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Los Angeles college offers first yoga masters degree in the US

Yoga teacher Kyoko Katsura demonstrates handstand scorpion.
Yoga teacher Kyoko Katsura demonstrates handstand scorpion.
Seth Wenig/AP

In an unmistakable sign that yoga is part of the American mainstream, Loyola Marymount University - the region’s oldest college - has begun a two-year masters degree in yoga studies.

“There’s over 20 million Americans that are practicing yoga on a regular basis. That’s more than Methodists and Presbyterians combined,” said LMU professor Christopher Chapple, the coordinator of the program. "So I don’t think it’s really anything that’s too wild and wacky anymore."

Students won’t be paying the university’s $18,000 annual tuition to perfect their downward dog and warrior poses. It’s an academic program that will train students in the vibrant religious melting pot in India five thousand years ago that led to yoga’s development.

Students will learn to read the ancient Indian Sanskrit language, a medical doctor will impart a class on the anatomy and physiology of yoga, and they'll travel to India in the second year to see the practice in person and to soak in the culture.

Nineteen students are enrolled in the masters class this year. The college held a free yoga “teach-in” on Saturday on the Westchester campus to celebrate the new degree program.

“As yoga moves into the mainstream consciousness, increasingly we need people that are well qualified to teach yoga teachers and we have a number of school teachers in the program. I’m anticipating that there will be permanent full time positions at, say, community colleges,” Chapple said.

When parents in Encinitas filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging that the district violated separation of church and state because teachers had students do yoga during the school day, Chappel testified for the defense. A judge ruled against the parents in July.