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Thursday, March 25,2010

Yoga can be a circus

By Charmaine Ortega Getz

Comfortable clothes? Check.

Yoga mat? Check. Big red clown nose? You betcha.

Welcome to hatha yoga with more than a twist — it’s a pratfall, a silly walk, a goofy stunt, some tumbling and juggling.

“It’s for play,” says the Boulder ringleader, Braddon Hall. “For kids age 7 to 97, we like to say, but especially for adults afraid of regular yoga.”

Yoga as play is something Hall takes seriously. Which seems all the more incongruous in that he’s teaching it in one of the United States’ oldest and most respected Ashtanga studios, the Yoga Workshop founded in Boulder by master teacher Richard Freeman in 1987.

Hall says he’s been practicing hatha yoga for 20 years. About four years ago, he was turned onto this variation called CircusYoga offered at a meditation retreat in Crestone by founders Erin Maile O’Keefe and Kevin O’Keefe.

The O’Keefes met in 1997 and turned their passions for community yoga, communal play and circuses into a distinct variation of hatha yoga that has spun off teachers and classes across the country. Hall is the only teacher of CircusYoga in Colorado.

“It was instant recognition,” he says. “Everybody likes the circus. This is about taking the seriousness, the competitiveness out of so much that’s in yoga classes today. Creating an envelope where everyone can have fun and contribute without asking themselves, ‘Can I touch my toes?’ or thinking, ‘I don’t look good enough in yoga poses.’” Hall teaches children in after school programs and thought yoga circus-style would be an excellent “carrot” to help students of all ages get over their mental blocks.

He’s known Freeman and his wife, cookbook author and Yoga Workshop director Mary Taylor, for years. It was only recently, however, that Hall mentioned CircusYoga to Taylor.

Freeman and Taylor were re-opening the studio under their direct management and have long sought to bring yoga into the community, Hall says. CircusYoga appealed as “a new flavor to attract people.”

Yoga Workshop began offering CircusYoga classes in February, and for the month of March attendance has been free. Drop-ins are welcome, and the number of regular students hovers around 10.

At a recent session, an assortment of adults met with Hall to practice goofy introductions, followed by a trust-building exercise at pretending to be Superman (allowing oneself to be lifted and paraded around in the air), and some Simon Says-like silliness.

Amid the laughter and mugging, there are the traditional yoga poses, the asanas. Even these are done with a difference. Balasana, the Child’s Pose, brings all foreheads down to the mats, which gives Hall the opportunity to glide around, placing a red clown’s nose before each head to be donned. A one-legged standing pose is done while touching in a circle, putting a literal feeling of community in the balance.

A floor pose incorporates what Hall calls the “SpongeBob SquarePants pelvic lift!” The class finishes up with the traditional calm of Savasana, the Corpse Pose, prone on backs as Hall leads with a guided meditation that ends with chimes from his brass singing bowl. Students rise from the floor with smiles and the distinct look of people reluctant to leave a party.

Except for the Corpse Pose, Hall says, CircusYoga classes are free-form and encourage spontaneity. Some sessions might involve acrobatics or juggling. His role is to direct activities as indirectly as possible, eventually getting the students to take the lead, including extending the community outside classroom walls.

“Do people ever get together afterward, you know, for coffee or something?” one student asks Hall.

“Sure, it’s all part of CircusYoga,” he says.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

For more information:

CircusYoga of Boulder www.circusyogaboulder.com/Site/Welcome.html.

Yoga Workshop, 2020 21st St., Boulder, 720-237-1023

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I love Braddon's Circus Yoga class... it brings out the fun, spontaneous child in us all.


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CIRCUS YOGA is an invitation to play. If you need more smiles in your practice come join us at www.CircusYogaBoulder.com


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