Downward Dog Hits the Dance Floor

May 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Yoga Articles

YOGA aficionados often describe the practice as having two possible benefits: strengthening the body and clearing the mind.

Now some young enthusiasts are trying to bring their peers to yoga by promising that it can make their social lives more wholesome, too. The idea is that yoga and a sober dance party go together much like raw chocolate and organic peanut butter.

One such event, a “yoga rave” on a Thursday evening in early spring at Pacha, a nightclub in west Midtown Manhattan, was organized by the Art of Living Foundation, a 30-year-old organization with centers around the world and a mission to promote peace through yoga and meditation.

Shephali Agrawal, a lawyer and a volunteer director at the Art of Living center in New York, explained the connection between the foundation’s mission and a club party.

“Meditation is really discovering the love and the bliss that can be inside, and dancing is such a natural expression of that,” she said. “Just connecting to the pulse, to the music, it allows that energy that’s inside to explode outside.”

Unlike the usual club party, this yoga rave started at 7 p.m. When I arrived at 8:30, a group called Bhakti Band was onstage, singing yoga chants over a deafening rock beat. Some people were dancing; others stood around eating Indian food or drinking nonalcoholic cocktails. The crowd seemed to be people mostly in their 20s and 30s, with many casually dressed, but a few others in business clothes.

By the time the crowd had been led through a brief, guided meditation, and a group from Buenos Aires, the So What Project!, took the stage, people did seem ready to explode. They jumped up and down to the beat of what the band called its “rock mantras.”

The two men of the So What Project!, Rodo Bustos and Nico Pucci, came up with the idea of the yoga rave five years ago because they wanted to offer their party-happy friends an alternative to the smoke, drugs and alcohol of the club scene. They held house parties at first, then moved to larger sites.

“We realized that so many people want a different place, want a different orientation to have fun,” said Mr. Bustos, who is an Art of Living instructor, in a phone interview.

At the Pacha event, which is part of a seven-city tour of the United States, Tom Silverman, the founder and chief executive of Tommy Boy Records, marveled that such euphoria was being produced without drugs.

“They’re acting the same as they would if they’d taken a bunch of pills,” he said of the crowd.

Mr. Silverman saw potential.

“I could see this being 10,000 to 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden,” he said. “There is no alternative like this where you can go and not drink, and still be in bed by midnight.”

Actually, out in the bohemian refuge of Bushwick, Brooklyn, a group of 20-somethings recently offered a similar alternative — though on a smaller, mellower scale — to their friends in the D.I.Y. music scene.

In a former welding shop that they fixed up by hand, they have opened what they call the Body Actualized Center.

One of the founders, Brian Sweeny, 28, an artist and event producer, described it as “a hipster improvement center,” a place to do yoga, listen to live music, talk about New Age spirituality and generally cultivate a “healthy hedonism.”

At the opening party, on a temperate evening in late March, men in ironic T-shirts and women in vintage dresses and ankle boots stood around a fire pit in the backyard, while musicians played inside. The atmosphere was wholesome, but not dogmatically so; the dinner was raw and vegetarian, but some people were drinking beer, and there was a scent of something other than fire smoke in the air.

Another founder, a 26-year-old yoga instructor and artist who said her name was Angelina Dreem — “I’m going to roll with that for a while,” she said — suggested that the goal was partly to redefine post-college socializing.

“We want to coexist socially with people, and in a city,” she said, but also “to be healthy and to eat well and to not have to drink all night.”

“I mean, I was an alcoholic for a while,” she said. “So for me it’s like being social and being active and being creative, but being healthy and having a safe space.”

On weekdays, the center offers at least four classes a day. On Sundays at 5 p.m., it hosts a Cosmic Yoga Party, featuring live music and raw food.

More conventional yoga studios are also incorporating music and parties into their programs. Jivamukti Yoga School, near Union Square, hosts live shows by Bhakti Band and other groups frequently. Laughing Lotus Yoga Center, in Chelsea, holds a class every Friday from 10 p.m. to midnight that is set to either live music or a D.J. It has also started holding a monthly dance party.

Still, it would be hard to capture as much of the spirit of a New Age revival as the Body Actualized Center did at its opening party. The actual yoga portion came late, around 11 p.m., by which time the main room was too crowded for anyone to do more than a very cramped downward dog. The instructor, Amy Jenkins, 24, dressed in flowing white pants and a white tank top, with glitter on her cheeks, instructed the participants, who stood in mountain pose, to run their hands over their bodies.

“We never touch ourselves in public; we never breathe,” she said, wiggling as she moved her hands over her torso. Then she instructed everyone to rise up into tree pose and lift their arms above their heads.

As people raised their arms in the tight space, she told the group, “If you touch someone … touch them again!”

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