In western countries, yoga has come to be associated with a lot of alternative-type drinks – green tea, wheatgrass shots, kombucha, acai smoothies – and probably a bunch of other brightly coloured beverages. But what does it look like when yoga gets paired with the drink of the people? And what if it goes further than just having a beer after a yoga class... what if the beer is part of the yoga practice itself?
It’s hard to know exactly where beer yoga started. Some say it started at the Burning Man festival in the US, while others claim it started in Berlin. Since Germans seem to have beer in the blood, it seems more likely that the latter is the true origin story. So it’s no surprise that the first place in Australia to offer beer yoga classes was a vaguely German-themed bar.
On a quiet connecting road in Woolloongabba in Brisbane lies the Brat Cave, an unassuming bar with concrete floors, strings of fairy lights and a full length, technicoloured mural declaring: "NO MORE WALLS - NO MORE WARS!"
The Brat Cave is owned by BratHaus, the German hotdog company, and when the owners heard that beer halls and breweries in Berlin were running beer yoga (it’s called bier yoga over there), they decided it needed to happen in Brisbane. And so they put out the feelers for someone to teach the class and found Sammy Ball: a yoga instructor with a broader fitness background and a love of beer (current favourites include Ballistic Beer’s Twang Tropical Sour and Green Beacon’s 7 Bells Passionfruit Gose).
“When I first answered the ad, I thought they were going to do yoga then have beer afterwards,” Sammy says. “I’d never heard of combining the two together.
“They sent me some YouTube clips of one of the original beer yogas over in Germany. Of course, it’s all in German, so I couldn’t actually understand what the instructor was saying,” she says, laughing. “But I got the idea… I looked at what kind of poses we could do with a beer in our hand, and sip while we were doing it.”
So what does a beer yoga class actually look like?
The ticket cost includes a beer, so everyone mills around before class selecting their drink of choice – any of the cans or bottles of local beer in the fridge. Each person then sits cross-legged on their mat and, when it’s time to begin, Sammy calls everyone to take their beer into their hands.
She leads the class (which at this point looks like big kids listening to story time) in a mindfulness exercise, slowly engaging each of the senses and focusing them on the beer:
Bring your gaze to the bottle or can. Feel the coolness of the condensation; maybe you can even feel the label under your fingers, or the ridges on the bottom. Bring the beer to your ear, and have a listen. You might hear the carbonation bubbling away, or perhaps just a hollow sound, like a seashell.
Bringing the beer to your nose… inhale. You might smell the hops… perhaps some passionfruit, or mango, depending on what beer you’ve picked. Fully enjoy the smell of the beer we’re about to drink. And finally, bring it over to your lips… and have a sip, letting it rest on the tongue for just a moment, before feeling it trickle down the throat. Notice how the taste changes from the front of the tongue to the back… and it’s always a good idea to take a second sip, just to make sure you got all that.
After this, there’s a series of gentle stretches from a seated position, structured around deep breathing and interspersed with slow sips. From here, the class progresses through stretches and poses that address different parts of the body, and focus on various combinations of strength, flexibility, and balance.
The class is always user-friendly, designed for beginners but with options of more difficult poses for those with yoga experience. There are plenty of pauses and rest breaks built in, and an easy-going, just-do-what-feels-right-for-you attitude.
Over the course of the hour, the class works through a number of traditional yoga poses, with a few less traditional, fitness-y moves thrown in. And, of course, many of them involve having a sneaky sip.
There’s the simple seated position, where focusing on breathing is paramount:
Reach forward and scoop up your beer. Now inhale deeply as you lift it above your head. Now exhale as you bring it down to heart centre… and take a sip.
There’s the Warrior 2 pose, which slightly resembles the Surfin’ USA dance, albeit with more strain on the quad muscles:
Keep your left knee at a 90 degree angle, your right leg behind you. Look forward over your left arm, keeping your gaze on the beer. Now transition to Reverse Warrior, taking a sip as you send your arm over your head…
Then there are slightly more challenging poses, such as Dancer. Balanced on one leg, with the other foot held in your hand behind you; your free arm is stretched out in front of you, beer in hand. From here, you can take a sip of liquid balance, and even clink bottles with the person next to you.
