I’ve never been a big yoga guy. I don’t have anything personal against it, but I’ve just never gotten into it. I’ve honestly never even considered leaving my house and going to a yoga studio and paying to stretch and sweat with a bunch of strangers.
Well I definitely held these fears as I walked into the Aspen Shakti studio for Monday night’s “Thug Yoga” session. It looked like how I would imagine a Yoga studio, only more intense. Walking down the stairs the spiritual ambiance hits you hard with inspirational expressions painted onto red walls, a giant pair of hand-made wings at the entrance, edible moon dust to shake on before entering the yoga room, and herbal droplets next to the water cooler. What drew me in was the hip-hop music bumping as I walked down the long hallway towards the yoga room.
Pretty intimidated with the hyper-fit and flexible people stretching on the studio floor, I looked down at my less than amazing body crafted by stealing people’s French fries at my waiter job and drinking beers while watching the Red Sox games in my free time, and I definitely felt like I may have been in over my head. But the woman at the front desk told me to grab a mat and a beer and I was instantly calm. Aspen brewing company kindly sponsors Thug Yoga, and an oasis of Aspen Blondes and Silver City Ales sat in the center of all the participants. I grabbed a Blonde and awkwardly tried to match the warm up stretches that everyone else was doing.
Courtney, the yoga teacher, or the “Yogini”, according to Wikipedia I think, started to give instruction. The descending funky hook of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” played on the speakers and was extremely calming. I struggled to keep up with the positions, but the atmosphere was so relaxed that it really didn’t matter. Courtney told us that if we were struggling with something or weren’t feeling it then to just drop back to our kneeling position and take a beer break. I took a lot of those. And the Childish Gambino was a lot more soothing than an hour of a Ravi Shankar sitar solo that I typically associate with yoga.
Courtney started to spread her love of yoga to Aspen residents in 2007 while she was working at Radio Boardshop. The Aspen lifestyle can be physically dredging, especially in ski season. People started to realize that they needed some other way to take care of their bodies to supplement shredding pow all day. Courtney was trained in traditional yoga, and that’s what she began to pass on to her coworkers at the shop. This raised some complaints in the minds of the yoga newcomers. One of the first criticisms was that they didn’t like the music. They began playing hip-hop and other music that they liked rather than the heady traditional yoga soundtrack. Aspen legend DJ Berkel Beats began making mixes for the class and even occasionally performed live sets for Thug Yoga. They also weren’t into Sanskrit chants and names for the positions. They began to rename the moves to more relatable terms like songs, rappers, snowboarding techniques and more. They’ve renamed about seventy positions and that number seems to grow weekly.
This reaction to traditional yoga created a more relatable and relaxed practice and invited a different clientele than you might expect in a typical yoga class. Courtney said that when they first started, almost all of the participants were men. It began with mostly snowboarders, who in 2007 were still a minority here in Aspen. It began as a haven for the snowboarders, but once people began to see how inviting and awesome it was, the types of people attending began to expand. One day, Courtney’s friend Jordan walked into the sight of people wearing baggy snowboarding clothes and necklaces, listening to hip-hop music, and practicing yoga. He asked, “What is this? Thug Yoga?” The name stuck.
In this session, people laughed and drank their beers in between going into “Snoop Downward Dogg”, “Snoop Lion”, and other positions. Snoop Dogg is essentially their godfather according to Courtney. There were times when I thought my one-pack abs were about to burst and all I wanted was a beer break, and Courtney would politely remind us that in traditional yoga, we might be doing twenty breaths of a headstand at that point. That’s where I realized that I’d be in some trouble were I not at Thug Yoga. There’s no judgment in these sessions, and that’s especially comforting for first timers. The end of the night I spoke with some Thug regulars who spoke of their uncomfortableness with practicing with the “Housewife Mafia” who seem to pass judgement on those who diverge from the ancient yoga gospel. Definitely not the case at Thug Mansion.
Right now my body aches, especially my abdomen, which hasn’t performed a sit up since I was trying to get my middle school beach bod ready for summer vacation. My arms are sore from “reach arounds” [it’s a Thug Yoga move get your mind out of the gutter] and aptly named positions. But I feel amazing, limber, and calm. Thug yoga offered a marvelous escape and put my mind in a different place than it normally resides. It’s so relaxed and also affordable. Ten bucks for yoga in Aspen seems like a bargain to me, and I dress my salads in Frank’s Red Hot sauce.
This apparently was a more-strenuous-than-normal Thug Yoga session, but I finally made it through to the cool down moment where the music was lowered and we laid on our backs on the mat. Courtney turned the lights off and I laid my relaxed muscles back and closed my eyes. My mind drifted. I thought about the things going on in my life and I didn’t stress about anything. It was the perfect mental escape. There may be some bad things happening in the world right now, but for a few moments I was just so relaxed that it’s hard to describe.
Thug Yoga classes have been held at Aspen Shakti since this May, and along with the devoted followers, new faces appear every week. The atmosphere is particularly inviting to newcomers, who can either relax and get something out of each session in whichever way they please, or use it as a gateway to learn other forms of more traditional yoga.
Classes are offered Monday’s and Wednesdays at 7:30pm at Aspen Shakti. Yoga is awesome and if you want to give it a try, definitely head over to Aspen Shakti for a great experience.