For every person who loves yoga, there’s someone else who loves to make fun of yoga. It’s a safe bet that anyone who finds namaste culture smug and annoying has even less patience for the growing crop of trendy yoga classes, featuring gimmicks like animals and nakedness. Yoga purists, too, might be inclined to look down at trendy yoga and dismiss the people who do it as more interested in hashtagging their experiences than practicing “real” yoga.
But here’s a suggestion: If the mere thought of a yoga class with, say, cats irritates you, then ask yourself why you mad, bro. Because even the goofiest yoga class forces you to put down your phone and spend an hour (or more) breathing and stretching. And while not all trendy yoga classes qualify as true “workouts,” let alone challenging ones, some of the kookiest-sounding yoga trends do have distinct, legitimate health benefits.
“Even the most far-out or trendy yoga practices still have at center the possibility of bringing us closer to this understanding that we are, in essence, pure awareness and not ‘apart’ from anything,” said Jenny Miller, a yoga instructor and co-owner of The Body Electric Yoga Company, a studio in St. Petersburg, Florida. “There are some holier-than-thou types very invested in yoga being esoteric and mysterious, [so they] pooh-pooh all of this stuff. But to us it’s all yoga.”
Trendy classes that combine yoga with seemingly disparate elements like cats, birthday suits, and beer are designed to bring in beginners who might be uncomfortable at more “serious” yoga classes, Miller says. They can also help instructors build a community, or even act as a vehicle for doing good, such as by getting homeless cats adopted.
So, open your chakra and your mind. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll get out of eight types of trendy yoga.
At Laughter Yoga classes, students in street clothes laugh maniacally while partaking in gentle stretching and clapping. Yes, it’s silly. But what’s silly can still be good for you. Laughter, in general, is thought to stop the release of the stress hormone cortisol, help relax muscles, and possibly relieve pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. And a few studies have discovered health benefits to giggling through vinyasas. In one 2016 paper, for example, end-stage kidney-disease patients exhibited improved moods and reduced anxiety after doing Laughter Yoga three times a week for a month. Still, authors of Laughter-Yoga studies say that more research is needed to tease apart the positive effects of doing Laughter Yoga vs. being around other people doing it.
Goofiness factor: High
Fitness factor: Low
Dee Dussault, the San Francisco-based yoga instructor who created Ganja Yoga, encourages students with medical marijuana cards to partake before or even during class, which entails a fairly slow and gentle hatha yoga routine. Being a little high fosters a deeper mind-body connection and increases relaxation, Dussault says on her website. The challenge, of course, is hitting that sweet spot: You want to be relaxed and focused on your practice, but you don’t want to fall out of poses in a giggling, uncoordinated heap. Is there any science to support the idea that marijuana-infused yoga could improve your health? Well, no. But there’s also no reason to think it’s harmful.
“My partner loves using marijuana, not just for stretching but for heavy workouts,” Miller said. “It doesn’t appear to have any negative effects that I can see, and seems to help people tune out distractions.”
Goofiness factor: Low
Fitness factor: Low to moderate. Not a super-challenging workout, but the relaxation aspects are good for mental and physical health.
Clothing-free yoga classes started popping up about a decade ago. Some studios, such as Bold & Naked Yoga in New York City, make nude yoga as private as possible, holding classes in dimly lit rooms with plenty of personal space. But most do not.
Regardless, there’s something thrilling about naked yoga — it’s hard not to feel powerful lunging in a fully nude Warrior I. But there aren’t any health perks specifically associated with doing yoga in the buff, and some people might get distracted by the sight of buttholes in the front row.
Miller and her partner and co-owner, Katelyn Grady, who offer naked yoga in their studio, say that female students, in particular, find it liberating. “I think it’s a powerful experience to be courageous, to confront body image issues, and to practice with a bunch of other women doing the same thing,” Miller said. “And I do think even the most comfortable clothes are less comfortable than no clothes.”
Goofiness factor: Low; people act like they’re in any other yoga class.
Fitness factor: High
The marriage of beer and yoga can be traced back to, where else, Burning Man, the annual desert party for (literal) filthy rich people. BierYoga in Berlin then took the concept a few, teetering steps further, having students swill Pilsner and balance beer bottles on their heads during the practice.
“That is ridiculous,” Miller said, of the beer-bottle-balancing act. “I am a beer drinker, and my studio hosts many classes at breweries, so I can say with some assurance that there is no benefit to practicing while drinking or drunk.”
Goofiness factor: High
Fitness factor: Low if you get drunk or cut yourself on broken glass.
Traditionalists might not consider Black Sabbath an appropriately tranquil soundtrack for yoga. But if blasting death growls gets new people into yoga, then who cares, practitioners say. Metal yoga is one of a few musically themed yoga experiences; there are also hip-hop– and Morrissey-themed classes (and probably others). These classes are as varied as any other in terms of difficulty and quality of instruction. But you might want to look for a teacher who’s skilled at giving nonverbal cues (it can be hard to hear over guitar solos). When it comes to metal yoga, your comfort level will depend on how silly you feel making devil horns with your fingers or growling like a dog.
Goofiness factor: Medium
Fitness factor: Generally high, depending on the instructor.
Goats love to perch on high things, such as the backs of people in Marjariasana (cat pose). Unsurprisingly, these adorably odd animals are the main attraction in goat yoga. Cats are similarly the focus of yoga classes with purring felines. Same goes for dog yoga, or “doga,” which is often touted as an opportunity for human-canine bonding.
Across the board, fitness is secondary in animal yoga classes. Instructors emphasize having fun, and students are encouraged to take breaks to interact with their four-legged classmates. Plus, it can be hard to hear instructions over all the giggling and choruses of “awww!” But for animal lovers, these classes can be great stress relievers. Petting animals may effectively reduce anxiety, one study found, and pet ownership appears to lower blood pressure, according to another study.
Goofiness factor: High if you hate animals, low if you don’t.
Fitness factor: Low to medium
Salt therapy is a longtime alt-health practice thought to relieve respiratory problems. Yoga classes taking place inside salt caves, however, is a much newer trend. Breathe Salt Rooms, a salt spa in Manhattan, claims that its yoga classes are great for respiratory healing as well as “tuning into the fourth chakra,” or heart.
Chakras aside, breathing salty air did help people with cystic fibrosis in one study; and another study determined that salt therapy, when combined with steroid medication, can lessen asthma symptoms. But at this point, there’s no evidence to suggest that healthy people get much out of doing yoga in salty surroundings. And, as the American Lung Association notes on its website, poorly maintained salt caves can breed bacteria, which no one wants to inhale, especially for $50 a session.
Goofiness factor: Fairly low
Fitness factor: Varies, but unlikely to confer health benefits that normal yoga doesn’t.
I mean, why not? If you love the outdoors and don’t mind the cold, yoga in the snow can be a peaceful, one-with-nature experience. Although, classes might be hard to find. Snowga was all in the rage in 2016, but the hype appears to have cooled off since then. And, if you do find a class, you’re limited to standing poses, unless you want to submerge your arms and face in a snowbank. That means no planks or inversions, which make up roughly half of a normal yoga class.
Goofiness factor: Low
Fitness factor: Medium. It’ll probably get your heart rate up and might be a nice warm-up before skiing, snowboarding, or snowshoeing, but you can only do so many poses while standing in the snow, dressed in fleece and down.