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Yoga schools grow by leaps and bounds in Central Florida

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The students at Warrior One Power Yoga glide through their poses on brightly colored mats squeezed side by side in the narrow studio in Audubon Park.

The Orlando business, which celebrated its first anniversary last month, has been so successful that owner Kim King Zamoff sometimes has to add additional classes.

"I didn't really know what to expect, but we've been growing and thriving since day one," said Zamoff, 46, a former high-school English teacher who has been practicing yoga for 20 years.

Across Central Florida and beyond, studios such as Warrior One are springing up to meet the demand for all kinds of yoga.

There's yoga for pregnant women, yoga for children — even yoga for people with addictions of any kind. One yoga studio recently offered classes at the Orlando Museum of Art.

"It's moved into the mainstream," said Richard Karpel, president and chief executive officer of Yoga Alliance, a voluntary registry based in Arlington, Va. "It's good for health, mindfulness, de-stress — things people are looking for."

No government agency or trade group regulates or otherwise keeps track of yoga schools, and no Florida license is required unless the business also offers weights or other equipment. Schools must pay a small business tax to their county and city, if applicable.

But one gauge of the discipline's popularity comes from a study conducted by a marketing firm for Yoga Journal. It concluded that 20.4 million Americans — mostly women — were practicing yoga in 2012, a 29 percent increase from 15.8 million in 2008.

Zamoff worked as a yoga and exercise instructor for health clubs and yoga studios before she opened Warrior One Power Yoga in a strip shopping center in the neighborhood where she also lives.

She wanted to be her own boss, but she also wanted an environment that was intimate enough for her to get to know her students.

"People are really craving that connection to the teacher and that more personal relationship," Zamoff said.

Occasional yoga student Lisa Beaury said the discipline appeals to people who are looking for meaning in their lives but are turned off by religion.

"Everyone is searching," said Beaury, 34, of Winter Garden, one of about 100 people who attended a June yoga class conducted by College Park Yoga at the Orlando museum. "People want to pull from within as opposed to being pushed from without. That's where the consciousness of the planet seems to be going."

Ravenflower Dugandzic, 31, owner of the year-old Inspirit Yoga Studio in south Orange County, started out wanting to open a wellness center but realized she needed to think like a businesswoman to succeed.

She divides her time between teaching yoga at her school and at corporate conferences and local workplaces, networking and marketing. She said she wouldn't trade her flexible schedule for a 9-to-5 office job.

"You have to be very passionate about what you're doing and know you're not going to become rich off of it," Dugandzic said.

Unlike many other businesses, yoga studios generally don't attract operators out to make a huge profit, Karpel said. Social consciousness is often a greater priority.

Various Central Florida studios offer some free or reduced-price community classes or donate proceeds from particular classes to charities such as battered-women's shelters or food banks.

Zamoff said her studio has sponsored 40 volunteer events in its first year, including fundraisers, food drives and a school Christmas parade. She also gave free yoga classes at Lake Eola Park during this year's Earth Day celebration.

"It's been a passion in their life," Karpel said. "It's been transformative. They want to help others. They want to spend their days focused on their passion."

For those who need help making a go of it, Yoga Alliance offers business tips to its 48,000 registered yoga teachers worldwide, and the Yoga Education Institute maintains an online guide called "Yoga Business Success."

Much of the money to be made in yoga comes from training new teachers. A course can run up to several thousand dollars, Karpel said.

There's plenty of room for more in Central Florida, Zamoff said.

"There are a lot more yoga studios, but they are all different," she said. "They all have a different focus, and they all have something to offer."

It's all about building a connection, said Dugandzic, who got into the business after a career as a massage therapist.

"I'm trying to bring like-minded people together who are trying to better themselves and others and the process," she said. "Yoga is such a healing tool."

sjacobson@tribune.com or 407-540-5981407-540-5981

How to pick a yoga teacher

Determine your goals. Do you want to improve balance, flexibility or muscle tone? Reduce stress? Lose weight?

Read up on the styles of yoga. Schools offer a variety of classes from yin (poses are held for a longer time) to Bikram (taught in a hot room).

Research the teacher's credentials and experience. Many schools post this information online. The Yoga Alliance publishes a directory of registered teachers who have at least 200 hours of training from an approved school (yogaalliance.org).

Attend a few classes to see how you feel about the school and instructor. Credentials are fine, but fit is more important.

Ask for recommendations from friends or colleagues.

Choose a school that is close to your home or office and accommodates your schedule.

SOURCE: Full Circle Yoga, Inspirit Yoga Studios

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