It’s a quiet Sunday morning in Yonkers as Ashling Baker Linehan carefully arranges her mat in front of a large set of blue lockers with painted beer growlers on top. Behind her a mounted flat screen television broadcasts the food network, adjacent to the merchandise counter and bar area where water pitchers and glasses have been set up for the nine patrons— five women and four men. A foosball table and barstools have been moved aside to clear floor space for the yogis.
“If anyone needs any props,” Baker Linehan says, setting down two brick-shaped foam blocks in the middle of the group.
“It makes it easier,” says a woman in the front, turning towards the man behind her.
“Why are you looking at the guys?” he jokes in response.
While the class kicks off with playful banter, things get quiet once the stretching begins. Apart from the occasional self-deprecating laugh after a broken pose, the predominant sounds come from baker Linehan’s instructing voice and the background music. Meanwhile, away from the makeshift workout space, the staff at Yonkers Brewing Company quietly begins setting up for Sunday brunch.
On the third Sunday of every month, the local brewery hosts a one-hour yoga class called “Detox and Retox” at 10 A.M., which includes the session and a complimentary beer afterwards for a grand total of $15. The brewery opened in January of 2015, and they began hosting the monthly yoga in May. They’re not alone, however. Other breweries have paired the two and New Yorkers have responded. Gun Hill Brewing Company, located in the Bronx, hosts “Bend and Beer” yoga classes every summer. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford hosts a weekly class on Saturdays called “NAMAST’AY for the Beer!” Perhaps the off brand yoga studios fall under a tweaked Field of Dreams logic: if you brew it they will come.
“This place is a community hub,” says Jackie Rubbo, creative director at Yonkers Brewing Company. “It’s just another way to get people together and share in something different.” Rubbo, who came up with the idea, says it’s a different crowd every week. While it’s often newcomers, she’s noticed people return to the brewery on other days after coming in for yoga. “You’re coming in, you’re sweating with some strangers and then you’re drinking over it,” she said.
While Rubbo hopes the uncommon pairing of beer and fitness helps foster a community atmosphere at the brewery, instructor Baker Linehan appreciates how the combination welcomes a more diverse crowd. “It gives the impression that yoga is accessible for everyone, not just the vegan yogis that are very strict. This is totally mainstream,” she said. “I think it’s a nice tie-in.”
Chris Keogh, a Yonkers resident, had never heard of the combo before, but felt less intimidated to try it out. “When you sign up for yoga, you don’t know who’s going to be there in the class. I think it’s more of a relaxed way of doing it,” he said. Keogh thinks the atmosphere is more conducive to both genders. “It feels like a community thing. That sounds cheesy, but it doesn’t feel like you’re walking into a woman’s workout class.”
Caitlin Koscuiszka, who came from Englewood, agrees. As an experienced yogi, Koscuiszka admits she was worried about the guys at first, but said they did well. “Men tend to be intimidated by yoga, but not when there’s beer involved.”
The beer may help bring more people in, but it can also be a distraction, according to fellow Englewood resident Dan O’Rourke. “I kept looking, like is it 11 yet?” O’Rourke noted that the workout was harder than he expected, despite being at a brewery. In order to foster motivation, he joked that the beers should be lined up on the counter towards the end of the workout. During the session, O’Rourke said he recalled thinking, “I’m gonna hold this position ‘cause I know what’s coming.”
Having a beer after a long workout may not show up in most diet plans, but it gets Baker Linehan’s stamp of approval. “I’m all about healthy living,” she said, “But you have to have balance and there’s nothing wrong with having a drink. So I think it’s great.”
Dave Lopez, one of the co-managing partners at Gun Hill Brewing Company, puts a different spin on it. “Well there’s protein in beer. I like to at least tell myself that after I work out,” he says. Lopez doesn’t participate in the yoga himself, but like Rubbo, he appreciates the effort to connect with the community. When a regular of the brewery approached him with the idea, Lopez was all for it.
Mardeah Gbote frequents Gun Hill with her friend Yvette Quaye, and the two thought hosting a yoga class at the brewery would be a good way for community outreach and networking. Gbote says the unlikely combination helps ease the tension that often comes with making new friends in New York. “People are open to talking after yoga,” she says. “They’re sitting down, ‘Hey I just saw you do a downward facing dog, what’s your name? How’d you find out about this class?’ Then, next thing you know, a couple hours later people have found out more about the other person and they’ve got more things in common than you’d expect.”
Rubbo thinks the strange marriage is what draws interest in the first place. “People look at it a little different than ‘Oh I’m gonna get healthy and then get hammered,’ it’s more of like ‘Let’s do something that’s fun and different and that we can relax and appreciate,’” she said. “It’s a little adventurous.”
So how long will the adventure last?
“I think as long as there’s space, it should continue,” Lopez says. “It seems to me like it’s only picking up steam right now, not slowing down at all.”