It's 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning at One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco. A dozen or so participants have just begun an hourlong yoga class, moving from group meditation to traditional yoga poses—downward-facing dog, baby cobra, warrior—with the help of an instructor. But there's something different about this yoga class: no one is wearing any clothes. For the past two years, One Taste has offered two weekly nude yoga classes—one coed and one women-only—where students practice yoga without inhibitions. "I felt an acceptance of my body that I hadn't felt before," says Nicole Halpern, a spokesperson for One Taste who has taken the class. Yoga in the nude, she says, "allows you to feel a connection to your body in a new way."
Alternative-yoga classes like this one are becoming more common as a growing number of Americans are starting to practice yoga, bringing a greater diversity of interests to their mats. "Yoga is constantly evolving," says Kaitlin Quistgaard, editor of Yoga Journal. "Yogis are expanding into new territory and trying new things." Here's a look at some of TIP SHEET's favorite alternative-yoga classes.
In yoga, instructors often urge students to focus on individual moments by having them concentrate on each breath, feeling the fullness of every inhale and exhale. But instructor David Romanelli has found another way to savor the moment: eating chocolate. He has teamed up with Vosges Chocolate, a high-end confectionery company, to offer yoga-and-chocolate seminars that begin and end with a truffle. Much like traditional yoga practices, he uses the sweet to make participants more aware of their senses, asking them to savor each bite and its distinct taste. "When people first hear about it, they think it's just a gimmick," says Romanelli, who has been offering the classes since early 2005. "But when you taste the chocolate and feel the yoga, you get the message." Romanelli offers a similar wine-and-yoga seminar that centers on taste and aroma. He's taking both on the road this summer with stops across the United States. Times and dates are available on his Web site.
Barbara Benedict uses a similar technique for her Yoga for Writers and Artists classes. The course, offered in New York City, is half yoga and half writing, and aims to kick-start creative minds. "You're creating yourself when you come to the mat," she says. "It's an opportunity to express who you are on the page, on the canvas, in the kitchen, with your kids." Benedict says that the class, which she has offered 25 times, works differently for each individual. Writers might scribble down what they want to see happen on the mat for one session; artists often sketch their aspirations. She remembers one participant, a choreographer, who participated by writing out her thoughts in arrows indicating dance steps. Another, a chef, jotted down a recipe.
Therapeutic-yoga classes treat yoga as a healing art for those looking to recover from a fracture, for example, or simply to increase flexibility. That often means modifying the poses on an individual level and using props like blocks or straps to make the poses more accessible. Charles Matkin teaches at Yoga Works, a national chain with therapeutic-yoga courses available at its Los Angeles, New York City and Orange County, Calif., locations. He keeps his classes small, usually no more than eight, to ensure a high level of interaction with each student. "I want to steer people into a productive and fruitful practice," says Matkin. "The class is really hands-on. In a larger class people can fall through the cracks." The class is a mix of group activity and individual instruction that allows each participant to tailor the hour to his own needs.
Acroyoga—a combination of acrobatics, gymnastics and yoga—is a more physical approach. While traditional yoga focuses on connecting with the self, acroyoga demands a physical connection with others. Jason Nemer and Jenny Sauer-Klein began teaching acroyoga three years ago in Berkeley, Calif. Their class begins in a circle, participants sitting cross-legged with their hands on the backs of their neighbors. Traditional poses, such as downward-facing dog or baby cobra, are modified to involve two or three bodies. "This is a vehicle for strangers to get together and, in three hours, have an amazing amount of connection," says Nemer. Flexibility will help with your first acroyoga class, but no particular experience is necessary for the newcomer. Acroyoga is unexpectedly easy if you're willing to take a deep breath, try something new and trust your yoga partner—even when you're attempting to balance your body on top of his or her feet. (Photographs of the poses, along with a schedule of acroyoga's current tour of the United States, are available on its Web site.)
Then there's "doga," or yoga for dogs. Suzi Teitelman, a yoga instructor in Jacksonville, began teaching doga after her cocker spaniel, Coali, wandered onto her mat. "To me, it's like a natural extension of my yoga practice," she says. "We just started creating a sequence of poses." Along with daily doga sessions for Coali, Teitelman teaches monthly classes and private lessons at dog-birthday parties, complete with a personalized yoga mat for each mutt in attendance. In the doga classes, owners position their pets into poses as well as participate in stretches and movements alongside them. If you want to find a doga class in your city, check out dogadog.com.
Instructors typically have one request of new students: enter the studio with an open mind. And take the time to find a yoga instructor, style and studio that work for you, even if that means trying out 10 to 15 different classes. Whether you choose to do yoga in the buff or celebrate your dog's birthday, there is a style of yoga that will likely suit you.