- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

UTICA, N.Y.

It may seem like an ordinary art lecture for the visitors viewing a watercolor titled “Moon and Cumulus Cloud,” but the listeners are sitting on exercise mats and wearing sweats.

It’s a yoga art session, an effort to soothe the soul and tone the body in the inspirational setting of an art museum. After the art lesson on how the painter captured the effect of nocturnal light on the landscape, the visitors will get an hourlong yoga session.

“Yoga is really more than fitness,” instructor Rachael Nickel explains before one of six Saturday morning classes at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. “It’s a tradition that’s over 5,000 years old, and it’s really a spiritual tradition. So it’s really a wonderful blending of art and movement.”

As yoga holds strong as a popular form of exercise and relaxation, specialty classes are everywhere. More than 12 million Americans participated in yoga in 2004, according to surveys by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

Anamaria Ross, an anthropology professor at Utica College in this central New York city, said she first took a yoga class for pregnant women three years ago and didn’t hesitate when she heard what the art museum was offering.

“It sounded like a dream,” Mrs. Ross said. “There’s a chance to come here regularly and hear someone talk about the art and do yoga again.”

Galleries are places for quiet contemplation, making yoga the perfect companion for maintaining old members and attracting new ones, said Amy Hofland, director of the Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art in downtown Dallas. Her museum has been holding yoga classes for three years.

“We realized our niche as an oasis for calm, meditation and relaxation, so yoga seemed to be the perfect manifestation of that environment,” Miss Hofland said.

Some classes take place among the sculptures in the Indian art gallery, connecting participants with the history of yoga.

“For many people, it’s a way to end a stressful workday,” Miss Hofland said. “They’ll shed their suits and start the class.”

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