods. It will attach to Christian yoga lessons. It is going to work whether you're selling DVDs, lessons, equipment, conferences, vacations. You name it. It has proven itself to be something that Americans want to attach themselves to and spend money on.
CONAN: So we should not be surprised when we see Ellen DeGeneres taking a yoga pose and meditating on her socks on a TV commercial.
Mr. LOVE: American Express ad, I believe.
CONAN: I believe it is, yes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Robert Love, thanks very much for being with us today.
Mr. LOVE: Sure.
CONAN: Robert Love's article “Fear of Yoga” appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, and he joined us today by phone from his home in New York.
Today's yogaratti(ph) routinely claim that regular practice can cure all manner of ills, both physical and psychological. But can it really slow metabolism, reduce cholesterol, improve brainpower?
Miriam Nelson is director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Summerville, Massachusetts. She's written extensively on women's health and aging. She joins us now by phone from Stowe in Vermont to talk about yoga's health benefits and take your calls on this issue. Again, if you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255. Miriam Nelson, thanks very much for being with us today.
Dr. MIRIAM NELSON (Tufts University): Well, thank you so much and happy holidays to all.
CONAN: Controlling blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, reducing depression - are those claims true about yoga?
Dr. NELSON: Well, yes, I believe that they are. There are a couple of things to think about when we put yoga into perspective. It's a fabulous exercise, and what we know from the research that we've done at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, that's actually in Boston, as well as research that's been going on around the world is that all forms of exercise help to reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, weight gain - which is certainly an issue right now during the holidays - but also issues around depression, improving sleep, stress management. All exercise helps.
And the biggest problem right now is that about 75 percent of the population is not reaching the surgeon general's recommendation of about 30 minutes or more on most days of the week of some sort of moderate exercise. And a good 25 percent of people don't do anything whatsoever. So if we could just get people doing any type of exercise, it would be great. And yoga is certainly a fabulous exercise.
CONAN: It's non-aerobic. It's not like going out and running five miles.
Dr. NELSON: Well, it depends on the type of yoga that you're doing. There can certainly be an aerobic component to it. But certainly the greatest asset around yoga in terms of its health benefits are strengthening the core - our abdominals, our back muscles - also helping with flexibility. A good 80 percent of the American population at some point in time has some back pain, and there is some very good research around improving back health and reducing pain with yoga. Certainly in my newest book, “Strong Women, Strong Backs,” I talk quite a bit about yoga as a very good exercise. It also helps with sort of meditation and stress control as well.
CONAN: And we also know that some forms of exercise, you run five miles a day, your knees may start to complain pretty soon. Does yoga inflict any kind of stress?
Dr. NELSON: Well, yes. Any kind of exercise, if you do it inappropriately or if you don't have good technique, can cause harm, as most anything can. The most important thing when you're thinking about yoga is that you have a good instructor, that you start out very slowly, and that you progress very slowly. I think all of us sort of in the American culture we want to speed along and we want to be able to do that downward-facing dog really, really well.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. NELSON: And if we're very stiff, it takes us a longer time to get there. So patience is very important and having a good instructor, and then progressing very slowly over time. So that you cannot injure yourself and help yourself to get strong and flexible and much fitter.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in. And this is Kim. Kim's with us from Casper, Wyoming.
KIM (Caller): Yes. Thank you for the program. I was just delighted. I was just speaking to my brother on the phone last night who has been prone for the past week with terrible back pain. We come from a family of inherited back pain from my father.
And he's mentioned all the terms that my yoga instructor, who is 73, talks about during our classes, which is his sacrum is out of alignment and his hips are tight and his back is out of whack and he's been in physical therapy and taking muscle relaxers. And I told him I've been doing yoga for a year now and I have not been back to the chiropractor for that year. And I couldn't be more thrilled.
CONAN: And is your brother taking this advice to heart?
KIM: I certainly hope so. I don't know. I've had as much trouble getting my husband to try it. I don't know if my brother will try it. I certainly hope he will, you know. Hard to contemplate when you're in that much pain that anything could make you better. But I told him when he gets better that he should seriously consider it as a routine.
Dr. NELSON: Absolutely. You know once you're over the sort of acute phase of back pain, yoga is one of the best forms of exercise that you can do to really help strengthen those back muscles and to help with flexibility. There was a study done at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York that took individuals with very severe back pain. And they saw that compared to the control group, there was about an 80 percent reduction in back pain in the group that was following the yoga program versus only about half that amount in the control group. And both groups were taking pain medication. So much better effects when you add the yoga into that program.
KIM: Yes, I couldn't recommend it more to anybody that has back pain.
Dr. NELSON: And I think that your point is well taken especially if around - it's really difficult to get somebody that is in any pain, whether it's arthritis, whether it's back pain, whatever it is.
