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10,000 Solutions: Healthy people, healthy earth

Why I think CorePower Yoga, a broadly marketed chain, is good for the earth.

As with most Americans, I’m pretty much a believer in the benefits of the free market. It’s impossible to not acknowledge the technological, social and financial advances made possible with a capital-based economy that rewards entrepreneurialism.

That said, I also think we have to acknowledge some of our greatest economic advancements are the result of things that are not profit-driven. The Internet was developed by the U.S. government to empower academia and our national defense. University research, funded by private and government grants, provides key findings that inform for-profit pharmaceutical development. The bulk of American workers, creators, entrepreneurs and public servants are themselves the products of public schools. Without public goods and services we probably would have much less development from the private sector.

Perhaps the all-time hero of innovation-for-public-benefit is Jonas Salk, who discovered and developed the first successful polio vaccine. He refused to patent the life-saving development and profit from it. Instead he allowed others to copy it, which reduced incidence of the disease from 58,000 cases per year in the U.S. to effectively zero in short order.

Some small businesses in many respects function like public institutions. For example, the gains being realized by low-margin organic farms are now pushing large BigAg companies to go organic as well. The tinkerers who build solar cars and solar aircraft in their garages bring attention to a category that might be copied by Ford and Boeing ten years from now.

I think yoga is a very good example of this. The origins of yoga practice go back at least 3,500 years. In the 20th century, Americans of a particularly progressive stripe relative to personal health embraced the practice. Thousands of independent yoga studios or yoga classes in health clubs and recreational centers popped up, most the vision and product of passionate instructors. The industry was yogi-centric.

But but what’s transforming yoga today is a Denver-based, nationally growing company: CorePower Yoga. I’ve had the opportunity to interview the company’s founder, Trevor Tice, and its chief financial officer, Chad Kilpatrick, for separate articles published in Profile magazine, which gave me a glimpse of what big business can do with something such as an ancient mind-body practice.

To be fair, CorePower Yoga has created something new. Their classes are a synthesis of Bikram, Ashtanaga and Vinyasa practices, something purists might scoff at. As Tice explained, they discovered this hybrid appeals to a broader demographic.

The company was founded in 2002 and is now expanded to 150 locations in many states. With an infusion of private equity the firm is growing (there are between 7,000 and 9,000 independent studios nationwide, according to The Wall Street Journal, suggesting much more potential exists). Clearly more people are practicing a new version of yoga in many more places. The success of this company is also attracting new clothing, yoga mat and other product makers to the industry.

Having practiced yoga myself a dozen or so years ago, I get its appeal. And I also think yoga broadens a person’s awareness of how things are connected – that, for example, what you’re doing with your legs helps the back and the mind at the same time (to somewhat oversimplify things). A marketing designation known as “LOHAS” – which stands for lifestyles of health and sustainability – takes this further, suggesting that those people who are connected to such things as yoga practice and natural products are also supportive of green building, alternative transportation, alternative energy and eco tourism.

Which suggests it all might go full circle: from independent yoga practitioners who largely live earth-honoring lives to the broader-scale marketers and their many thousands of members who are newly introduced to a LOHAS sensibility. They might very well adopt new habits, philosophies and buying behaviors consistent with a yoga ethos.

I count that as a good thing. Money is being made, to be sure; the Jonas Salks of history are very rare. But the benefits – to member-practitioners and the earth – are accrued nonetheless. Hooray for free enterprise.

Photo: CorePower Yoga founder Trevor Tice found yoga after an injurious accident and CFO Chad Kilpatrick used it during a stressful period in his own life. Both are true believers – and successful business leaders.

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Russ Klettke

Business Writer

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