When there’s background music at a yoga class in Chicago, it’s usually a Ravi Shankar raga, hotel-lobby-style acid jazz, or New Age crap from Windham Hill Records. But Sara Strother, an instructor at Bucktown yoga studio Yogaview, does things a little differently. For “Living Loving Yoga,” a class that was held on Thursday, May 5, she set her instruction to the music of Led Zeppelin, giving students an opportunity to rock out while doing asanas (poses and stretches).
The session was the fourth in a series of Yogaview classes set to a classic-rock soundtrack. Strother, who’s been a certified yoga teacher since 2004, got the idea last summer when friends came to town for the Grateful Dead‘s reunion gigs at Soldier Field—she put on a yoga jam session as a preparty. Since then she’s taught classes with the Beatles and Pink Floyd as the soundtracks.
When I arrived, Strother acknowledged that listening to Led Zeppelin’s testosterone-fueled arena rock would likely change the tone of our yoga practice. “My regular teaching style is very honed in on details and alignment,” she said. “But when you do the physical practice to music, you get into more of a sensory space where the practice becomes more about how you’re feeling in your body, just as if you were dancing. . . . Really, this whole thing is an experiment.”
As the sun descended, we headed into the spacious studio: there was an altar with a small Buddha statue; some burning incense and candles; and a nice view of the downtown skyline. Strother plugged her smartphone into the sound system and put on Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole.”
She began the class by telling a story about a drunken karaoke party she attended in a Japanese trailer park during her two-year stint in the country teaching yoga. After her companions sang their hearts out to J-pop tunes, she did her best impression of singer Robert Plant’s cock-rock swagger while belting out Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” “The others went from being red in the face to looking like they’d just seen a ghost,” she recalled.
Accordingly, Strother encouraged us not to be shy about getting into the music while going through the evening’s poses. “If you need to headbang, play air guitar, or impersonate Robert Plant, this is a safe space to do that,” she joked.
Next she told us to sit cross-legged while she played chords on her harmonium, which was imported from India; she had us chant “ohm” three times. When Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones’s ominous, watery keyboards started off “No Quarter,” Strother put us through a long cycle of sun salutations.
From a standing position, we let our bodies “fold forward,” with arms and head hanging loose toward our toes, then stretched our hands up toward the ceiling, dropped down into a push-up position, bent our torsos up into “cobra” pose, and then planted our palms and stuck our butts in the air for “downward-facing dog.” When John “Bonzo” Bonham’s booming drums kicked in on the chorus, it made the workout seem that much more intense.
As the class continued, Strothers announced the poses at a faster pace than at most yoga classes I’ve attended, which was challenging for a rusty yogi like myself. Soon my forearms and quads were begging for mercy. But I was distracted from the pain by rockin’ tunes like “Good Times Bad Times,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do.” There were dozens of students laboring in the well-heated room, which soon had the hot, sweaty atmosphere of a nightclub.
Predictably, the ultimate Zep track for yoga was “Kashmir.” The song’s trudging rhythm synched perfectly with our vinyasas, which are breath-based movements. On the other hand, the percolating bass and drums on the chorus of “Ramble On” set heads bobbing and toes wiggling. The lyrics include a laughable, Lord of the Rings reference (“‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor / I met a girl so fair / But Gollum, and the Evil One crept up / And slipped away with her”).
Finally it was time for the cool-down period called shavasana or “corpse pose.” The lights were dimmed and we lay on our backs with eyes closed and palms up. “It’s kind of atypical to listen to music during shavasana, but this is not your typical yoga class,” Strother said. In keeping with the yogic theme of gratitude, the 1969 ballad “Thank You” came on. During the verses, Jones’s church organ perfectly fit the contemplative mood of the pose. But as Bonzo’s bombastic percussion roll kicked in, I couldn’t help but air drum.
Yogaview, 2211 N. Elston, 773-342-9642, yogaview.com.