When someone is in pain, they sort of - they can't believe that moving is going to help them. And we now know that in almost every instance, getting some movement, getting some strength in there can really help to speed along the healing process and make sure that this doesn't come back again.
KIM: Yes, absolutely.
CONAN: Kim, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
KIM: You're welcome. Thank you.
CONAN: And we wish you and your brother good luck with your back.
KIM: Thank you so much.
CONAN: We're talking with Miriam Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition and a Ph.D. in Nutrition, Tufts University Board of Nutrition Science and Policy.
You're listening to TALK ON THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.
And let's get another caller in. This is Fred, Fred with us from Kalamazoo in Michigan.
FRED (Caller): Yes, I'm here.
CONAN: Go ahead, you're on the air, please.
FRED: Yeah. I thought you'd be interested to know that the Kalamazoo Cancer Center provides free yoga classes for cancer survivors along with Tai Chi and Pilates.
Dr. NELSON: That's fantastic, very forward thinking.
FRED: Yup. They offer them twice a week and they offer it for a cancer survivor and a caregiver. And so my wife and I go and - just very regularly and felt it's been a really good thing for us to do.
CONAN: And what does it do for you, Fred?
FRED: Well, one thing I think it gives me a sense that I'm doing something really good for my body. I always feel much more calm and centered afterwards. But I think that there is a lingering effect of that centeredness and calmness that is the result of doing the yoga.
CONAN: Miriam Nelson, I believe the National Institutes of Health have produced a study that suggests that yoga indeed does help treat the symptoms of cancer.
Dr. NELSON: Certainly. You know, especially there's many issues with both sort of the short-term treatment and then the long-term survivor. You know there's issues around fatigue. There are issues around depression, problems with sleep, problems with lack of fitness.
When you're going through a rigorous cancer treatment and then even can linger on longer than that and the research shows pretty clearly. And this is also true of other forms of exercise, but especially there's something special about yoga with the whole meditative contemplatedness, the breathing that's very, you know, connects you, sort of, with the ground, connects you with, sort of, life. That's very, very important. And the real sense of well being both in the physical well being as well mental well being - very, very important.
CONAN: Fred, we wish you and your wife good luck.
FRED: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks for the call. And let's go to Julie, Julie with us from Fairfax in California.
JULIE (Caller): Yeah, I wanted to say a word about Power Yoga because I think that was the great agnostic term. I can't remember the couple who came up with this idea but it was probably about five to eight years ago. They thought of this idea of Power Yoga. They wrote some books about it. Once they put the word power alongside yoga, men came to it in droves.
CONAN: Ah. So that was the breakthrough, you think?
JULIE: It was totally the missing element, absolutely. As long as these guys thought, God, I don't have to go to, you know, whack a ball in squash court, I can do yoga for power. It totally transformed the face of yoga in terms of the gender population.
CONAN: And are you a power yogi(ph), Julie?
JULIE: No, I'm not. I actually just do yoga from time to time out of, you know, instructors I meet here and there or, you know, books I find interesting. But it struck me when this came along that this was a thing that was going to change the gender, you know, the gender face of yoga, and indeed it did.
CONAN: Thanks very much for that.
CONAN: I wonder, Miriam Nelson, is there any indication that Yoga is better for one sex or the other, for people of different age groups?
Dr. NELSON: Well, I think it's good for everybody. You know, it doesn't matter what age you are. I think that it has been an issue that many more women were doing this than men. And when you think about it, men tend to be a lot less flexible than women are. And so I think yoga is very important for them as well. But one of the great -
CONAN: I'm sure you're speaking about physically, not mentally.
Dr. NELSON: That's correct, exactly. But one of the other issues has been for women is that physically, we tend not to be as strong as men especially in our abdominals, and our back and trunk muscles.
So that's where the sort of yoga poses can be very, very helpful for strengthening that core. But certainly it's really great for any sex and for any age. And, you know, it's just - in the end, one of the things that's most important, when you're thinking about exercise, is that whatever you like the most is what you should be doing, because that's what you're going to keep up with and you're going to be most compliant with. And being regular with your exercise routine is the most important thing you can do.
You know, there's so many people that ask me what's the best exercise that I can do? Well, if it's yoga that you really enjoy, that's what you should be doing. And then if you can mix exercises up - I'm up in Vermont right now. So going outside into the mountains is the best thing that I can possibly think of doing - but then you know, when the weather is really bad, you can go back inside and do yoga. So mixing up your exercise is important but getting and doing something is by far the most important thing.
CONAN: Miriam Nelson, thanks so much for being with us.
Dr. NELSON: Thank you. It's really been a pleasure.
CONAN: Miriam Nelson, the director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Massachusetts, with us today up from the mountains in Stowe, Vermont.
When we come back from the break, lights, confetti, cheers - somebody's got to manage it all. We'll talk with a few of the people who make New Year's celebrations happen in Time Square.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.