- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bad luck turned out to be a blessing for Stephen Russell. The new president and chief executive officer of Yoga Alliance might not have taken up yoga if he hadn’t suffered an injury doing something else.

“What first got me into yoga was a tennis injury,” said the native of Scotland, explaining that he took up yoga 20 years ago to treat his injured shoulder and decided to stick with it to improve his overall health.

“I’m a keen sports person, a keen tennis player, and I looked around and saw a bunch of my friends were getting injuries,” Mr. Russell said.

Today, he and his wife, Rita Costick, conduct yoga seminars and workshops as well as teach relaxation techniques to yoga’s rapidly growing fan base. Mr. Russell, who holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Glasgow, is a registered yoga teacher.

Yoga Alliance, founded in 1999 in Clinton, is a national organization that supports the practice of yoga by providing teachers with training and setting standards for yoga practitioners. Mr. Russell was a member of the alliance’s board of directors before he assumed his presidential duties Oct. 1.

“The board’s role was really to assure compliance with our mission,” he said. “My duties are to carry out the strategic plan.”

The alliance’s board evaluates the yoga market and determines what it would like to achieve — from creating new alliances with different schools to finding new ways to market instructors to students. It is up to Mr. Russell to make the board’s wishes a reality.

Before settling in the United States in 1995, Mr. Russell spent eight years with Price Waterhouse to begin his business career, and became a company manager. He also worked in Scotland as a chartered accountant — similar to a certified public accountant — and spent time with Digital Equipment Corp. as chief executive of one of its British subsidiaries.

Mr. Russell, who now holds dual citizenship in the United States and Britain, said his past positions gave him the experience that Yoga Alliance was looking for.

“One of the big needs that Yoga Alliance had was to bring someone in that had the management expertise but also who could assist the board in strategizing.”

The future of yoga looks good, Mr. Russell said. The number of people who practice yoga and its cousin tai chi nearly doubled from 1998 to 2002, according to yogasurvey.com.

“I think one of my personal goals is really to bring the message of yoga to a wider range of consumers and to a wider range of potential,” Mr. Russell said, adding that the alliance is looking at taking an international role in yoga, with an eye toward Eastern Europe and China.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job here which can be replicated in other markets now,” he said.

Mr. Russell, 54, and his wife live in the Phoenix area. They have two grown children in Britain. They plan to move to Maryland soon.

Jonathan Swigart

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