Traders taking a deep breath

Twice a week, New York hedge-fund manager Michael Karsch does a trade many financial professionals wouldn't attempt: He swaps his bank of computers for a blue mat, sweatpants and some “sun salutations.” .

Karsch is one of a growing number of bankers, traders and money managers who, in a time of market turbulence, are looking to the ancient Indian discipline of yoga in search of inner peace. From yoga, he knows to “take a step back, have a breath and stay focused,” says Karsch, of Karsch Capital Management LP, a roughly $3 billion fund.

Yoga, of course, has been growing in popularity for years. The magazine Yoga Journal estimates that about 15.8 million people in the U.S., or 7 percent of adults, now practice it. Today, studios and private teachers in New York and London report increasing demand from financiers. Allianz SE's Pacific Investment Management Co., D.E. Shaw & Co. and Karsch Capital are among the companies playing host to yoga classes.

Billionaire fund managers Paul Tudor Jones and William Gross both practice Ashtanga, an active form of yoga that involves flowing through a set series of poses. Bond-fund guru Gross, a founder of Pimco, does yoga five days a week and says some of his best ideas come when he is standing on his head.

At Karsch Capital, about a third of the 33 employees take yoga classes at the company's 26th-floor Manhattan offices each week.

Karsch, 40 years old, started doing yoga three years ago on the recommendation of a fellow hedge-fund manager, John Griffin, founder of Blue Ridge Capital LLC in New York. Blue Ridge Capital also holds yoga sessions at the office.

D.E. Shaw, a $39 billion New York hedge fund known for using complex computer models, recently started offering hour-long yoga classes at the office. About 80 of the company's 750 New York employees have signed up for the sessions, which often are oversubscribed.

At Pimco, Gross has prompted senior colleagues to start stretching, and the company holds morning yoga sessions during client conferences and staff retreats.

The yoga industry, shrugging off its brown-rice-eating-and-sandal-wearing image, is adapting to and courting its new, wealthy customers. Yoga retreats have become popular destinations for the finance crowd.

Catharina Hedberg owns a yoga retreat called The Ashram near Malibu and says about a quarter of her customers, who pay $4,250 for a one-week stay, are financiers. The retreat offers a hard-core program of 6 a.m. yoga sessions with an alcohol-free, caffeine-free vegetarian diet.

“Every week you see someone from hedge funds,” Hedberg says.