Yoga is considered a path to greater mental and physical fitness and is now experiencing a surge of popularity in Guangzhou.
The art, an intrinsic part of Indian life and culture stretching back thousands of years, is coming into its own, with many dedicated yoga centers opening in Guangzhou. The activity is becoming a standard feature in many of the city's best-known fitness clubs.
A quick survey of the most popular of these suggests there are between 5,000 and 10,000 regular practitioners of yoga. This number is likely to grow in coming years, said those closely involved.
A yoga enthusiast in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, moves to a meadow to practise her exercises.
The sudden surge in interest could be attributed to the stress of living in a big city like Guangzhou, said Harmony Ling, of Yogi Yoga.
"In their everyday lives, people have a lot of pressure - to work hard, make money, find a partner - there are many demands."
Through yoga, "people can take their minds off their worries. They learn to relax and forget about their problems".
As well as the desire for some respite in busy lives, a strong economy and better salaries mean more middle class workers can afford to take classes, while many people, especially women, are discovering yoga as a means to slim and tone their bodies.
Of Yogi's 300 or so members, most are women aged between 30 and 40, said Ling. Around 70 percent of the total are local Chinese.
This is also the case across town at Brahma Yoga, where members are usually between 30 and 60 years old, said Ouyang Guang, a supervisor and advisor at the club.
At Essence of Life Yoga Club, the proportion of female members is around 90 percent, said general manager and yoga instructor Ally Chan. The most popular forms of yoga at the centre are Hot Yoga, Power Yoga and Slimming Yoga.
Meanwhile, at Total Fitness and Zone Action, the city's leading fitness center, around 90 percent of yoga students are female, said membership supervisors Lulu Wang and Rody Wang.
The popularity of yoga is only going to increase as more people seek a healthier, balanced lifestyle, said Ouyang. However, the 10-year veteran, a self-described yoga "purist", is unhappy to see the trendy styles that have emerged in recent years. He misses the deeper spiritual and philosophical message of traditional or "real" forms of yoga.
Despite such debate, all this interest is driving demand for skilled yoga teachers, arguably the most sought after of which come from India, where Yogi's practitioners who have devoted their lives to the art, originate.
"Coming to Guangzhou has been a great opportunity," said Dhiren Bhandari, resident expert at Yogi Yoga.
"I want to let others know about the (true) benefits of yoga. Yoga is more than exercise. It is also having a peaceful outlook on life and having a healthy lifestyle," he said.
Only 25, he has been practising yoga since 12, and honed his craft in Rishikesh, a city in India's north and long considered the country's yoga capital.
Like many of his counterparts, Bhandari made his way into China and Guangzhou, now well known as a growth market, to develop his career and fulfil his dream of teaching.
And like many of them, he was invited here by center owners and managers, who are almost longtime yoga devotees and keen to offer their students an authentic and holistic yoga experience.
But while Guangzhou is providing such teachers the chance to travel and earn a living in a buoyant market, this was not the prime motivation for coming here, said Bhandari.
"China and India are two great cultures and the same in many ways. To teach yoga here is a good chance for me to bring a part of Indian culture to China. This helps bring us even closer."
(China Daily March 24, 2007)