Fusion yoga or yoga confusion?
A far cry from its Indian roots, modern yoga thrives on Western makeovers
Perhaps it was inevitable. In this era of fois gras dumplings and sake sorbet, the 5,000-year-old practice of yoga was fated for a newfangled American makeover. Just as we learned to love the California roll, yoga fusion is taking the West by storm.
Yoga comes our way in unconventional settings and bearing a slew of props, combined with live music, sporting jock references and wriggling with Brazilian dance moves. Not only can you now get it cold, hot or really hot, you can do it under the stars and even underwater. Here are a few of our favorite new disciplines.
Instructor Sarita Smith Childs explains yogalates as a "fusion of yoga principles with a Pilates foundation." Her class combines Pilates's core strength-building with yoga's stretching and meditation. The 60-minute session begins with a mat warm-up of gentle stretches and body awakenings, including half lotus and a series of gentle twists. Yogalates progresses systematically to legs, abdominals and upper body, strengthening each muscle group with Pilates-like movements and paired it with corresponding yoga movements. The stomach, for example, is strengthened with a series of hundreds—a Pilates breathing and abdominal exercise—and combined with a cobra pose. The upper back is worked with breaststroke—another Pilates exercise—and stretched with child's pose. Yoga's mountain pose and warrior one and two are often in the mix, as are Pilates's plank and mermaid.
"The intention is to give the muscles an entire strengthening hour, as in Pilates, but to use yoga to lengthen, relax and really open the body," Childs says. It concludes with a five-minute savasana, the end-of-class motionless rest, and participants are left feeling relaxed, if perhaps slightly shaky from muscle exertion. Childs recommends that yogalates be used as a supplement to a regular yoga practice, noting that its focus on abdominal and core strength will enhance the balance, awareness and strength needed in a successful yoga practice.
East Bank Club, 500 N Kingsbury St between Hubbard and Kinzie Sts (312-527-5800, www.eastbankclub.com).
Billed as the "total body workout," Core Fusion blends yoga, Pilates, core conditioning, orthopedic stretches and barre work. "Core Fusion is a tremendous body-shaping technique," says Fred DeVito, who cocreated the class with his wife, Elisabeth Halfpapp, exclusively for Exhale. DeVito is Exhale's VP of movement classes and training. The 60-minute class promises toned abs, lifted buttocks, slimmed thighs, increased energy and a boosted metabolism.
Core Fusion begins with a warm-up of knee and thigh thrusts, then moves through arm, abdominal and leg-strengthening and stretching segments, alternately using light weights, floor mats, stretch belts, yoga blocks and a ballet barre. "It's probably the most challenging thing you'll ever do," DeVito says. He describes the class's core work as "ten times more intense" than traditional yoga exercises like boat pose, and reports that most participants leave the room drenched in sweat. Core Fusion, like yoga, is a system that has no end, he adds. Translation: The moment an exercise feels comfortable, the intensity or duration is increased to stimulate change.
Exhale Spa, 945 N State St at Oak St (312-753-6500, www.exhalespa.com).
Yoga Core Training
Part weight lifting, part body sculpting and part yoga, yoga core training is yoga for gym rats. The 60-minute class uses light (two to five pound) and heavy (five to eight pound) free weights to maximize yoga-position contractions. Imagine holding warrior one for five breaths while gripping five-pound weights. "It's an isometric contraction pushed to the limit by the weight in your hand," says Stephen Lincoln, yoga director for David Barton Gym. "You're working that much more against gravity." Yoga core training generally includes a ten-minute warm-up, 40-minute strength-building session, ten-minute cool down and a brief savasana. Poses follow a traditional vinyasa flow, a sequence of postures linking movement with breath, and weights are added when appropriate. Participants leave looking sweaty but feeling "rejuvenated"—and possibly nursing achy arms and legs the next morning.
David Barton Gym, 600 W Chicago Ave at Larrabee St (312-836-9127, www.davidbartongym.com).
Don't expect to spend too much time on your feet in aqua Pilates, an underwater version of traditional Pilates with some yoga method thrown in for good measure. The class combines moves such as teaser, a seated inverted "V" position that uses props like Styrofoam dumbbells, to push core strengthening to another level. "Because water is constantly moving, it forces you to really engage your core," instructor Katrina Hoffmann says. "It immediately gives you feedback: If you're not using the proper muscles, you won't stay afloat."
"Water [exercise] sometimes carries a stereotype that you're not going to get a good or aggressive workout," adds Lakeshore program coordinator Collette Wallin. "We created this class in part to prove that's not true." The club makes that point in its 55-minute session, which begins with a ten-minute warm-up, progresses through standing and floating strength-building segments and concludes with a cool down and stretching—all in chest-deep water.
Hoffmann claims that water density makes aqua Pilates more difficult than a traditional Pilates class. Participants wrap Styrofoam "noodles" around their rib cages, secure the ends, lift their toes, dip their tailbones and squeeze the heck out of their oblique muscles so they won't flip over. Even the stretching is done aquatically. To work the chest and shoulders, for example, participants place hands and feet on the wall for an inverted bridge position. "The class leaves you pretty energetic, but it's tough." Hoffmann says. "It's pretty tiring if you're doing it right."
Lakeshore Athletic Club, Illinois Center, 211 N Stetson Ave between Lake St and Upper Wacker Dr (312-616-1087, ext 213; www.lsac.com).
Additional fusion yoga classes around town:
Baby & Me Yoga, Sweet Pea's Studio, 3717 N Ravenswood Ave, suite 213, between Grace St and Addison Ave (773-248-YOGA, www.sweetpeasstudio.com).
Commuter Yoga, Bloom Yoga Studio, 4663 N Rockwell Ave between Leland and Eastwood Aves (773-463-YOGA, www.bloomyogastudio.com).
Yoga in French, Alliance Francaise, 810 N Dearborn Ave between Chicago Ave and Pearson St (312-337-1070, www.afchicago.com).
Yoga with Live Music, Crunch Lincoln Park, 2727 N Lincoln Ave between Diversey Pkwy and Schubert Ave (773-477-8400, www.crunch.com).