Angela Gargano didn't think yoga was for her until she took a class that paired downward-facing dog with a little reggae.
"Yoga can feel intimidating or elitist," she said. When an instructor played Bob Marley and Frank Sinatra, she finally connected.
Now Gargano tries to "break down barriers" at her own studio, Bliss Flow Yoga and Wellness on University Avenue, using popular music, wine, chocolate and more.
"We do series that focus on a certain genre," said Gargano. "We've done yoga and hip-hop, yoga and the blues. We did a 'find your inner rock star' class."
Bliss Flow is one of several studios and individual yoga instructors in Madison who are looking to break the increasingly popular exercise out of its quietly intimidating box.
Some, like yoga on a standup paddleboard on Lake Wingra or yoga on a ballet barre, are for those looking to take their warrior series to the next level. Others, like aerial yoga or yoga for couples, are fine for beginners.
There are yoga classes for toddlers and seniors, yoga with chairs and yoga in very hot rooms. You can take "yogilates," combined with Pilates. You can take it at sunset or sunrise, with candles or in Spanish.
Here are a half-dozen ideas to rev up your yoga practice or get you started on one, well in advance of the stress of the holidays.
Kula Yoga & Wellness in Cottage Grove starts aerial newbies with a basics class on Saturday mornings. In January, reporter and yoga teacher Jeanne Kolker wrote that yoga in hammocks makes some participants feel like kids again — "the only thing that gets in the way is the mind," one Kula instructor said.
"Aerial yoga isn't just some gimmick meant to lure people looking for a thrill," Kolker wrote. She quoted instructor Megan Miller: "This is something ... that all people can do."
Aerial yoga is good for people who are looking for a change in their yoga routines, but it shouldn't be intimidating. The hammocks, or silks, are suspended just a few feet off the ground.
In a New York Times Q&A with aerial yoga instructor Christopher Harrison, Harrison noted that aerial yoga is "great for stretching, working the core muscles and relieving stress — as long as you remember that it’s nearly impossible to fall out of the hammock.
Be brave during class and you’ll be surprised at how you can follow along. After a few classes, you’ll be monkeying around with the pros."
COUPLES AND PARTIES
The Studio, located in Machinery Row since 2011, takes yoga outside during the summer, combines yoga with ballet (Yoga Barre) and ups the intensity with suspension training (TRX).
But especially for newcomers, starting yoga might be easier with a partner. On Friday, Nov. 8, Studio owner Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau leads couples yoga with her husband Scott, billed as "an intimate evening full of delicious partner poses ... fun, light, a little saucy and perfect for all levels."
Want to involve more friends? Many studios can be rented out for a birthday or other special event.
"We have private yoga parties," said Studio program director Aja Lefebvre. "Bridal showers and bachelorette parties can come in and do a one hour yoga class built just for them. They have an hour after that to hang out, and they can bring in food and drink."
Several times each year, The Studio hosts classes with live acoustic music composed and performed by Ida Jo and Scott Lamps. The next class is this Friday, Oct. 11, at 6:30 p.m.
In a story this spring, The Cap Times' Andy Downing wrote that yoga set to live music has been growing in popularity since Jo and Lamps' classes debuted at Inner Fire Yoga in summer 2012.
"I think music and yoga go hand-in-hand," Downing quoted Jo, who plays violin with Lamps on guitar.
"There'll be teachers that play Lady Gaga or something," Jo said, "and then there will be teachers that play very meditative music that's really slow and peaceful. Then there's everything in between."
At Bliss Flow, Gargano offers the Lady Gaga side of the spectrum. Every Friday at 5:45 p.m., young yogis line up their mats for a Happy Hour class with pop music and "mocktinis."
Another class series this summer combined vinyasa flow — a style that involves moving from one pose to another, synchronized with breathing — with music from documentaries like "Searching for Sugarman" and "Sound City."
At one June class, it was surprising how much energy songs Fleetwood Mac's "Never Going Back Again" and Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" brought to familiar poses.
For self-conscious yogis, "Jessie's Girl" offers a welcome distraction from the girl nailing her backbend on the next mat over. And hitting a Warrior Two pose, arms in a strong T, while listening to Pat Benatar sing "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" can make anyone feel powerful.
"We try to keep things at the studio fresh," Gargano said. "Oftentimes yoga can be something that's separate, in its own separate world. I want to draw from the world around me to make yoga more accessible."
STAND UP PADDLEBOARD
Some yoga experimentation is more weather sensitive. During summer months, local instructor Maureen Hebl teaches stand up paddleboard yoga on Lake Wingra partnering with Wingra Boats and with Rutabaga on Lake Monona. (By fall, she heads indoors to teach a series of classes at the Monona Community Center.)
Stand up paddleboard yoga, or "SUP," "gives you the feeling and appearance of walking on water, like you're floating on a yoga mat," Hebl wrote on her Facebook page.
This summer, Hebl was featured in a special called "Yoga Afloat" on Wisconsin Public Television.
"What I try to bring to my classroom is meditative stillness, to slow down our minds," she said on the program. "What a wonderful thing to take your practice from the indoors, outdoors."
Hebl learned to paddleboard several years ago. At first, she thought taking her yoga practice to the lake wasn't possible.
"It's such a playful fun thing to do," she said on WPT. "It was a lot easier than I thought ... it becomes a part of you. You're connecting with nature."
That natural connection — rooting to the earth, a common exhortation in mountain pose (standing) — is what Gargano aims to emphasize at her wine and yoga workshops. She has given them around the world with Yahoo! health writer David Romanelli; in 2006, a New York Times profile said the pair's goal was "to integrate their two subjects fluidly."
The next workshop will be this winter at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (date to be announced).
"You get a lot of people at the yoga and wine events that have never done yoga before or have never tasted wine before," Gargano said. Putting them together "takes the intimidation factor down."
"We talk about rooting down in a yoga class. Afterwards when I talk about the wine, we talk about terroir and the wine rooting down ... it becomes the fullest expression of itself."
Gargano's passions collide with the workshops. She recently launched an online wine boutique and is spending this fall working harvest in California.
Though traditional yogis may protest, she's committed to incorporating daily pleasures with yoga classes.
"Since I opened the studio, we've been doing a lot with yoga and lifestyle things, food and wine and music," Gargano said. "Part of why we practice yoga is to help us enjoy and appreciate all of life's little moments more fully.
"After you take a yoga class you feel so much more attuned to what's going on around you. You feel able to slow down and appreciate the little pleasures of life. That's something we're sorely lacking in daily life.
"It's important to appreciate those little things, like a beautiful song or an amazing glass of wine or a fabulous piece of chocolate."