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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

Urla is earnest, hardworking, and, after all, only trying to make a living doing what he loves in a market filled with personal trainers and yoga instructors. In July, he attended his first yoga teacher-training, with vinyasa teacher Shiva Rea. "It will take me a while to win respect in the yoga community," he concedes. Clearly, in today's highly saturated market, teachers like Urla are forced to carve out a niche in order to distinguish themselves from the yoga herd.

"No Yoga Gods, No Intimidation"
Sheri Radel, who works in advertising, sits next to me as we wait for a "Sonic Flow" class at a new studio in Hell's Kitchen called Sonic Yoga. (The studio's literature claims it brings "the club to the ashram.") "Have you been here before?" Radel asks nervously. I haven't; we both have read about the classes through an aggressive advertising campaign (which offers the first class free) and in a recent story in Time Out New York. We watch together as the instructor lugs in massive speakers from another room. "I thought it would be a nice way to combine cardio with toning and stretching," says Radel. "I wasn't looking for a spiritual experience. I've fallen victim to Ôtrendercise' in the past—boxing, kickboxing, spinning—so I thought this could be fun. Plus, I like loud music."

Entering the studio, we see red and orange lights dangling from the walls, illuminating the room with an eerie glow. Jonathan Fields, a muscular, dark-haired guy wearing a baseball hat, walks in and begins a rigorous, powerful vinyasa session accompanied by music—Engima, a Swedish band called Sigur R—s, Loreena McKennitt, some Afro-Cuban beats—blaring so loudly that I can barely hear his instructions as we move from intense Sun Salutations to standing poses and then down to the floor. Like Urla, Fields has a gimmick: In Sonic Yoga, the beat of the music matches that of the vinyasa, "breath by breath."Each month, Fields puts together a mix that coincides with an asana sequence. Tonight, however, he is experiencing technical problems with his prepared mix, which sounds like it's been dunked in water. So we just wait until he finds a backup and move to it the best we can. By the end of class, we pour with sweat.

According to its owners, plenty of Manhattan studios provide spiritual enlightenment, and Sonic prides itself on making yoga accessible for those who are intimidated by traditional classes. A blurb on the Web site declares: "No yoga gods, no intimidation, no showing off stuff that'll send you to the emergency room!" Tell that to Radel, who offered this assessment after the sweaty, sonic workout: "I found the class a bit too strenuous for my taste. It just did not feel good after a while, and I felt like I was going to keel over." My new friend's comments will surely disappoint the studio, which prides itself on its populist approach to yoga. "They [traditional classes] scare the vast majority of people even before starting," says Fields. "It's like learning piano; you can't start with Chopin—most people would run away. Piano teachers start with a single note." Adds his business partner, Lauren Hanna: "People are intimidated by the whole yoga, Sanskrit, Hindu thing. We bring them in a lighthearted way to a very spiritual place, without bringing in a lot of the traditional Hindu doctrine."

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