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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

Accessibility seems to be the rallying cry for hybrid classes, many of which are meant to counter the intimidation, seriousness, and dogmatism of traditional classes. "These fusion classes are really good in terms of bringing such a traditional practice into modern-day life," says Jorge Manahan, a 29-year-old multimedia designer from Brooklyn, who took the Disco Yoga class with me. "Most of the people who do Disco Yoga are more on the beginner level; it opens the door to people who may not go to a Kundalini or an Ashtanga class." On the other coast, a new Los Angeles studio called YAZ features hip-hop yoga, where Sun Salutations are done to the music of Destiny's Child. "We're still practicing yoga, but we have to modernize it," says YAZ owner Kimberley Fowler. "We don't live in India, and you need to bring it to the society that it's supposed to be benefiting."

According to the owners of Sonic Yoga, the music provides a focal point for New Yorkers who can't slow down enough to sit quietly. "In New York, there is a lot of stimulation all day," says Hanna. "Some students have a hard time letting go of distractions in class, and the music allows them to clear their head." But across town at the Integral Yoga Institute, President Swami Ramananda gets a chuckle out of the idea that New Yorkers need loud music to clear their heads. "There are New Yorkers who crave that quieting down and come here every day to get it," he says. "My concern is that this could be a way of adapting yoga to our own conditioning, rather than using yoga to unlearn our conditioning."

Type A Yoga
Behind an inconspicuous green door on the Lower East Side is Shiva Yoga Shala, a studio that offers a class called "Yogic Arts," a blend of martial arts and yoga. "We are more grounded in yoga philosophy than other hybrids," says teacher Duncan Wong, who has studied the martial art of Kuk Sool since he was 10 and has practiced yoga since age 17. A boyish-looking 34 years old, Wong has studied with Richard Freeman, Rodney Yee, and Jivamukti's Sharon Gannon and David Life (as well as their teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) and travels to California every year to study with his Kuk Sool masters, Kwahn Jang Nym and Suh Sung Jin. I have to agree with his assessment: Instead of unsettling sounds, Wong's studio plays soft ancient yogic mantras, and the words "Om Namah Shivaya" adorn the main altar.

The room fills with a fit-looking bunch, and after class begins I know why. Although Wong told me he'd take it easy because I am new, the class is incredibly strenuous. The form, studied by Madonna and Sting, develops tremendous strength, agility, and balance. Wong, who is also a Thai Yoga bodyworker, periodically gives aggressive adjustments. The fusion comes when Wong introduces the martial art technique of grounding your body by bending both knees into a "horse stance" between poses. We return repeatedly to this stance, alternating it with a series of difficult moves, kicks, and twists. During a lunging sequence, when my thighs begin to burn, Wong talks about ahimsa, not harming yourself or others. (I guess the nonharming didn't apply to my thighs.)

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