A Beer Yogi’s Journey from Burning Man to Berlin
At BierYoga, I joined a group of Berliners to drink while doing sun salutations—or “beer salutations,” if you will—in a techno club .
About half an hour into our session, I hear the sound of glass shattering, followed by muffled giggles. No one is surprised that it happened, but rather that it took so long for it to happen. I mean, what does one really expect when trying to balance a beer bottle on one's head in tree pose?
"Let's carry on with Vorglühen [pre-drinking]—erm, yoga," our unflappable instructor shouts, still balanced on one leg with her arms in the air. The room loses it briefly, before regaining enough composure to down another gulp in unison.
It's Friday night and I'm wedged into the back corner of Loftus Hall, a club in Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood. Disco balls hang overhead, the bar is in full swing, and the floor is filthy enough that the soles of my bare feet are already black. I've been here a few times before, but never sober and certainly not before midnight. Like the other 30 or so Spandex- and sweatpants-clad twentysomethings, I'm here to kick off my weekend with some vinyasa and a few drinks. If BierYoga—the name says it all—sounds like a weird combination, it clearly fills a niche. Classes are booked out weeks in advance and the room is so packed I very nearly miss slapping my neighboring wannabe-yogis in the face several times.
At the front of the hall, Jhula, a bubbly blonde and certified yoga instructor, remains poised despite the booze.
"Now breathe in," she commands serenely. "Has anyone not finished their first bottle? If not, bottoms up!" I'm not sure I've ever seen someone chug half a pilsner with swan-like grace before, but this came pretty damn close. I attempt to replicate the gesture, only to pitch forward and narrowly avoid landing on my face.
Though the idea of drinking while doing sun salutations—or "beer salutations," if you will—in a techno club seems almost ridiculously suited to Berlin, it didn't originate here. A number of craft breweries in the States allow visitors to take a class and then imbibe, but few integrate suds into the practice to the extent that this particular class does. At BierYoga, participants raise their bottles to the heavens in mountain pose, extend them in front while in dancer, and attempt to pick them up and drink—using only their teeth—in a modified version of pigeon. The latter sounds like the kind of move an inebriated college student might come up with, though I'll admit that it requires a certain extra level of mindfulness to keep my beverage from ending up in my lap.
While the class remains focused on the task at hand, every so often someone stops to Instagram the moment or mosey over to the bar. Regular swigs are as much a part of the sequences as inhaling or exhaling deeply, meaning that everyone is pleasantly tipsy and limber after 20 minutes.
"Basically, I played around with it in my room with a Radler [half beer, half lemonade or soda]," Jhula tells me. "I took standard vinyasa sequences, which most people have done a bunch of times, and tried to figure out everywhere I could work beer in there."
Jhula first saw the two magical words together on the dusty playa of Burning Man, where a camp called HomeBrau Haus was offering chilled-out flow classes. With all the other diversions in the Nevada desert, she never quite managed to attend, but the idea stuck.
"I think I found a zeitgeist. People in this city just like beer and like yoga," she says with a laugh. This year, she has plans to bring her program to several festivals, including Fusion. "I've had all kinds of people—students, but also Tinder dates, policemen. Some people bring their parents. It's a very mixed crowd."
It's easy to see why the swipe-right set would be interested: beer and yoga make for a hell of an ice-breaker. About halfway through my second bottle, when my confidence is high and coordination low, Jhula announces that we'll be doing partner exercises. Some of these require little more than basic motor skills (already a challenge by now), while a more advanced maneuver asks my newfound yoga buddy and me to lean back with the soles of both feet suspended in the air and Prost. After a few abysmal failures, we successfully clink bottles and knock back the better part of our lukewarm beers. A modest achievement, surely, but I still feel rather smug.
To be honest, I approached this little endeavor with a healthy dose of skepticism. As a resident of the sometimes too-trendy Kreuzberg-Neukölln area, where every other weekend a fashion blogger opens a new vegan café and everyone and their mom wants to start a food truck, I've become naturally suspicious whenever someone tells me about the "next big thing." Walking through a freak bout of torrential rain clutching a yoga mat didn't exactly help lift my spirits.
After two beers and a whole lot of downward dogs though, I'm feeling a bit woozy and less pissed off at the weather and the world. Any sense of dignity or self-consciousness about my own utter lack of flexibility has flown the proverbial coop. Throwing a bit of alcohol into the mix (in lieu of the kale-açaí-chia seed smoothies one might normally expect) takes the sanctimoniousness down a notch and leaves everyone free to roll around in happy baby pose. By the time the final Ommmmmmmm rolls around, I may not be totally Zen, but I'm getting closer.