Yogi, Go Home!

When 28-year-old Sandra Olic first left the talent agency ICM last year after spending six years there as an executive

When 28-year-old Sandra Olic first left the talent agency ICM last year after spending six years there as an executive assistant, she needed a change-and a haircut just wasn’t going to cut it.

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“I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, like everyone else in their 20’s,” she said. She’d been practicing yoga since her years at Queens College, so when she heard that yoga guru Baron Baptiste was conducting a one-week teacher-training program in Mexico right after she was scheduled to vacate her ICM desk, she signed up.

A year later, she’s instructing students privately while she manages the Yoga Mandali Studio in Soho and works toward getting a 200-hour teaching certificate under her belt-or “strap.”

Join the club, Sandra!

According to a recent Yoga Journal poll, there are currently an estimated 15 million Americans who consider themselves regular yoga practitioners-that’s 10 times as many as there were thought to be 10 years ago. And in New York, with every passing asana, one more yogi rises up in the ranks of the system.

The Brooklyn Heights yoga studio Yoga People is like several other local yoga studios: It now has twice as many advanced classes as beginner classes. And as students take more and more advanced classes acquire Prana sweatpants and start signing e-mails with ” Namaste ,” the inevitable happens: They decide they want to spread the good word and teach.

“It’s a fad,” said Jill Satterfield, whose private practice teaches prospective yoga instructors. “But it’s a positive fad-it’s not like an eating-McDonald’s fad.”

And it’s a second-wave fad, to be sure. If the original stampede of wannabe New York yogis is waning, it’s quickly being replaced by a flurry of New Yorkers wanting to help others practice.

“I discourage my students from opening yoga studios, because there are already so many,” said Boris Pisman, co-director of teacher training at the yoga center Integral. Right now, I think there’s still business, but I can’t say whether there will still be business later.”

According to the Yoga Research and Education Center, there’s currently a surfeit of teachers in major cities, even as interest in yoga is starting to wane.

Experts put the number of yoga teachers in America at around 100,000, and according to the Yoga Alliance Teachers’ Registry, in the past year some 300 new teachers have registered each month nationwide-double the number that signed up each month the previous year. And while there’s no official count of yoga-teacher-training programs locally or nationally, people in the field suggest that the number of them is increasing exponentially as yoga studios realize that the fees paid by wannabe yoga pros can subsidize the operation.

“It’s an infestation!” said Schuyler Grant, owner of the yoga studio Kula. “One of the reasons I don’t offer teacher training at my studio is that I feel like it’s a huge money-making operation. For a lot of big studios, they’re just pumping out supposedly trained teachers, but you don’t really graduate from these programs a real yoga teacher. You may have deepened your practice and had a great time, and you might be on the path toward being a teacher, but to expect that because you have a piece of paper after a few weeks, you can therefore be responsible for people’s physical, emotional and even spiritual well-being is preposterous.”

Classes, which typically offer between 200 and 500 hours of training over varying lengths of time, usually cost between $1,000 and $6,000 per student. And there’s enough demand that schools are increasingly turning away students.

“I’ve had people calling me for my teacher training, and they say, ‘I took a yoga class and I want to teach,” said Ms. Satterfield.

“It’s like getting married after being in love for two months,” she said. “They’re in the flush of love. It’s new! It’s exciting! But you need to know the ups and downs of your own practice. You need to go through injuries and have a more complex relationship-otherwise, it’s dilettantism ….”

“In the Indian tradition of training, you have to study for 12 years with one teacher before you can teach,” said full-time teacher-training instructor Alison West, who works in Soho. “You must be three steps beyond whatever you’re teaching.”

Or you could take an elevator.

For a few thousand dollars, the allure of getting that “yoga teacher” badge in just a few weeks (or for one day a week for a few months) can be extremely tempting.

Ms. Olic hopes to start teaching in a yoga studio at some point in the near future and after that, she said, she plans to study holistic nutrition and hypnosis.

-Anna Jane Grossman


The two goals of a bake sale benefiting the left-wing grassroots organization MoveOn.org on the afternoon of April 17 were to “bake back the White House” (in other words, regime change) and to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the greatest bake sale ever. Three hours into it, a line was still stretching around the block from Teany, Moby’s vegan café on the Lower East Side, and by the time it was over, 1,500 customers had purchased $10,000 worth of baked goods at simultaneous bake sales nationwide. A total of $750,000 was raised. (Since that day, the powers that be at Guinness have decided not to designate anyone for the “biggest bake sale” category.)

Among the celebrity draws on Rivington Street were Al Sharpton, Janeane Garofalo, comedian David Cross, glam-rock star Rene Risque, John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig fame and restaurateur Rocco DiSpirito, who were all toiling under a sign that read “A Village in Texas is Missing Its Idiot.”

But getting the most attention was Al Franken.

“Tell the truth, Al, keep telling the truth!” someone hollered at him as he licked some more frosting off his fingers. According to two sources (event organizer Laura Dawn and investigative reporter Greg Palast), Mr. Franken had at times that day eaten more than he was worth.

But the satirist and liberal radio host was working hard, selling cupcakes, brownies, cookies, shaking hands, signing autographs. So he took a breather across the street and crouched down outside a bodega. There, he was asked about President Bush’s recent press conference.

“I was shocked,” he said. “The emperor has no clothes. This is a guy who could not talk on his feet. Obviously, he has no depth of knowledge.”

He continued on about his latest U.S.O. tour to Iraq, but something was distracting him: a guy nearby wearing a Saddam Hussein mask, an oversized “Ace of Spades” shirt and a sign that read “Save Me, Vote Democrat.” Mr. Franken, who was wearing a button that read “Re-defeat Bush,” heard the man say something about Jamie Gorelick, the controversial former Clinton Justice Department official serving on the 9/11 commission.

“Uh, I gotta argue with this guy for a minute,” Mr. Franken said, getting up.

“I just want to say hi to this guy. Hi, how are you? You want to discuss Jamie Gorelick?”

“Well, I want a Jamie Gorelick muffin, but I want it grilled , not half-baked,” said the man, who sounded a lot like sleight-of-hand artist and Mamet-movie regular Ricky Jay. (It wasn’t him; the man identified himself as Raoul.) Mr. Franken gently placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Would you like to discuss-”

“Uh, keep your hands off me, please. You have no right to put your hands on people, Al.”

“O.K. Would you like to discuss Jamie Gorelick?”

“I want a Jamie Gorelick muffin grilled , not half-baked,” Raoul said again.

By now, there were several dozen people encircling the two men. Cameras were clicking and videotape rolling for a documentary on Mr. Franken, who explained to Raoul that Ms. Gorelick had “simply codified rules that were already in place during Reagan and Bush I, and that John Ashcroft had reaffirmed those same rules.”

“So you’re asking for a Jamie Gorelick-”

” Grilled muffin,” Raoul said. ” Grilled Jamie Gorelick muffin. Not half-baked.”

“You can say that over and over again, but it’s not responsive to my point.”

“I want a Jamie Gorelick muffin grilled . I don’t want a half-baked Jamie Gorelick muffin. A half-baked Jamie Gorelick muffin is hazardous to your health. Your Jamie Gorelick must be grilled .”

“Hey Al, I read your book-it was great!” someone yelled.

Mr. Franken thanked Raoul for his time and started walking over to his fans.

“Al, Al!” Raoul yelled. “Your audience just tripled. Air America’s ratings have doubled!” But Mr. Franken didn’t hear him. With the crowd following him, he’d moved on to go sell some more cupcakes.

-George Gurley

Yogi, Go Home!