From Berlin to Cologne, Hamburg to Munich, modern-day Germans are using yoga to get fit and explore the body-mind connection. Visiting Germany and want to hit the mat? Here's where to go.
In Germany's Bikram Yoga studio in Hamburg, classes are taught in very hot rooms
Yoga has long since been transformed from a flaky pursuit of ex-hippies into one of the West's most pervasive fitness trends.
Throw a stone on any New York or Los Angeles street, and it seems you'll hit someone on the way to a yoga class, exercise mat in tow. Stars such as Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow have praised its virtues; and new yoga studios are sprouting up in U.S. cities like mushrooms after a rain.
The Bikram yoga trend started in the US
Now, the sport's rocketing popularity has crossed the ocean. In all its styles and variations, Germans can't seem to get enough of yoga.
Kumud Schramm, spokeswoman for Germany's Yoga Teachers' Association, says that more than three million Germans do yoga on a regular basis, and there are more than 8,000 teachers in the country who serve them.
"We're really experiencing a boom in yoga," Schramm recently told Focus magazine. "Our lives are hectic, demanding, and take us to the limits of our physical and psychological limits. People are seeking quiet, relaxation, and a look inside themselves. That's what they get with yoga."
Germany's latest fitness trend has its roots in a 3,500 year old system which seeks to join the body and mind, using breathing techniques and meditation mixed with a series of physical postures, or asanas. The asanas promote strength, flexibility and balance, and different postures are said to be beneficial for different internal organs as well as body functions.
The fine art of yoga
The first German yoga studio opened in Berlin in 1937. There was a surge of recognition in the 1960s and '70s, especially among young people seeking transcendental experiences.
Today, however, yoga has moved more into the mainstream, and its focus is often just as much physical fitness as mental well-being. Yoga today is just as often seen as a good workout or a relaxation method as a stop on the road to enlightenment.
Anyone interested in checking out the sport should first think about what they want to get out of it, and then see which type of yoga is best suited for them.
Iyengar yoga, developed by Indian yogi BKS Iyengar, is a low-key, technique-oriented style best suited for older or injured students. Power yoga and its ascetic cousin Ashtanga are flowing-style yoga that offers a heavy duty cardiovascular workout and require -- or build -- stamina and muscle strength. Bikram is a series of postures taught in a superheated room (around 40 degrees Celsius, or 100 Fahrenheit,) in order to promote sweating and blood flow. Sivananda is classical style of postures that focuses heavily on meditation, while Kriya might be right for the person on a spiritual path.
Classes in English
Yoga isn't just for women
Whether in Germany on business or pleasure, an English-speaking visitor who wants to check out a class or pursue an ongoing practice will face a wide range of options, especially in the larger cities. A surprising number of classes are offered in English (and a surprising number of the teachers in Germany are Americans or Brits who have made a business of importing their passion for the sport.) The yoga scene tends to be an international one, and English is its lingua franca.
Many regular fitness studios offer trial or visitor passes that allow access to a whole range of fitness classes, yoga included. And of course, more and more studios devoted solely to yoga -- usually teaching one of the styles mentioned above -- are opening all the time.
Want to find a yoga class in Germany that's right for you? Here are DW-WORLD.DE's top five yoga picks.
Berlin: Moveo: The studio is on the cutting edge of the yoga trend. In Berlin's Kreuzberg district, Moveo prides itself on offering an extremely wide array of class styles, from Ashtanga to Iyengar to pre- and post-Natal. Check out the café, sauna and massage offerings.
Hamburg: Bikram Yoga Studio Hamburg opened in 1999, is the first in Germany to have offered yoga classes in this increasingly popular style. Also called 'hot yoga' because classes are held in superheated rooms, the better to promote healing, Bikram yoga was developed by Bikram Choudhoury, an Indian who teaches in Los Angeles.
Frankfurt: Balance Yoga in downtown Frankfurt, opened just last year, offers drop-in classes in English in various styles.
Munich: Jivamukti. Based on a New York-style offshoot of flowing Ashtanga yoga, often set to pulsing modern music. Jivamukti incorporates philosophy, strength training, and spirituality.
Cologne: Lord Vishnu's Couch. Three young women, two of whom studied in the U.S., opened this Power Yoga oriented studio last year.