With their easygoing, effortlessly chic nature, it makes sense that French women practice yoga. While one look at the Lululemon-clad bodies on the streets of Manhattan will give you an idea of how trendy yoga is in the United States, how the French take their yoga is more mysterious.
In order to get every last detail of the French yoga scene, I went straight to the source: French people. Here, Paris-based Rebeca Plantier, founder of the well-being website Fit To Inspire, and Aman Singh, a yoga instructor in the French Riviera, delve into the nature of yoga in France.
How the French practice.
Fifteen years ago, people in the United States were only just beginning to discover yoga. According to Rebeca, the same was true of France. There was one well-known yoga studio in the 16th arrondissement of Paris that practiced Iyengar, and shortly after that a small Ashtanga studio opened—but that was it.
"The styles taught in large cities and small towns are now vast," says Rebeca. "They include Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin Yoga, and Bikram. In Paris, Lyon, and other main cities of the country, there are yoga studios that have popped up all over."
While all age groups practice—including children—Rebeca says there is a female majority, and most people who practice are their 30s and 40s.
Where they practice
In smaller cities and towns, Rebeca says, yoga is offered as a class at gyms, community centers, or a joint yoga/Pilates studio. But when crunched for time, they're not above popping in a yoga DVD or streaming classes.
"We love outdoor classes," Aman adds. "We often meet up in parks and from time to time retreat to mountains nearby to practice uphill."
For the most part, though, people have a studio they know and love where they're regulars. Aman adds that aside from his very dedicated regulars, most people go to class only once per week.
Why yoga and the French mentality go hand in hand
When it comes to wellness, the French are about the whole picture. While we spend all day hunched over our desks, go to a one-hour bootcamp, then go home to sit in front of the TV, the French seamlessly weave exercise into their day.
"Yoga really fits into the French culture, especially where adult women are concerned because there is a definite focus on 'well-being' in France when it comes to taking care of one's bodies," says Rebeca. "Hardcore bootcamps and endurance sports are less popular than 'activities,' or sports where you exercise your body without either being too hardcore."
She adds that French love an hour of tennis, swimming, or cycling with friends. "Then it's often balanced with leisurely family walks, stretching classes, massage, taking time out to relax," she adds. "So yoga very much fits into the French mentality of balance—whether it is how they eat or move or relax and take time off."
Aman adds that many of his students view yoga as a holistic form of exercise. "Some start yoga due to physical discomforts, and others simply because they are looking for a healthier lifestyle," he says.
How the French yoga scene is different
Before you conclude that the yoga scene in France and the United States are strikingly similar, keep this in mind: Although athleisure is becoming more popular, Rebeca says that donning leggings at a post-yoga brunch with friends is not that common on the streets of Paris just yet.
"French women much prefer to be dressed as they normally are and change before and after the class," she says, although she does note that they're often seen carrying a yoga mat under one arm. "Wearing yoga clothing, especially in large cities, is not the norm. You would not likely see a woman at the supermarket in sweats, yoga pants, or even running shoes. Unless you are at a ski resort or at the beach in the summer, it's just not the norm."
While I'm constantly clamoring for any similarity between French women and myself, there's nothing I love more than running to the grocery store in my yoga pants.
There, I said it.