Once considered a new-age pastime for hippies with Hindu leanings, yoga is now almost as mainstream as treadmills in the United States; everyone from stockbrokers to surfers to celebrities like Russell Simmons and Madonna can’t get enough of sun salutations and savasana these days. You may be familiar with the different types of traditional yoga—Ashtanga, Hatha, Iyengar, and restorative, to name just a few—but some long-term practitioners are hankering for something fresh, and progressive studios all over the country are meeting their needs by pushing the envelope with these four unconventional practices.
1. Om, Would You Like to Go Out Sometime?
Most people choose a restaurant or a bar as the site of their first date, but some prefer to get to know prospective partners while hanging upside down or contorting their bodies in a deep spinal twist. In yoga speed-dating classes, students line up boy-girl-boy-girl and engage in rapid-fire partner poses with a constantly rotating series of suitors. These brief physical interactions, the idea goes, are designed to help participants establish visceral, nonverbal connections early on.
Alexa Stanard, writing for Marie Claire, attended one such class in Birmingham, Michigan. Her description of what transpired reads like a seduction scene from a romance novel: “[The instructor has] dimmed the lights, lit candles, and cranked the heat so it feels like there’s a cozy fire warming the studio … As Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’ wafts from the sound system … I drape myself in a backbend over a man in downward-facing dog … Before I’ve had time to fully recover from the experience, I’m getting a massage from a kind man who glasses who tells me that he likes my aura.”
Despite Stanard’s comical account, singles-yoga sites are popping up all over the Web, and select Crunch gym locations offer a popular class called Flex Appeal: Speed Dating Yoga. Some participants keep the good times rolling by gathering en masse at a local watering hole after class—just imagine how good you’ll look to that special someone once you’ve actually showered.
2. Downward-Facing Dog, Indeed
Mother-and-child yoga is nothing new at this point, so it was only a matter of time before yoga for people’s other “babies”—their dogs—caught on. Fondly referred to as “doga” by its fans, who live in places like Seattle, San Francisco, Canada, Japan, and Jacksonville, Florida, yoga for dogs comprises a combination of meditation, massage, and poses, both independent (with pups and humans posing separately) and partnered (in which owners use their pets as props). Devotees swear by doga’s ability to both relax their dogs to the point of slumber and deepen their own poses; skeptics claim their canine companions’ barking and the difficulty of manipulating pets’ bodies make it more trouble than it’s worth.
Either way, the fundamental principle behind the hobby seems sound: as the New York Times noted, “Because dogs are pack animals, they are a natural match for yoga’s emphasis on union and connection with other beings.” Pet-trend expert Maggie Gallant agrees, telling ABC News, “Dogs come into our lives because they make us grounded, they remind us to play on a daily basis, and [those are] very often the kinds of principles you learn from doing yoga.”
3. Food Is Next to Godliness
Most yoga studios advise students not to eat for two hours before the start of any class, but that doesn’t mean eating right afterward is off-limits. And in the case of David “Yeah Dave” Romanelli’s Yoga for Foodies classes, you don’t even have to leave your mat to enjoy a rich repast (think pasta, red wine, and chocolate) as a reward for your hard work. Talk about nirvana.
Throughout 2010, Romanelli is traveling around the United States—to Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Boston, among other cities—hosting “Jam Sessions” at which he joins forces with local chefs known for their commitment to sustainability, eco-friendly practices, and local farming. Together, they serve indulgent meals to hungry participants following each class. While Romanelli’s approach has raised more than a few eyebrows among hardcore yogis who believe his culinary offerings aren’t aligned with the true principles of yoga, his seminars are selling out nationwide.
4. Leave Your Shoes (and Your Clothes) at the Door
Bikram yoga, also known as hot yoga, has caught on like wildfire among students who love working up a serious sweat. But the truly free-and-easy like to shed their inhibitions—and their clothes—before stretching, bending, and lunging their way to enlightenment in one-hundred-plus-degree temperatures. The naked-yoga movement, spearheaded by a man named Aaron Star, who created a DVD series entitled Hot Nude Yoga, is steadily gaining popularity; studios exist in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Salt Lake City. While some coed classes are available, the practice appeals largely to the gay male community. Despite the obvious intimacy these sessions involve, instructors insist nude yoga is about physical fitness, not physical lust, and about teaching people to become more comfortable with and attuned to their own bodies.
Take a Deep Breath
For purists, yoga is a deeply solitary exercise that they want to pursue on an empty stomach and unencumbered by distractions, such as a panting puppy or a sweaty, overzealous bachelor. But, as evidenced by the continued proliferation of these unique trends, there are plenty of other people who welcome the chance to integrate a little indulgence—be it romance, recreation, or a delicious meal—into a physically and spiritually demanding workout. Only you can know what type of yoga is right for you, but if you do decide to venture into one of these off-the-beaten-path sessions, try to be as mindful as you would in a regular old Vinyasa class. All those deep-breathing exercises have to be good for something, right?