Not every pose involves the beer; for some moves, it’s in your hand the entire time; for some, it’s only involved in part of the move; for others, it’s sitting on the ground, waiting to offer you a well-deserved reward after the pose.
The class ends with a five to ten minute relaxation pose called Shavasana, which literally means "corpse pose" (gross). It involves lying on your back with your eyes closed, loosening all your muscles, and then intentionally clearing all thoughts from your mind. Difficult for some people, but beneficial for anyone in our multi-tasking, get-it-done-ASAP world, where you’re expected to be busy and stressed to show you’re working hard enough.
It’s exactly this relaxation that has Sammy convinced beer yoga is more than just some novelty. Bringing beer and yoga together is a genuinely beneficial practice in slowing down.
“When I have a beer after a long day, it’s to relax, and chill, and to get into a better headspace,” Sammy says. “And that’s exactly what yoga gives me as well. Combining the two… I think it’s a match made in heaven.
“You go to a normal yoga class, and you do your Shavasana at the end, and you’re chilled out… but adding the beer gives you that little extra release, that let-go, the not having to think so much.
“It’s a whole new level of relaxation. It helps that yoga-stoned feeling at the end of the class, where you’re finished and you come up from Shavasana, and you feel so relaxed that you don’t even wanna move off your mat.”
While there’s an overall atmosphere of calmness in each class, there isn’t that sombre bubble you’re afraid you’ll burst if some beer goes down the wrong way and you splutter and cough (we’ve all done it). Sammy keeps the class light with helpful suggestions, like: “Lean forwards, bringing your head as close to the ground as possible… and try not to brain yourself on your beer bottle” and “Reach your arm as high as it goes… but try not to spill your beer on your face”.
People laugh, fall over, and occasionally groan loudly during a particularly strenuous pose. There’s an unspoken sense of, "Whoever you are, however experienced or inexperienced you are with this… you’re okay. You’re welcome here." It’s an ease and inclusiveness that mirrors the attitude fostered in the wider craft beer community. In the same way that craft beer lovers are always trying to share their passion with others, Sammy’s always enthusiastic about bringing new people into the flow with beer yoga.
“I love sharing yoga with people who wouldn’t try it without… a little something extra,” she says with a glint in her eye. “A little incentive. I think it’s helping some people who really need it.”
However, like everything, beer yoga has picked up its fair share of haters, but Sammy remains unfazed.
“I’ve seen nasty comments. I think some of the yoga purists think it’s an excuse to do some yoga and drink a lot of beer and get drunk and that kind of thing, and that’s not what we’re pushing. They don’t realise that, specifically in my classes, I try to push the mindfulness aspect, and we have one beer during the class, and we drink it mindfully.”
Despite a few critical voices grumbling in the ether, beer yoga is spreading. Sammy’s been running her class at the Brat Cave on Monday nights for over two years now, attracting media attention (spot the Crafty Pint writer in these two videos) and converting beer drinkers to yoga.
Just this year she’s started teaching weekly at Ballistic Beer in Salisbury and at Brendale Brewing Company. A few other Brisbane venues have run beer yoga classes too, as have a couple in Sydney and Melbourne, and even a fitness centre in Mackay. A number of breweries have run regular yoga classes with a beer afterwards. But none of these has been as consistent as Sammy at the Brat Cave.
“I’ve seen places around Australia do it once or twice, but not full-time, weekly classes,” Sammy says. “I used to dread Mondays, and I used to get Mondayitis something chronic… but just knowing that I get to teach and share my practice of beer yoga with people has made me look forward to Mondays like I haven’t in a very long time.”
While many people feel yoga isn’t for them (including many men, for some reason… is there something so unmanly about stretching muscles, building strength and learning to relax?), Sammy – along with most people who try beer yoga – is keen to invite people to have a go.
“I love doing and teaching beer yoga so much, that I would love everyone to give it a try, at least once, just to see how they feel about it.”
So what are you waiting for? If it’s your first time doing yoga, you can expect a few things.
Expect to fall over. Expect to have fun. Expect to wake up in a bit of pain the next morning. Expect looking forward to doing it all again next week.
Sounds a little like some of our other experiences with beer, no?
* I have no idea if this move is called The Downward Glug, but if anyone would like to take the name I'm happy to donate it for the greater good – Editor.