Chicago O'Hare International, one of the country's busiest and most stressful airports, took a decidedly Zen turn today with the opening of a yoga room in Terminal 3, adjacent to the airport's indoor urban garden.
"The yoga room provides a space for yoga practice as well as a place to relax or meditate," said Rosemarie Andolini, Chicago Department of Aviation commissioner. "This is yet another amenity to help make the travel experience at O'Hare 'best-in-class.' "
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O'Hare's yoga room has a sustainable bamboo wood floor, floor-to-ceiling mirrors along one wall, exercise mats and an area to store personal articles and garments. A wall-mounted video monitor plays soothing sounds and displays yoga exercise techniques and images of nature. Frosted windows along one side of the room provide privacy and natural light.
"The importance of exercise and the opportunity in clearing the mind and body during long travel days cannot be overstated as it relates to one's health," said Brad Jersey, CEO and founder of nLIVEn Health, a company that places sponsored interactive health-care campaigns in airports. "We know from our studies that 75 percent of frequent fliers participate in some workout regimen, so this is a perfect complement at ORD."
Wellness tourism is a $438.6 billion global market "and a rapidly growing niche within the $3.2 trillion global tourism economy," according to the a study presented in October at the Global Wellness Tourism Congress in New Delhi, India.
The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report, conducted by SRI International, found that wellness tourism accounts for 14 percent of all domestic and international tourism expenditures and is a segment projected to grow by more than 9 percent a year through 2017, nearly twice the rate of global tourism overall.
Chicago's O'Hare's yoga room continues a trend begun at San Francisco International in January 2012, when it opened the world's first yoga room at an airport. Located in the refurbished Terminal 2, just past the security checkpoint, SFO's space is a calming blue, with subdued lighting.
"Feedback on the space in T2 has been so positive that a second yoga room is being built as part of the new Boarding Area E in T3, which is scheduled to open at the end of January," said airport spokesman Charles Schuler.
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Other airports have also set aside designated space for yoga and stretching, including Dallas/Fort Worth International, which created a yoga "studio" by installing a privacy screen in front of a window on a walkway between Terminals B and D, and Burlington International Airport in Vermont.
"As a practitioner of Ashtanga yoga, I see a yoga room as a priceless benefit to have at an airport," said Stacy Lu, a health writer in training to be a yoga teacher. "Not only does doing yoga increase circulation—which is good prep for a long-haul flight—it may have a calming effect on jittery fliers like myself."
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For those planning to take advantage of an airport yoga room, Lu suggests dressing in layers: long leggings or yoga pants with a camisole, topped by a long-sleeve top and maybe sweater to stay warm on the flight.
"I would avoid wearing anything too tight or revealing," she said, "particularly in an international hub."
—By Harriet Baskas, special to CNBC.com. Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas.