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The birth of an industry
Less than a decade ago, yoga existed only in small, private studios in the center of the city, according to Sophia, a California Barre teacher and a recent graduate of an RYT-200 yoga teacher training program in Paris. She explained that when she moved from San Diego to Paris to study French language 8 years ago, she was disappointed to find that her options for practicing both yoga and barre were extremely limited. She says, “It was very limited in terms of my style and what I liked to do. It was very small studios that had a specific clientele.”
Although Sophia’s experience with yoga in Paris wasn’t love at first sight, she did fall in love with the son of her host family. 8 years, a happy marriage, and a baby later, Sophia has realized that she didn’t need to wait around to the wellness industry catch up. Instead, she exported her signature yoga-infused barre method to Paris by teaching throughout the city and laying the groundwork for a California Barre fitness boutique that is scheduled to open next year.
Yoga with elegance
Benoît, a yoga teacher from the west coast of France who was raised in California, says that he moved to Paris at the perfect time to begin teaching yoga. Benoît was drawn to yoga as a way to heal his body and his mind from his former career as a professional ballet dancer. He says, “I was living in Switzerland as a dancer, I was dating some beautiful Croatian man, and at the end of my two-year relationship with him, it was drastic. It was very emotional. At that time, I wasn’t really booking the jobs that I was wanting to get, and with my love affair with this guy starting to degrade. I was like, I need to change something. So I ended up changing everything.”
Benoît left his ballet career to join Global Yoga Shala’s teacher training program in the Dordogne region of France, and promptly moved to Paris to begin teaching thereafter. He says, “Honestly, I think I was quite lucky. I moved to Paris 5 years ago which was when the scene really started to pick up. I came in and basically applied to all the studios that I knew of in Paris. I went in, gave them my CV and headshot, told them I was a ballet dancer, I had been practicing 10 years, and you need me in your studio.”
Benoît’s career transition paid off. He explains, “I’m a firm believer that I’m helping the community, I’m helping people feel better, and I am inspiring people. That’s what’s so rewarding about the job. So I really feel that I’m in the right place at the right time, and I’m just cruising on this wave. And that’s kick ass.”
During his time teaching in Paris, Benoît says he has witnessed the transition his class demographics from small groups of English-speaking internationals and older beginners to classes of 30 or more students, predominately made up of Parisian millennials and a few tourists lost in translation. Benoît says that Parisians have a particularly unique set of expectations when it comes to yoga. He says, “In Paris, you do need to have an elegant, academic teaching, where you have to speak about anatomy and be precise… Parisians are looking for something special that’s going to be intelligent yet spiritual and yet fun.”
Marion, a Parisian yoga teacher of Indian descent, agrees that yoga in Paris is particularly unique compared to where she trained in India. Marion worked in marketing and communications in Paris before she decided to spend a year abroad. In India, she searched for a yoga retreat to cure herself of depression. However, the only thing that fit into her agenda was a teacher training in yoga therapy. The relief and personal revelations that she experienced during her teacher training exceeded her expectations. She states, “In India, it was the first time that I tried a flow course, and in fact, I took the course, and I never stopped practicing yoga. I told myself that I’d never stop, and I felt that it was a true part of my life.”
Despite her adoration of yoga in India, Marion says that it wasn’t quite the style that she feels drawn to teach in Paris. She explains, “Yoga in India, I loved, but I can’t teach Indian-style yoga. It is very strict in the postures and the adjustments.”
By contrast, Marion feels that there is freedom for teachers to explore their own voice because of the novelty of the yoga industry in Paris. She says, “In France, what is interesting is that there are no rules… Everyone does their own thing, and it works really well. Everyone has a different style of yoga… (Teachers in France) are a bit rebellious.”
Wellness comes with a price tag
Ann, a health coach, voiceover artist, and co-founder of the plant-based wellness blog Veggie Magnifique, says that there are certain aspects of the French mentality that contribute to the growth of the wellness industry. For example, the slower rhythm of life, the love of food, the respect for time off, and the encouragement of enjoying oneself were elements of French culture that resonated with her when she first studied abroad in Grenoble at as a college student. These lifestyle factors were what convinced her to move from an unfulfilling career in LA to an uncertain future in Paris. She explains, “The plan was to move back (from Grenoble) to LA where I was doing my university studies, become a superstar like Johnny Depp, move back to France, and then fly to location. Fast forward 9 and a half years, I was still in LA and unfulfilled. Then, I had an aha moment. I realized it’s now or never. So I burned my bridges, I sold my car, I cancelled my insurance, and I moved to Paris, like I’m doing it, and if ever it doesn’t work out I will at least have this wonderful experience.”
For Ann, the relocation to Paris led to major shifts in her life. She says, “My relationships improved, my career improved, my health improved, just because I was so happy where I was, and LA was the shoe that didn’t fit.”
In the midst of launching Veggie Magnifique, Ann began practicing yoga consistently in Paris. She explains that the yoga scene has become impressive, but there is still one major downside. “There are so many beautiful studios here, but it’s just not financially viable to hop around,” she complains. “Now there are like a billion yoga studios open, all charging like $50 a class… Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly but, almost not exaggerating. In French you say abuser (to abuse), because how can yoga be accessible for everyone if you’re charging that much? It drives me crazy… (The growth of the industry) is great because yoga is something that can be truly lifechanging and wonderful. I just wish there was some way these studios could be less elitist in their prices.”
The high price tag for yoga in Paris is one of the factors that has motivated Ann to begin her own journey as a yoga teacher. She has recently embarked on an immersive RYT-200 program in Rishikesh, India, where she hopes to deepen her own practice and add a tool to her kit for what she can offer to her audience of Veggie Magnifique.
Yoga is here to stay
Ann sees both yoga and wellness as staple elements of Parisian’s lives that are here to stay. She says, “(Wellness) is not a trend. It’s not like oh, this is in like cropped jeans. This is truly a practice that is fortifying for your soul whether it’s doing yoga or eating a light diet that is not harmful to others, and it’s catching on more and more.”
Sophia agrees, stating the future is bright future for her own studio and the wellness industry as a whole. She predicts, “Give it 5 years, there will be a studio in every neighborhood in Paris along with the health food restaurant. I think it’s going just up and up.”
Similarly, Benoit projects further growth of the industry and hopes to provide an answer to Ann’s prayers for lowering the price of yoga for Parisians. He says, “My dream has always been to build a studio similar to Yoga to the People, a donation-based studio (in the U.S.), where I used to practice all the time. Because as a dancer, I wasn’t making any money at first, and I used to pay sometimes, dare I say, 50 cents for my class. But that was fantastic! So I’d love to be able to propose that here because I think we need more classes that are affordable because classes are expensive. It’s at least 20 Euros a class. That’s what, $33? Holy sh**.”
The yoga movement may be therapeutic to the city as a whole. As Marion says with optimism, “I hope that yoga allows us to return to what is essential because we’ve known wars, immigration without integration, many things that have been hard. We need to do something to feel better and to feel connected. I hope that this is what yoga will bring.”
Yoga in Paris is unique because of its novelty, its elegance, and the rebellious attitude of teachers in the scene. Yet yoga in Paris is just like everywhere in the world in its promise to offer peace of mind through the practice.