- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Keith May says he’s so NOT a yogi.

The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/25NrnPG ) reports that the 41-year-old owns a window-tinting shop and sings karaoke. He flips over humongous tires, climbs ropes and swings heavy kettlebells at the gym.

May also loves beer. And because he loves beer, he now loves yoga.

May and his wife, Michele, attend Bottoms Up Yoga on Sundays at Zipline Brewing Co. in Lincoln. For $15, attendees can participate in an hourlong session, then knock back some craft beers afterward.

The class is one of a handful of events cropping up in Lincoln, Omaha and Council Bluffs that are about more than meditation. These specialty classes often incorporate alcohol, art or kids.

The idea is to encourage people who assume they don’t fit the stereotypical mold - size-2 yoga pants, vegetarian, into chanting, totally Zen - to give the practice a try.

“I never considered yoga because I thought it was a woman’s thing,” said May, of Lincoln. “What got me to go was the beer.”

The combination classes have been done nationally for years, organizers say, and are now catching on locally. The Bottoms Up class started in January and regularly draws about 15 participants, many of them first-timers.

“It’s not intimidating in this setting,” said Sandy Galvan, an instructor at Lotus House of Yoga who organizes the weekly Lincoln event. “The class is super low-key, designed for all levels, and it’s not something that a newbie couldn’t do.”

In October, Council Bluffs yoga instructor Alexander Hiffernan opened The Block Yoga + Art studio, which offers yoga and art classes together with a goal of welcoming folks from all walks of life.

“I really try to attract the people who don’t think they are yogis,” Hiffernan said. “But then they find that it’s nice to sit down and breathe.”

Such efforts might be working. According to a study released this year by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, about 37 million people in the United States practice yoga regularly. That’s an increase of 20 million over 2012 and means that about one out of 10 people do yoga.

Many instructors believe the increase is due in part to the rise of combo classes.

“It’s our responsibility to reach out to people who have never done yoga and give them a solid experience. … Even die-hard gym rats are doing it,” said Will Zecco. Zecco is the owner of the parent company to Yoga Rocks the Park, an annual outdoor summer yoga series in Omaha’s Turner Park.

Amanda Gonzales, of yoga-inspired apparel chain Lululemon Athletica, said weekly in-store classes often pair yoga with other interests, such as coffee, CrossFit, running or fashion. The Omaha store each month highlights different metro-area yoga studios, some of which offer non-yoga-specific events as part of their regular schedules.

Last week, The Block Yoga + Art studio, 231 S. Main St., combined vinyasa-style yoga with sketching and journaling for the 20 or so people who attended its free weekly community class. Hiffernan guided the group through various yoga poses, then asked them to write down their deepest thoughts or doodle before getting back into position.

The exercise, Hiffernan said, was to get them to think about changes they’d like to see in themselves, whether that’s becoming more confident, less stressed or generally happier.

The weekly community classes always have an artistic tie-in of some kind. Other events include painting a self-portrait during class or checking out an art exhibit after a family-friendly session.

Hiffernan said he doesn’t want his studio to feel the least-bit pretentious; on Monday, he broke the ice by telling the group to “shake your bonbons” while explaining a position.

“Come on, I’ve seen a lot of you at the bars, so I know you can do it,” he said. They all laughed. A few nodded in agreement.

Two or three clearly were regulars. But others were newcomers who wobbled into positions wearing T-shirts and shorts.

Sadie Devine, a 17-year-old senior at Lewis Central High School, said she had never tried yoga before going to The Block. But she had always liked art class in school, so she thought it might be fun to check it out. Now Devine does yoga there every week.

Hiffernan said he never thought he’d be a yoga person, either. He started doing it in college as a way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression.

“Yoga changed the trajectory of my life,” Hiffernan said. “I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. It allowed me to get my head straight.”

May, the beer lover from Lincoln, said he feels emotionally better after a yoga class, too.

“It helps me hit my reset button,” he said. “We love staying healthy, and we love our beer. I definitely notice a difference in myself - inside and out.”


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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