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SF Yoga Studios

Namaste

It seems as though everyone's taking a ride on the yoga train these days. Rodney Yee is nearly a household name, celebrities, like Madonna and Sting, swear by it, even my skeptical boyfriend has a Yoga for Dummies DVD. As the ancient practice for self-awareness gains ever-increasing popularity, the places and ways to practice grow in numbers as well. Yoga means something different to each person and whether it's a spiritual journey, a designated chill-out time necessary for your sanity or simply a strengthening and energizing workout, San Francisco is the place to find the studio that fits your needs. So get out your mats and start breathing, here is a small sample of what this mindful city has to offer:

The Yoga Loft, the homey studio near lower Haight founded by Jane Dobson and Meg Whitbread, just celebrated its two-year anniversary. Students are welcomed to the former dance studio by a floor mat that reads "happy inside" which is presumably what awaits you at the top of the stairs. The layout of the second story space feels much like a typical San Francisco flat, with a tight waiting area decorated with small works of art. Two large rooms with hardwood floors and tall windows are home to about 10 classes per day. Because of the variety of teaching styles and the relatively small class size (average class has 12 -15 students), The Loft is a great place for beginners to find the practice that fits and to receive individualized attention. Instructors lead classes in either Iyengar, a form of yoga that emphasizes a preciseness of postures or Ashtanga Vinyasa, which incorporates breathing with a series of postures that flow into one another. Because of the many Iyengar classes offered, the studios are full of props: ropes cover the walls and there are stockpiles of foam blocks, chairs, bolsters and blankets. A drop-in class will cost you $13 (+$1 for mat rental), a 10-class card is $120 and for 3 months of unlimited use you'll pay $400.

Larry Schultz is the founder of It's Yoga and the affable goofiness and encouragement he infuses his teaching style with make his classes at the 15-year old SOMA location, overflow with students. It's Yoga primarily offers Ashtanga Vinyasa, leading students through a dynamic practice that focuses on the breath as much as the movement. Each class begins with the Sun Salutation and moves through a series of standing postures before moving on to seated postures. The warehouse-style space is large and comfortable, carpeted and filled with natural light filtering through the ceiling's skylights. There is a spacious lounge/waiting area separated from the practice space by a curtain. Though they offer a beginner class among the 5 daily classes, a fledgling yogi may be overwhelmed by the pace but once the movement is familiar the flow is addictive. Those looking for a challenge should try Larry's signature Rocket routine, a strenuous, fast-paced class that involves strength, balance and a fair share of gravity defying. Mats are available for complimentary use, a drop-in class will cost you $15, a 10-class card $120 and if you spend $299 on the unlimited 3 month membership, you'll have your legs behind your head in no time.

The first Yoga Tree was opened 2 years ago by Tim and Tara Dale who have since married and opened three additional studios. Their mission to create a safe and clean place for folks to practice a diversity of yoga teachings is apparent in their Valencia street studio that has a sunny front desk area and a windowless practice space that is long and rectangular. The low-lit area, which houses an average of 25 students per class (but has held up to 60!), has hardwood floors, lavender walls and a vibrantly colored mural of Ganesh painted on the front wall. Most Yoga Tree locations offer 7- 8 classes a day in a wide range of styles from Anusara to Hatha to Iyengar and Jivamukti, a class based on Hatha which incorporates chanting and the more spiritual side of yoga. The Valencia location also has a smaller studio where pre-natal classes are offered. Known for their exceptional instructors, the Valencia location is a favorite among Mission folks and frequently fills up so take advantage of their online pay and reservation system. It's $13 for a drop-in class, $110 for a 10-class pass and $450 for 3 months of unlimited classes. Rent a mat for $1.