The Wild West of Yoga Apps

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Sifting through the mass of meditation apps

By Paulette Safdieh

Bundling up and walking to the gym for yoga class seems less and less appealing as the New York winter rolls on. The hundreds of yoga apps offered on smart phones and tablets mean you can still roll out a mat and enjoy a moment in shavasana pose after a long day's work in the comfort of your apartment. Yoga junkies can use apps for guided instruction, playlist curating and class locators to enhance their regular routines.

Hundreds of yoga apps, both free and for purchase, have competed for yogi love since the 2007 release of the iPhone and the subsequent launch of Android, the Google operating system. According to Sergio Tacconi, the mind behind the Pocket Yoga app, necessity was the mother of invention.

"I needed a way to do yoga any time, anywhere," said Tacconi, 37, whose app sells for $2.99 on both Apple and Android devices. "I started looking at yoga apps and didn't like the ones I saw, so I made my own."

Tacconi teamed up with Vinyasa Flow Yoga Studios in Dallas, where he practiced for eight years, to select the content. The app offers 27 sessions with varying difficulty levels and styles, default playlists (and the option to draw from your personal iTunes library) and a dictionary of poses. The app has earned a four-and-a-half-star rating in the Apple app store since its launch in 2009 and was made available for Android in 2010.

"The app is not a replacement for your full yoga experience, it's a supplement that will help you along," said Tacconi, whose app has reached over a half-million users. "I wouldn't completely replace my yoga class with an actual teacher with the app. It's a tool that will help you when you need it."

Tacconi also launched Practice Builder in November, an app to help yoga teachers build customized routines. Manhattan yoga teacher Jennilyn Carson, the mind behind the acclaimed yoga news website, uses a similar app called Yoga Journal. In a city with as many yoga classes as taxicabs, Carson says it helps narrow down the selection.

"The apps are great for people stuck in the subway when the train's delayed and they need to relax," said Carson, 31, who uses apps on her iPhone. "It helps you use every opportunity to get your yoga in."

Eighty-five percent of Tacconi's customers are Apple users like Carson. Like most apps, Pocket Yoga is available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Macbook computers. A free trial version of Pocket Yoga is offered on Apple systems, but not for Android users.

"The Android market is the Wild West," said Tacconi. "The Apple market is better for consumers, since they approve and disapprove the apps submitted. You have a guarantee you'll get what you're going to get."

For those with the strength to get to class, Yoga Local NYC-available on both Apple and Android devices-caters specifically to New Yorkers. The app pulls up your location using your device's GPS and provides the addresses of nearby studios, class times, instructor names and, of course, prices.

"When the iPhone came out, I expected it to have an app for yoga the same way it comes built in with the stocks," said Ben Fleisher, 33, who worked to create Yoga Local. "Nobody did it and I thought, 'This is crazy!' Everyone here is on the run even when they're sitting down. When you want to go to class you don't want to have to look up so many different websites on your phone."

Fleisher works as an acupuncturist and massage therapist on the Lower East Side in addition to having practiced yoga since 1995. He plans to expand the app to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago over the next few months since receiving positive feedback for the New York City version.

"Technology is driving us toward shorter and shorter attention spans," said Fleisher. "Yoga Local and other technology platforms make it easier to get to classes, stay inspired and stay motivated. To that extent, they make our lives more efficient."

While yoga apps certainly help yogis in a bind, they also change traditional yoga practice. Instead of turning off a cell phone to wind down, app users spend even more time looking at the glowing screens of wireless devices.

Achieving mind-body awareness through breath and movement, the goal of practicing yoga, is better reached in a classic, group setting. For that reason, Carson suggests using apps just as a supplement to a regular yoga practice. Some apps, like Relax Melodies, which has close to 5,000 ratings averaging at five stars, just provide soothing music to ease meditation and relaxation instead of poses.

"I don't think apps make up for classes, but they're really good when you need some inspiration for your practice," said Carson. "They're useful to look at and remind or refresh yourself."

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