Yoga, or Something Like It
I am standing in Warrior II in a hardwood-floored studio surrounded by mirrors, alternately reaching my arms and torso from one side to the other while listening to highlights from the Flashdance soundtrack. Suzi Teitelman, the instructor of this "Disco Yoga" class, taps her feet to the beat. She sings along when not guiding us through visualizations ("Imagine that you are on a lit-up dance floor"). We move into Tree Pose, but instead of bringing our palms to our chests, we make swerving motions with them while moving our shoulders from side to side.
"Disco brought us love and freedom; that's what you want to find within your pose," says Teitelman, who wears a flowing yellow bandanna around her head, a tiny tank top, and shiny pants. Perhaps she is trying to justify her use of the word "yoga," or perhaps she really believes that making this connection will somehow inspire us. The link seems tenuous, but I want to stay open-minded. The class continues to move as Teitelman, a certified Laughing Lotus yoga instructor, deftly demonstrates poses to the room of mostly beginning yoga students. We practice standing poses, twists, and forward bends, moving to the beat of the music, with Teitelman as our guide. At the end of class, we lay in Savasana, and she leaves us wishing all beings happiness and freedom.
Ever since a friend alerted me to the existence of Disco Yoga at Manhattan's Crunch Gym, I've been noticing other "yoga hybrids"—including Yoganetics, Medieval Yoga, and Yogilates. I am eager to know whether this proliferation of yoga-related classes is the result of savvy marketing or a natural evolution of the practice in the West. My curiosity leads me on an exhausting week of exploration in Manhattan, during which I find myself balancing in Vasisthasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Vasistha) under club lights and house music, floating in Half Lotus on a piece of Styrofoam in a pool, and incorporating a martial arts kicking sequence into my standing series. And each time, I ask myself, "Is this really yoga?"Fusion or Confusion?
At one point in the class, Teitelman tries talking over the upbeat soundtrack, but she can't be heard. "I hate it when they want me to pump the music up. I can't speak over it," she says after turning the volume down. "They" are the powers-that-be at Crunch Gym, and her comment highlights the tension between management, which wants to create a buzz, and Teitelman, who wants to be left alone to teach. In a city always looking for The Next Big Thing, the Crunch staff pride themselves on the fact that their mix-and-match-style workouts—with such titles as "Abs, Thighs, and Gossip," "Urban Rebounding," and "Candlelight Stretch"—attract new members and the press. And notice the media certainly do: After class, Teitelman tells me that heavyweights from New York magazine to NBC News have mentioned the Disco Yoga class.
Dana Flynn, former "creative director" of yoga programs at Crunch, has waist-length red hair, intense green eyes, a tendency to touch you while talking, and a contagious enthusiasm. Her inventiveness doesn't stop at the offbeat combination of yoga and disco. In fact, she could be crowned the Queen of Hybrids: She also created such classes as "The Yoga of Self-Defense," "Tribal Yoga," "Sunset Rooftop Yoga," and "The Yoga of Walking." (She says her tongue was planted firmly in her cheek when she named the disco class, but the name stuck.) Flynn loves the idea of getting a little silly with yoga; she named her West Village studio Laughing Lotus Yoga Center to reflect the sense of joy she finds in the practice.