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Women Are Bending and Stretching for Fitness and Beauty (August 29, 2005)

One of the many new yoga enthusiasts in Japan. (Jiji)
Yoga, which eases fatigue and is useful for maintaining physical and mental health, is enjoying renewed popularity in Japan, particularly among young women. Yoga studios are cropping up all over the country, yoga books are jostling for position on bookstore shelves, and manufacturers specializing in yoga attire have emerged. Businesses riding the wave of yoga's popularity are doing well. According to the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc., the number of yoga enthusiasts in Japan is now over 200,000 and is expected to reach 500,000 by 2007.

Yoga Reinvented
Yoga, which originated in India and has a 4,000-year history, once had a rather ponderous, esoteric image as an Eastern tradition associated with meditation and spiritual discipline. Yoga has enjoyed a certain degree of popularity in Japan since about the 1980s. The recent resurgence may have been inspired by reports in the media about supermodels and Hollywood actresses practicing yoga as a means of staying slim and looking good.

The yoga currently finding favor is somewhat different from the traditional form. The new yoga features a casual, stylish format that has found favor among people seeking to lose weight and improve their physical fitness. This yoga is very physically demanding. The addition of athletic elements (as found in the "power yoga" classes that are cropping up at many gyms and studios) is one of the factors that have sparked yoga's newfound popularity.

Yoga-Related Businesses Enjoying Success
Business is brisk for companies cashing in on the yoga trend. Private fitness clubs and culture centers (facilities offering a variety of classes for adults) are rushing to set up yoga studios. Inside these studios, young women dressed in colorful, stylish yoga attire twist and stretch their bodies as soothing music plays in the background. But yoga requires little space and can also easily be done at home.

The convenience of this discipline is part of the reason why yoga apparel and other yoga-related goods are selling so well. Printemps Ginza, a Tokyo department store, held a yoga fair. During the week-long event, the store sold about 150 yoga mats for a price of ¥2,500 each ($22 at ¥110 yen to the dollar). The yoga fair attracted many visitors, mainly women, who ranged widely in age from their twenties to their fifties. Kanebo, a cosmetics manufacturer, meanwhile, has begun offering workout clothes specifically for yoga. The clothing is designed to allow the body to move freely through the slow-paced twists, bends, and stretches of yoga poses.

Many different kinds of businesses are seeking to capitalize on the yoga craze in some very creative ways. For example, a mobile-phone content provider is broadcasting yoga lessons to people via their mobile-phone screens. And a travel agency is offering yoga tours of India.

Pro Athletes Turn to Yoga
Yoga is even catching on in the world of professional sports, with a growing number of athletes incorporating yoga into their training regimes. The Rakuten Eagles, a new pro baseball team launched this year, included yoga in their spring training camp program. Their instructor was Ebisawa Saeko, whose usual students are dancers and showbiz personalities. Yoga moves had the players working up a sweat for about 30 minutes every morning.

"I like to start by working on hip flexibility, then move into teaching about the mind-set of yoga," says Ebisawa. "I know I'm doing my job when I hear my students yelling, 'Ow, that hurts!'"

In that sense, teaching yoga to the baseball players must have been very rewarding for Ebisawa. At a session in the early days of the training camp, Team Manager Tao Yasushi observed his players' attempts to contort their bodies into the unaccustomed poses. "They're all really stiff, aren't they," Tao commented with a rueful smile. The howls of pain emanating from the exercise floor demonstrated the truth of his observation.

As more and more people in various walks of life wake up to the benefits of yoga, firms offering yoga-related products and services are confident that the current boom will continue.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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