In the mainstream, yoga has become fair game for whatever fitness trend wants a piece of it, and so, thanks to aerobics, Pilates and spinning, we have hybrids such as yogaerobics, yogilates and yoga spinning. There are many more. The latest combines yoga with stand up paddleboarding. At the Fairmont Orchid resort on the Big Island, it’s called “Flo-Yo,” floating yoga. Classes are offered on paddleboards anchored in shallow water so students don’t drift away.
If you want a sense of yoga’s infinite potential for niche marketing, try typing the words “yoga for” into the search box of an online bookseller. You will get hundreds of hits, including yoga for golfers, nurses, scuba divers, computer users, osteoporosis and fibromyalgia sufferers, fat guys, children with autism disorders and so on. And while I haven’t seen a book yet, the foodies have also gotten their hands on yoga. At some Mainland studios multi-course meals are served immediately after yoga class so the yogis can savor the food in a state of heightened hedonistic awareness. A trace of this can be found at Balancing Monkey Yoga Center in Hilo, where advanced practitioners meet one evening a week for an experimental class that is conducted around a big bowl of chocolate. For two hours the yogis work on disliked poses or difficult poses they haven’t yet perfected, dipping into the bowl as needed. “Sometimes it gets so ridiculous you just have to stop and have chocolate,” says head Monkey Heather Heintz.
The constant reinvention of yoga can produce uncertain results. Men are almost always outnumbered in yoga classes by women, and Rachel Gonzales of Body Alive Yoga and Movement Studio in Wailuku wanted to do something about that. So she devised a class that emphasized strength building and rock music and called it Broga, yoga for bros. But the bros never showed. So Gonzales redefined Broga as “body rock yoga,” and now if a dude does drop in he gets to practice with the women. And then there’s Doga, which caters to another underrepresented group: dogs. Purists might have cringed, but that didn’t stop the Hawai‘i Humane Society from including doggie yoga in the lineup of its 2011 Thomas Square Canine Game Day.
From a spectator’s point of view, the most entertaining yoga hybrid has to be acroyoga, which borrows elements from the partner sport of acrobatic gymnastics. You might have caught an acroyoga demonstration at a street fair, around a nude-beach drum circle or—if you’re a mixed martial arts fan on the Big Island— before the debut cage fight of Kiko Nascimiento, an instructor at Yoga Centered in Hilo who fights under the name of Kiko the Freako. Kiko entered the arena accompanied by two lithesome women, and the three spent several minutes before the bout arranging themselves into complex, Chinese acrobat-like configurations as Kiko’s opponent waiting inside the octagon grew increasingly twitchy. Kiko then ripped off the Mexican wrestler’s mask he wore and went on to win the fight. Although the fans loved it, Kiko scrapped the acroyoga before his next fight, opting for tai chi and a little breakdancing instead. “I wanted to conserve energy,” he explains.
I get a taste of acroyoga myself at a Union Yoga class on Maui. The basic acroyoga building block involves three people: the base, who lies on the ground with feet up in the air; the flier, who balances on the base’s feet; and the spotter, who helps avert disaster. Union Yoga is an acroyoga brand created by a guy on Maui who has tried to put a Hawai‘i spin on things, such as calling the base “the mauka,” the flier “the makai” and the spotter “the da kine.” My class is taught by Deborah Dove Eudene, who has led acroyoga workshops at team-building retreats for Silicon Valley firms. “In this day and age of cellphones and text messages, it’s a great way to bring people together,” she says.
Deborah has big, dewy, hazel-brown eyes, which I become very aware of because before I can fly I have to stare into them and breathe somatically with her until we both feel in sync. But before that the whole class sits in a circle, and we make a heart sandwich, putting our left hand on our own chest and our right hand on the back of the person next to us, so that each of our hearts beats between two hands. After all the preliminaries, we balance on each other’s feet while stretching out our arms to fly like airplanes or grabbing our ankles in midair backbends. It’s a lot of fun, and by the end of class our little group of strangers has bonded. I tell Deborah that this really is a great way to bring people together, and she tells me about her dream of acroyoga at the highest levels of power. “I would love to see our political leaders in Congress breathing somatically together before making decisions,” she says. “I would love to see all the ambassadors at the United Nations starting their meetings in a big heart sandwich.”