According to this month’s Yoga Journal article on the Austin yoga scene, there are 44 yoga studios in Austin, a city of 786,386 people.
That’s a whole lot of yogis per capita.
From 6am early riser practice until Black Swan studio’s last class winds down at 11:30pm, there is a yoga class underway somewhere in Austin.
“Music has a water quality to it, it flows, so the two (yoga and music) really go together. It changes me."
That means that right now, as you are reading these words (unless it is the middle of the night), you are pretty much guaranteed that multiple roomfuls of people throughout this city are in the midst of doing yoga together. That’s a lot of downward dogs.
What happens when you squeeze a whole bunch of yogis into one little city renowned for music and keeping it weird? You get some very musical, delightfully quirky yoga, of course. You get sweaty candlelight yoga, you get naked yoga, and you get yoga classes taught while floating on a paddleboard in the middle of Town Lake. As a favorite yoga teacher once told me, “Every posture is infinite;” well, so are the possibilities in the Austin yoga scene.
You also get Yogasm, last Thursday’s big Lululemon-hosted yoga party in Republic Square Park, which wasn’t as overtly sexy as its name (cute kids ran around with their tattooed moms and one dad hula hooped for hours with his seven-year-old daughter). To the tunes of a live DJ and blasting sound system, hundreds of yogis covered almost every inch of the park’s grass with their multi-colored mats and sun-saluted and back bended together on a 107 degree August afternoon. Afterwards, they drank samples of coconut water, ate watermelon, and literally cooled their buns by sitting their sweaty yoga pants down on a semicircle of ice blocks, courtesy of the Be Yoga studio on Rainey Street.
At the heart of Yogasm, and a good part of the Austin yoga scene, is the confluence of music and high spirits, with respect for an ancient practice grounded in philosophy and discipline. There’s a spirit of play amid the structure, and often that play means music.
You see it all over. Even one of the most demanding studios, Breath and Body, offers a monthly “DJ Detox” class; they pull out the speakers, and guys with names like DJ Ozone spin vinyl to accompany your yoga twists and triangles. It’s like clubbing, except the buzz is all booze free, and afterwards you get to drink kombucha.
Shelby Autrey, owner of BFree Yoga, a five-month-old studio that is quickly gaining a devoted following, believes in the power of music combined with yoga. My first Shelby class was a musical tour of my college idols. I got to do handstands with Neil Young, twists with Cat Stevens, and finally slip into final relaxation to John Lennon’s Imagine.
Shelby has an exuberant, here-I-am personality and her classes are exhilarating. When I am near-euphoric after a rigorous class, listening to John Lennon full blast while laying flat on the floor is just what I need to wring every last drop of tension out of my body.
“Music has a water quality to it, it flows, so the two (yoga and music) really go together,” says Shelby. “It changes me. I set the tone with the music. If it’s a balancing series, I put on something that has a low tempo beat and there are no words so you can concentrate and still be lifted and motivated by the beat. And if we are just flowing, maybe I’ll play reggae-- something you can just get lost in, get out of your head into your body. And I like loud music. And I’m loud. So sometimes I think, ‘Whoa, people we need to turn it down.’”
Just to keep things interesting, BFree has live music, too. Every other Wednesday, soul/funk musician Athuai Rush accompanies the class with singing, hand drum and harmonium. Rush improvises his music so that it matches the flow of the postures — you’d be surprised how much easier it is to soar in a tough pose like airplane with live music to carry you.
BFree also has quarterly two hour DJ’d yoga parties called Boom Boom Pow. They’re a dual creation between one of their star teachers, Zoe Mantarakis, and the funky yogi DJ Manny who mixes Mo Town with DJ beats and yoga music. They turn the lights down low, light candles, and create a world apart from your average class. “It takes you to a place where you are uninhibited; you just feel the music,” says Shelby, describing the experience. “Zoe is so playful already—she’s deep into the philosophy of yoga, but when you put her in that ambience and lights go down, it just awakes something different in you.”
And that’s what we are talking about. Austin+yoga+music equals something entirely different, playful, and new.