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Lululemon Spotlights Yoga's Spiritual Side at Riverside Church

By Emily Frost | August 31, 2012 10:15am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Talk about heavenly bodies.

Lululemon Athletica, the high-end yoga gear purveyor, is joining forces with Riverside Church to present the first-ever "Gospel of Sweat" session to bring together body, mind and spirit in the historic house of worship.

The multi-billion dollar clothing company, which has more than 150 locations across the globe including its newest New York store at Broadway and 75th Street, is expecting to fill the 2,400-seat church with yogis this September.

The group sees the event as being similar to TED talks, allowing yoga devotees to hear from some of the biggest names in New York's yoga world.

Still, organizers say the juxtaposition of the ancient eastern practice with the established Christian Church on Riverside Drive and 120th Street has thrown some for a loop.

"It’s definitely throwing people off to have something in a church," said Lululemon's event organizer Carolyn Manning, who has been promoting the Sept. 7 event. Still, she said, "they’re pumped about it.

"It’s almost like not keeping church confined to church and not keeping yoga in yoga studios. So many of the principles and teachings are similar and so there’s no reason to keep them in separate buckets." 

In its Gospel of Sweat marketing, the company draws parallels between mainstream Christianity and consistent yoga practice, which it compares to being "like a Sunday morning sermon." 

Organizers "chose Riverside Church because it’s such a beautiful location and we wanted to celebrate that that spirituality and community can happen outside the church and inside," said Manning. 

The historic church, built in 1929 by John D. Rockefeller and the setting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 1967 speech against the Vietnam War, is known for its forward-looking stance on social justice and civil rights.

Representatives from Riverside Church declined to comment. 

Not everyone is reacting with enthusiasm at the interweaving of yoga and religion.

Lululemon's description of the event on its Facebook page — "We pray through our pores by sweating in our own individual temple" — drew criticism.

Sam Naffaa wrote on the store's Facebook page: "Seriously?...'we pray through our pores'? gimme a break."

And Debbi Diosi wrote: "absurd. Sweat is your bodies way of cooling itself and that is all!"

Manning said no matter where yogis stand on spirituality, it's clear that yoga at studios and at gyms are helping participants create a community that they might not have or want more of at schools, community centers and churches. 

"They’re creating community differently — now people finding community in their yoga studios or at their gyms."