“If a headstand is in your practice, take it here, said Mikki Trowbridge, creator of the Yoga + Beer retreat in Bend, Oregon. “Unless you’ve had too many beers today.” The room erupted in giggles.
Quiet quickly returned as the group of yogis began to refocus. I was still pondering beer and balance.
The Yoga + Beer Retreat is anything but ordinary – this 5-day beercation incorporates Trowbridge’s two loves, craft beer and yoga.
If the term “yoga retreat” makes you think of vegan bowls, green juice and quiet meditation, think again. Trowbridge says she originally started her Yoga + Beer classes in hopes to create a fun and approachable yoga experience. It didn’t take long for more and more students to express interest, and Trowbridge took that cue to create a 5-day retreat in one of the world’s craft-brewing Meccas. With 30 different breweries in Bend, it has one of America’s highest concentrations of breweries per capita.
“I started to consider, if I was going to bring people to Oregon for a long weekend, what activities would I want to include?” Trowbridge said. “Yoga and drinking delicious, local craft beer, naturally – but also hiking, paddleboarding, spending time near a lake or river, eating delicious local food, then of course being in a fun city in which to relax and have free time. Bend very naturally fulfilled all these criteria.”
A decade ago, the idea of combining yoga – considered a spiritual practice by many practitioners – with alcohol with would have been unthinkable, almost sacrilege. But in the last few years, yoga instructors have started holding classes at breweries, tasting rooms and beer stores all over the United States.
The New York Times credits Beth Cosi of Bendy Brewski in Charleston, South Carolina with hosting some of the first brewery yoga classes back in 2011. Fast forward to 2017, and a quick google search will reveal just over 19 million results. From cities like Los Angeles and New York to small towns like Bloomington, Indiana and Athens, Georgia, classes combining beer and yoga can be found around the country. There’s even a “Beer and yoga how-to guide” that teaches the business of beer yoga classes complete with a brewery pitch template.
Photo courtesy of Emily Hines
Yoga can be a great practice for anyone, but letting out a collective “om” or returning your hands to heart center when your instructor says something like, “the light in me bows down to the light inside of you” can be intimidating for beginners who love the practice in movement and breathing, but not necessarily the aspect of taking themselves too seriously. The solution? Make yoga more fun and approachable. Beer also makes yoga more social.
Thirsty people have sought out the company of strangers/soon to be friends in neighborhood pubs and beer halls for a few hundred years, so why not make a new drinking buddy at yoga class? After all, yoga in sanskrit literally translates to “union.”
As Melissa Klimo-Major of Balance and Brews in Ohio says, “Our goal is to bring accessible social yoga experiences to your favorite local spaces. We pair yoga with post-practice brews, creating a space for those seeking to connect to themselves and others.” She and Trowbridge team up each year as The Beer Yogis for a yoga and beer tour in different regions around the United States.
What it's really like
Photo courtesy of Emily Hines
Though this coupling of yoga and beer is beloved by participants, it isn’t without the occasional criticism. Cosi of Bendy Brewski says, “I’ve gotten plenty of negative feedback, nasty remarks and eye-rolls, but I don’t take it personally. It usually comes from people who don’t even do yoga or people who consider yoga as religion and apply “rules” or attach dogma to the yoga practice.”
Trowbridge has a similar philosophy for the naysayers. “If something is bringing someone to yoga, and more importantly helping them to find something that enhances their life,” then she’s done her job. “I have people tell me all the time that they would have never tried yoga if it weren't for Yoga + Beer, and the yoga practice has changed their life. That's all I need to know.”
As a seasoned, but amateur yogi, I traveled across the country to immerse myself in five days of yoga and beer in Bend with complete strangers just to see what it’d be like. Yoga isn’t about competition, but I was nervous about not having a stable headstand and keeping up with others. However, the promise of a pint after class did ease my mind.
But our group of 22 beer yogis wasn’t what I expected at all. There was no competition amongst each other, and no judgement or drama; everyone was just happy to be there. Sweating in the blazing sun while holding plank pose was certainly a bonding experience, but sharing beers together after class created a sense of community beyond yoga. We swapped stories about everything from dream jobs to go-to beer styles while playing intense games of Dutch Blitz and sharing photos of our loved ones at home. Most of us had never met before, but by the end of it, we were tasting each other's beers and trading Instagram handles.
Over the course of five days we tried stand up paddle yoga, vinyasa flow, restorative classes, and an inversion workshop with plenty of porters, sours, and IPAs in between. Participants could treat it as a serious yoga workshop or just enjoy the experience and drink some really delicious beer. “I can't imagine a better way to be introduced to yoga than in a brewery,” Trowbridge says. And after my yoga and beer immersion in Bend, Oregon, I can’t either.