From Goats to Beer Bottles, Yoga Goes Offbeat
From using animals to indulging in your favorite hobby, yoga is being reinvented to new forms across the world.
There is yoga. And there is beer yoga. Also goat yoga. And sundry other forms that the 5,000-year-old practice is being adapted into now. The ancient Indian exercise, credited with helping practitioners gain physical, mental and spiritual well-being, is fast being remodelled by practitioners all over the world, who are incorporating several new trends into this centuries-old discipline.
There is a lot of debate on whether these new forms adhere to the genuine principles and philosophies of yoga, but followers insist that these new incorporations have succeeded in expanding the fan base of the practice, otherwise held as a strict discipline by many. The new routines range from quirky twists that use adorable animals to those requiring the practitioner to gulp down chilled beer while doing an asana, or even take off clothes to abandon oneself to some nude yoga.
The new innovations bring in a whole new audience who wouldn’t otherwise try yoga, Dayna Callaway, a beer yoga instructor from Markham, Ontario, Canada, tells Little India. “The biggest advantage I see as a yoga teacher is the opportunity to reach a new audience with yoga, and to remove some of the fear and mystique,” says Callaway, adding that she never really connected with yoga until she found power yoga, an intense workout that is often accompanied with popular music.
Combining Fitness with Fun
Beer yoga sessions often take place at breweries or bars where attendees practice asanas with beer bottles. It is also common to see yogis downing a bottle or two while doing a downward dog or a sun salutation. The idea of beer yoga is said to have originated at a Burning Man gathering in the United States, but it was two yoga instructors in Germany who are credited with transforming it into a fitness trend. Jhula and Emily are certified yoga instructors and passionate beer drinkers, and it was this marriage of their two favourites that gave rise to beer yoga.
However, is it really advisable for someone to look at beer yoga for weight loss, considering the beverage has a high calorie count? “ I don’t think weight loss is the main reason people come to beer yoga,” Jhula, who teaches beer yoga sessions in Melbourne and Sydney in Australia, tells us. Many describe beer yoga as relaxing and fun, something they would do just to unwind rather than as a serious workout.
Callaway, however, feels beer yoga is challenging enough as a workout as well. “Yoga is a lot less threatening when you have a beer in your hand,” she says. “ It also makes it more appealing to the jock crowd who maybe thought in the back of their minds that yoga wasn’t really a workout — they come for the beer and are pleasantly surprised how challenging the class can be.”
Yoga With Friends — Four-Legged and All
If beer is not what would get you to work out, then there are plenty of other offbeat options to choose from. Another trend that is sweeping across the United States and gaining ground in Australia is goat yoga.
Lainey Morse started goat yoga on her farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon last year, and the response has been more than what she anticipated. She initially thought only her friends and family would be interested in goat yoga, but the huge response made Morse expand the offering to retreats at a bed and breakfast.
“I’d like to market this to people who just need an escape from their day-to-day stress, illness or job,” says Morse. “Most of the people who come to my classes have never even tried yoga before. Goats are bringing people to the mat for the first time.” Morse points out the whole regimen gets less intimidating when you are surrounded by goats. “They don’t judge your pose. Animals give us that feel-good drug — oxytocin — and lower the blood pressure.”
So how did the idea of incorporating goat into yoga routines start? Morse recalls that the idea came to her at a children’s birthday party at her farm. One of the mothers at the event was impressed with the mini goats all around them and asked if she could have a yoga class out in the field. Morse knew the goats would be all over the humans, and they did just that during the yoga session.
But having a goat next to you or on top of you is a happy distraction rather than a nuisance for practitioners of goat yoga. “Goats are very focused, calm, methodical and being at the present moment is not a problem with them,” says Morse, who has over 10,000 followers on Facebook. “Even when they chew their cud they go into a meditation-like state. Humans take on the energy of that calmness. Goats are also often funny characters and make you laugh. This provides people with happy distractions.”
Practicing yoga with animals such as cats and dogs is proving to be a popular trend. But small forms aren’t the only animals being welcomed onto the yoga mat. There’s a form of yoga that will have you climbing on top of horses to add that extra zing to your practice.
Angela Nuñez, who is famous on Instagram for her daring poses on top of her horse, has successfully transitioned yoga from the mat onto a horse. Horse yoga benefits both the animal as well as the practitioner, says Nunez, who has 11 ,000 followers on Instagram.
“Benefits of horse yoga include increased strength, flexibility and balance for the rider/yogi, and increased trust between the horse and rider,” she says, adding that benefits for the horse include effects similar to equine massage and chiropractic work — it helps break up the tight fascia and massage tight areas. “It’s relaxing for the horse, as you can observe in some of my videos, where my horse will lower his head, lick, chew and yawn (all relaxation responses),” she says.
However, she points out that there are some precautions that need to be taken before attempting horse yoga. First and foremost, wear a helmet. Also, avoid putting direct pressure on the horse’s spine. In the midst of your routine, make sure to pay attention to the horse so that you can stop immediately if any of the moves are causing it pain or discomfort.
“Most poses feel really good for the horse and, again, are very similar to the horse getting a massage,” says Nunez.
Twists For a Purpose
Advocates of the new forms of yoga admit that their practices may not fulfill the strict criteria that the traditional system specifies. But they do satisfy a purpose, they believe.
Jason Bercot, a beer yoga organizer at Brisbane in Australia, agrees that his form of yoga is not an alternative to the traditional practice. But he finds it just as enjoyable and rewarding as traditional yoga. “It is a great way to get people who are not fitness-oriented to show them that exercise can be fun and social,” Bercot says. He adds that rather than make people indulge in alcohol, which may seem contradictory to many, beer yoga helps them maintain a healthy lifestyle, becoming mindful of how much they drink.
“In Australia and other countries as well, there is a tendency for binge drinking. But having one beer over the course of an hour is a great way to subconsciously get people to slow down when they drink.”
Mockery of Yoga?
However, not everyone is on board with the idea of incorporating innovative routines into yoga practices. Bharathwaj Sairam, a yoga instructor based in New Delhi, India, feels people are making a mockery of yoga, a disciplinary practice that is a way of life for many.
“In the name of asana, people are just doing gymnastics and acrobatics. Beer yoga, latex yoga, chicken nuggets yoga, dog yoga, and what not,” Sairam says. He feels that yoga has just become a tool of marketing for some yoga teachers, who happen to be highly qualified, across the globe, with the result that the origins and reality of Patanjali’s yoga are left far behind.
It’s just the lure of fame and money that is popularising these new forms of yoga, he says. “Yoga is or was never about achieving headstand or handstand. It is about discipline and spirituality.”
Other Types of Yoga Gaining Popularity
Paddleboard yoga: Practicing yoga on a paddleboard while floating on water is no easy task.