It could be just another yoga class, if not for a few key differences:
1) It’s free, and it’s tough to find a weekly yoga class that doesn’t cost anything, ever, with no strings attached.
2) Because it’s free, it’s massively popular. One-hundred sixty-nine participants demonstrated their best downward facing dogs and warriors I and II on a recent Tuesday evening, just a couple of weeks after an all-time high 207 people laid down mats in the same spot.
3) And because it’s massively popular, it transforms the gravel space adjacent to the beer garden at the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery into a sea of yoga pants for an hour, with mats arranged bumper to bumper just a few dozen feet from where gallons of grog are concocted.
That’s Yoga on Tap in a nutshell. Yes, it takes place at a brewery, so yes, it’s not uncommon to see a few yogis sipping pints while they’re warming up, or to see bunches of them stick around afterward to – ahem – replenish fluids they lost through sweat.
This clearly isn’t what the Buddhists had in mind when they started using the practice to move themselves toward enlightenment and Nirvana centuries ago. But despite the novel setting, there’s no question this is a serious class.
“It’s a lot more peaceful than you’d think for being at a bar,” said Stephen Meinhold, 30, of Charlotte, after taking a September class. “You’d think, ‘It’s yoga at a brewery, it must just be a big social thing.’ But the times I’ve been here, they’ve had legit yoga teachers. I definitely feel like it’s a pretty good taste of yoga. A lot of people I’ve seen (participating) are really good.”
Next month, Yoga on Tap turns 1 year old, having been relocated twice: first from its original home at Midtown Park (where inclement weather sometimes interfered) to Olde Mecklenburg’s former location on Southside Drive, then to the brewery’s new property on Yancey Road late this summer.
Lululemon athletica Southpark is the mostly silent sponsor of the event; the company’s logo is at the top of the waivers newcomers are required to sign, but it doesn’t promote the event outside of grassroots channels. Interest has grown solely via word of mouth.
The yoga-focused athletic apparel company was interested in introducing more men to the female-dominated discipline and thought a brewery might do the trick, said Mary Catherine Dolphens, “community key leader” for lululemon athletica Southpark. The strategy has worked: Of the 169 yogis who attended on Sept. 16, she said, a record-setting 50 were male.
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, meanwhile, was interested in introducing more women to its beer.
“Before this started, our clientele was made up of a lot of males coming in after work,” said Laura Fogleman, events manager for the brewery. “Then all of a sudden we had over 100 active women here every week. ... I think it’s impacted us on every other day of the week, too, because our clientele has changed a lot.”
Lululemon’s is not a one-of-a-kind concept: At least a few other local breweries invite yogis to practice on their grounds.
But Yoga on Tap draws by far the biggest crowd, in part because Olde Mecklenburg Brewery now sits on 8.5 acres dotted with mature trees, providing plenty of space but also a natural setting (although the action moves inside to a private-event area if the weather is uncooperative). In addition, the event thrives on variety. Whereas other breweries use the same instructor week after week, lululemon has recruited teachers from studios and practices all over the Charlotte area. Yoga on Tap went 42 weeks before using the same one a second time.
Instruction is not remedial, but it’s made as accessible to beginners as possible.
“When we talk to first-timers, they say they’re intimidated to go into a studio and try it, but that this just seems like a really safe space,” said lululemon educator Liza Morgan. “There are no mirrors, it’s an all-levels class, so anybody is welcome to come and try their own thing. Each teacher is prepped on that and knows to really teach to all levels.”
Jen Husvar and Jennifer Spitzer started driving up from Lake Wylie to join the class this summer, and sat at a picnic table in the beer garden after a recent workout, sipping pints of Mecktoberfest, an amber, and Captain Jack, a pilsner.
Husvar, 41, was matter-of-fact in her opinion of a brewery as a place to practice yoga. “I think it’s (expletive) awesome,” she said, laughing, before adding: “You can bleep that. But seriously – after yoga, a beer, a bourbon or a margarita is fantastic in my book.”
She hadn’t yet tried drinking a beer during class, but it’s on her bucket list. “I saw it tonight for the first time, and I am so doing it. Forget the water bottle.”
Spitzer laughed, then warned her friend: “If you spill your beer, you might lose your serenity ...”