Sure, you might know your Chaturanga from your Ardha Chandrasana, but can you execute them while balanced on a slackline or suspended from silks? While bending one’s self into seemingly unnatural poses may feel like an adventure in and of itself, the practice of yoga—which dates back more than 5,000 years to ancient India—is constantly evolving.
Not simply for those looking to find their Zen through a mat-based flow, thrill seekers and out-of-the-box thinkers can get their yoga on in any number of ways, each producing unique personal benefits. Whether you feel more at ease in a farm-like setting where goats roam—yep, goats—or want to engage in some exhilarating primal movements, there’s a yoga class to fit your every need and comfort level.
AcroYoga is the stuff of Instagram dreams, where the hashtag #AcroYoga reveals pics of skilled students showing off their moves against scenic backdrops. This partner-based practice combines beautiful yoga poses and acrobatic lifts, with one member of the duo acting as “the base” and the other as “the flyer.”
Enthusiasts insist it both tones and loosens muscles, opening up the body without a great deal of strain. It’s also considered to be mentally and emotionally therapeutic, since the act of working as a team (versus solo, like most yoga practices) to achieve high-flying poses instills a sense of partnership and human connection.
2. Slackline Yoga
Not for the faint of heart, Slackline Yoga takes even the most accomplished yogis out of their comfort zone by practicing poses—you guessed it—on a slackline (a thin strip of webbing). Hello, Cirque Du Soleil! Students typically start low to the ground on a relatively short line to get a feel for the often shaky elements of this extreme endeavor.
Heather Larsen, a professional slacker, adopted her yoga practice after being inspired by some impressive yogis she saw on social media.
“Practicing on an unstable surface really challenges you in a new way,” she says. “Imagine doing eagle pose, but the ground is moving….that is not an easy task! It, in a sense, is a moving meditation.”
And, because you risk falling if you err, you will have to breathe, be in the moment and stay calm, she explains. And obviously there are physical benefits: “You can’t cheat in slacklining, so your core is extremely engaged basically the entire time you are on the line.”
3. SUP Yoga
Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga moves your asana practice onto the water, with an eight- to 14-ft long paddleboard serving as your “mat.” “Some of the most influential Yoga teachers of our generation have encouraged practitioners to practice near water,” says Kaycie Metzelaars, a certified yoga instructor otherwise known as The Chakra Lady. A river, lake, or shore are suitable.
For SUP newcomers, Metzelaars strongly encourages students to simply have fun with it. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” she says. “You might wobble, you might fall in the water, and that’s OK! You don’t have to be ‘good’ at it to benefit from the experience.”
4. Aerial Yoga
Gravity may not feel like our friend as we age, but Aerial Yoga uses the force to our advantage. Fusing classical yoga with a Cirque du Soleil vibe, circus fabrics are used to help support the body while doing familiar poses in the air.
In essence, the pull of gravity encourages the body to realign in a gentle way, which is particularly beneficial for students who suffer from back pain. Inversion poses (upside down, that is) that may have previously felt impossible for some students are suddenly within reach, adding the benefit of confidence to one’s practice.
5. Goat Yoga
Animal-assisted therapy isn’t a trend but a lifestyle. And with the advent of businesses like cat cafes, it’s only getting more popular. According to a 2012 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, pets and human-animal interactions boast a bevy of health benefits for humans. “The presence of friendly animals, both familiar and unfamiliar, can effectively reduce heart rate and blood pressure or buffer increases in these parameters in anticipation of a stressor,” assert the study authors from the Department of Special Education at the University of Rostock in Germany.
Enter Goat Yoga, the practice of doing yoga among, you guessed it, a bunch of roaming goats. While fun and playful, it’s not entirely practical. As goats are natural-born climbers, they may try to take your Mountain Pose literally, or choose to take a rest on your mat. Still, YouTube videos of animal-loving yogis practicing Downward Dog while getting attention from a goat is enough to put a smile on your face and there’s certainly a positive benefit in that.
6. Laughter Yoga
An old adage does claim laughter is the best medicine, and Laughter Yoga takes the message to heart. “Laughter in combination with gentle yoga is a transformative practice no matter your age, yoga experience, or physical limitation,” says Darrin Zeer, author of Office Yoga, who teaches the practice in both corporate meetings and at resorts. “Your body doesn’t recognize the difference between real and fake laughter—endorphins are released either way.”
Incorporating choreographed belly laughs or giggles might feel, well, silly, but the potential benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced stress, according to Medical Hypothesis.
According to Zeer, his students feel “freed up” after a laughter session. “They state it loosens up their inhibitions and drastically relieves stress,” he says. “Like a euphoric sensation throughout the body and mind as if you had a glass of champagne.”
7. BUTI Yoga
Boasting a tagline that reads, “Sweat with intention,” BUTI Yoga pairs vinyasa yoga with primal movements, tribal dance, and plyometrics. Derived from an Indian term, Buti means “the cure to something that’s been hidden away or kept secret.”
The premise of the class, and what keeps students coming back for more, is harnessing your internal power to overcome fear or self-esteem issues. Powering through the challenging workout in a group setting allows both women and men to feed off one another’s energy, unleashing animal-like movements that may initially feel awkward, but become instinctual as one’s practice progresses.