As the peaceful sound of a bell rings in a dimly lit room, a group of men and women lie motionless on the floor. Eyes closed, they breathe slowly and deeply, preparing for a yoga class that will help clear their busy minds and relax their stressed bodies.
But they won't be relaxed much longer.
After just a few minutes, the music speeds up and the students are reminded that this is not just yoga but YogaFit, a hip new approach to the 6,000-year-old practice of focusing the mind and body. The YogaFit motto: "We burn fat, not incense."
Created by personal trainer Beth Shaw, YogaFit combines the traditional yoga techniques of deep breathing, stretching and meditation with cardiovascular exercises that give participants a total body workout. As a result, YogaFit not only relaxes the mind and body but also makes you sweat.
"Yoga encourages you to bring your mind into your muscles and melt into nothingness," says Shaw, who has been practicing yoga for 11 years. "Yoga is a journey that you can incorporate into anything."
It was while she was working as a personal trainer and yoga instructor at a fitness club five years ago that Shaw developed the YogaFit concept. She noticed that most gym-goers preferred a sweaty workout to the mellow practice of yoga. So she experimented with a class by adding cardiovascular moves, abdominal work and upbeat music. Then she eliminated the "Om" chants that are a staple in most forms of yoga.
Her class was a hit, and YogaFit was born.
Last year, Shaw opened a studio in Hermosa Beach, offering just a couple classes. She now offers 40 YogaFit classes each week and continues to add new forms of this hybridized exercise to her offerings. About 2,000 people pass through her studio each month to take classes like Expressive YogaFit, Power YogaFit, YogaFit for Kids and prenatal and postnatal YogaFit. For the summer, Shaw added a YogaFit boot camp that incorporates power walking, cycling, kick boxing and, of course, yoga.
"I've seen more progress with YogaFit than I've seen with aerobics or anything else," says Cheryl Terry, a Los Angeles resident who has enjoyed YogaFit for a year now. "It's really accessible, and I have more tone and energy than ever."
Some yoga traditionalists have questioned Shaw's brand of yoga and her goal of bringing YogaFit into gyms.
"YogaFit is taking some of the elitism out of yoga by making yoga available to the masses," says Shaw, who requires that those in her teacher training program provide eight hours of free yoga to individuals who haven't yet been exposed to it. "I think that upsets some people, but yoga should be accessible and available to everyone."
Indeed, Irene Lim loved YogaFit so much that she took the teacher training program and did her community service classes at Earthlink, where she had been working until just recently. The class went over so well that Lim brought a permanent YogaFit class to the company, then quit her job to work for YogaFit full time.
"It's the kind of thing that changes your life," says Lim, who lives in Hermosa Beach. "It's a completely energizing experience."
YogaFit, 1332 Hermosa Ave., Studio No. 7, Hermosa Beach. (310) 798-8773. Cost: $10 per class.