Get your cobra pose on with second-generation yoga classes that incorporate dance, spinning, rock ’n’ roll or simply Mother Nature.
By Samantha Bonar 01/03/2014
Should yoga rock? Should it spin? Should it dance? Should there be walking with your warrior one and dumbbells with your downward dog?
According to a slew of nontraditional yoga classes and studios sprouting up around Arroyoland, the answer is a resounding yes. The reaction of traditional yogis who typically revere the spiritual benefits? It may surprise you. “I say whatever the motivation, if it brings them to the mat so that they can have a deeper experience of themselves, that’s the perfect introduction for that person,” says Pete Lee, who teaches kundalini yoga, a Sikh-based tradition.
Indeed, YogaWorks Pasadena touts its cardio-flow yoga class by noting its earth-bound payoff: “Your ultimate goal may be enlightenment, but it never hurt anyone to develop a hot booty along the way.” Similar sentiments led yoga celeb Colleen Saidman Yee to create her Calorie-Killer Yoga DVD, which comes out in March. “As I get older, I realize the benefits of including cardio and strength into my asana practice,” she told Arroyo Monthly. “It doesn’t hinder the practice leading to or becoming meditation.” (But she cautioned that not all yoga-hybrid classes are created equal: “The main problem is not enough study for some of the hybrids and the result is poor alignment and very poor sequencing, which can lead to injury.”)
Crunch in Burbank also provides booty aid in its AntiGravity Yoga class, which incorporates dance, Pilates and calisthenics in a trapeze-like hammock. Yes, a hammock. New York City–based Unnata Aerial Yoga takes the concept even further by combining traditional yoga with aerial acrobatic training using a soft fabric trapeze, which makes inversions easier. According to the Unnata website, by supporting the weight of the body, the fabric trapeze or hammock helps students quickly achieve advanced traditional yoga postures that would otherwise take years to learn.
Prefer a more streamlined workout? Try a BarWorks class (a strength-building class that incorporates ballet barre work to complement one’s yoga practice) or Yoga With Ropes (which incorporates a rope wall to enable deeper release into the poses), all offered at the Pasadena studio.
Meanwhile, Rock It Workouts in Pasadena offers Yoga Rock: “We mix incredible music with incredible sculpting fusions that work to balance your mind, body and soul,” according to the Rock It website. It also offers vigorous Rock Your Buti classes in Buti Yoga, which fuses yoga, tribal dance and plyometrics (a training technique that boosts strength by making muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible, such as repeated jumping). Derived from the Marathi word Buti, meaning “the cure to something hidden or kept secret” (but serendipitously being a homonym for booty), its objective is “to guide women through movement, nutrition and wellness that supports the female spirit — transforming lives from the inside-out… Buti combines various styles of hatha yoga with tribal-influenced dance sequences to keep the heart rate up, free the female spirit and help women form a tribe or sisterhood,” according to the Buti website.
Then there’s Pasadena’s YogaHop, which bills itself as “the home of high energy, fun yoga… YogaHop yoga offers a celebratory twist by featuring music of the hip-hop, rock and pop worlds jamming out of booming speakers, headset-microphoned teachers and all the energy of a dance party. The result is an East meets West yoga style that’s athletically fulfilling and spiritually soothing,” the website says.
On the tamer side, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge offers members-only classes that combine a 25-minute fitness walk and 60-minute yoga class. At Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, both members and nonmembers can attend outdoor yoga classes.
A little farther afield, YAS (Yoga And Spinning) has locations in downtown L.A. and Silver Lake. Its style is geared toward “athletes,” or anyone who doesn’t want to bring spirituality into yoga. The founder, Kimberly Fowler, even has a DVD called The No Om Zone.
One might think that traditional yoga instructors would consider this trend as gimmicky and commercial as Snoopy’s Christmas doghouse. But they are surprisingly open-minded. “I think a lot of people come to yoga first from a fitness angle,” says Lee, who teaches at Yogis Anonymous, Golden Bridge Yoga, Yogaworks and Equinox Fitness clubs around Los Angeles. “It’s a workout that a lot of people are having successes with, and with what the media has somehow called the ‘yoga butt’ or ‘booty.’ Even if that’s the initial draw or motivation, what I’ve noticed is that the practice itself will open them to go deeper, beyond the booty. When they connect with their breath, awareness and the power of meditation, it’s no longer about having a yoga butt. It’s about their connection to themselves and their fullness and depth. Whether it’s vinyasa flow, ashtanga or kundalini, it’s all yoga and it’s all good.”
Yoga instructor Cara Davis agrees. “I do think that combining yoga with any other discipline would be beneficial, in that yoga is about awareness, reminds us to breathe and teaches us to listen to our bodies,” says Davis, who teaches a combination of gentle flow and pranayama yoga at Pasadena’s Neighborhood Church, Occidental College and her private studio in La Crescenta. “So integrating yoga with any practice will hopefully cultivate a deeper understanding of our bodies in motion. Perhaps the appeal to many is the multi-tasking aspect. Individuals are so busy, they may feel getting their workout and nurturance all in a single session is all they have time for. The important thing is that they are doing something for themselves and ideally with an awareness brought on through the integration of yoga to any practice.”
In fact, there is no one “true” yoga. Yoga has gone through innumerable permutations since hatha — the style most familiar to Westerners today — first emerged in India about 1,000 years ago. According to kundalini yoga instructor Helen Huber, who teaches at Pasadena’s Awareness Center, the original purpose of yoga was to prepare the body for sitting in meditation for long periods of time. “It is said that the purpose of yoga is to get to the meditation at the end of the set,” she says. “Also, separate meditations are encouraged for specific purposes to enhance a person’s yoga practice. Usually a meditation is to be done daily for a specific purpose for 11 to 31 minutes.”
Even though yoga comes from India and is an integral part of the Hindu tradition, it’s never been one size fits all. As Debra Diamond, the curator of a new exhibit about yoga at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., told Public Radio International’s The World, there have been deep rifts among devotees of different sects throughout yoga’s history. “Yoga has been very fluid and it has permeated all corners of Indian culture over time,” Diamond said. “Yoga is like a rope made up of many different threads. Some of those threads are present at any given moment. The strength of the rope comes from the overlap of these traditions.”
Hindu monks, beginning with Swami Vivekananda, brought yoga from India to the West in the late 19th century. With 18 million Americans currently practicing some version, at what point does yoga’s true essence — which many consider its spiritual component — get lost?
“Yoga means ‘union,’” Lee explains. “It’s about connecting the mind, body and self — the breath, movement and flow of energy. Kundalini is about strengthening the nervous system and all 72,000 nerves in the body. We can all relate to the phrase ‘There’s someone or something on my nerves.’ So through a yoga practice, we can release whatever is on our nerves that has taken up precious space in our bodies.
“Breath brings openness and expansion, and the movements and postures help focus the breath and, like a massage, nudge out the tension. Through practice we massage, nudge out and free ourselves from all the tension and limitations stored in the nerves and body that restrict energy flow, sanity and living a fulfilling life. That’s why yoga… is a daily practice, just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. Yoga is an internal cleansing of the nerves so you can flow freely in every moment of your life.”
That said, Lee believes nontraditional yoga classes still offer benefits as long as practitioners “keep in mind how it connects and brings them back to their energy flow, connecting body, breath, mind and self. When people get that it’s more than just a workout — that this practice, whatever it may be, allows them to be more true to themselves — that’s yoga in action.”