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Yoga, or Something Like It

Yoga hybrids such as Aqua Yoga and Disco Yoga have sprung up across the country. YJ editor Nora Isaacs heads to the epicenter of yoga experimentation, Manhattan, to see what is gained—and what is lost—as a result of yoga's diversification.

By Nora Isaacs

"Yoga is a creative process that has to match the times," Flynn insists. "There is a baton being passed, and we need to run with it. These poses should be ecstatic, not static—the tradition is a living, breathing one." Flynn says that when she plays the music of Aretha Franklin during class, she feels a soulful connection with a creative power and with others in the room. I understand her intellectually, but my experience in the Disco Yoga class just didn't live up to Flynn's vision. The room full of beginners moved very tentatively, and rather than feeling a sense of play, the students seemed awfully self-conscious. I felt silly, not playful. Those who weren't familiar with the poses were trying hard to grasp the technique while also rocking to the beat, and Teitelman's quips trying to connect yoga and disco—like the one comparing the freedom found through yoga with the "freedom" found in the disco era—seemed forced. I even thought some parts of the class dangerous, as when we went up into a tripod headstand with very little instruction. And as Teitelman herself said, the music was only a distraction.

Yoga in Disguise
As I walk through the posh halls of the Upper East Side's L.A. Sports Club on the way to "Yogilates" class, I keep thinking of what Yogilates founder Jonathan Urla had told me on the phone earlier. "It was so different from traditional forms of hatha yoga that I had to call it something else," he said when I asked him about the trademarked name. The idea came to Urla, a certified Pilates instructor with 17 years of teaching experience, after he found that the two disciplines complement each other: Pilates adds core strengthening and warm-ups to yoga, while yoga adds a spiritual dimension to Pilates. He trademarked the name in 1997 and now sells videos, mats, books, and blocks, conducts teacher trainings, and wrote the new book Yogilates: Integrating Yoga and Pilates for Complete Fitness, Strength, and Flexibility (HarperResource, 2002).

The spacious room fills with a few dozen students—all women—who scatter about and place yoga mats over standard-issue, blue gym mats. Class begins with our listening to soothing music, breathing, and a short meditation. We then move through some stretching and abdominal exercises on the floor. Next, Urla teaches Kapalabhati pPranayama (Skull Shining Breath), and then we continue with a few basic hatha poses: Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend), Balasana (Child's Pose), and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose). I'm waiting eagerly for something: I think, Maybe he'll drag out one of those machines I've heard about or lead us in a grueling workout that will penetrate the deep abdominal muscles my yoga practice usually doesn't reach. As the class continues, Urla talks about alignment and bringing awareness back to the breath. We stand up and move through Suryanamaskar. We end with Savasana and a seated meditation. Urla's voice is soothing, his instruction clear, and I feel calm and centered leaving the class. I feel, in fact, as though I've just attended one of any number of hatha yoga classes taught by any number of instructors who throw in a few core-strengthening moves, change the sequence around, and go lightly on the spiritual intonations.

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