MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We're going to switch gears now to talk about a new trend in fitness. Does the thought of running on a treadmill with no end in sight make you want to stay on your couch? Does the idea of another aerobics class with the same tired techno make you want to open a bag of chips and turn on the television? If so, the next big thing might just be a cultural workout, exercise that involves ethnic music and dances that makes fitness a little more fun.
Joining us now is yoga and dance instructor Hemalayaa. She teaches a fitness series inspired by her Indian roots, and Anne Harrison teaches reggae yoga, a brand of yoga - well, I think the name speaks for itself. Welcome, ladies.
HEMALAYAA (Yoga and Dance Instructor): Thank you.
Ms. ANNE HARRISON (Reggae Yoga Teacher): Yeah, thanks.
MARTIN: So Anne, reggae music, I don't know, I generally associate with sort of political activism, kind of getting excited or maybe with relaxation, with a little, maybe, herbal enhancement, as it were...
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Not so much with fitness. How did you come up with this idea? And I must say, you have a very fetching reggae yoga shirt, by the way, which is quite pretty.
Ms. HARRISON: Thank you. That's actually a trademark pending on my reggae yoga. Well, Bob Marley wrote, emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds. And these words are pure yoga. Long before I delved into the study and practice of yoga, those words really touched me. And, yes, reggae is political. But also, it's very spiritual. And for my practice I use the spiritual songs.
MARTIN: What happened? Did you have like an epiphany? You love yoga and you love reggae and you just kind of decided to put them together?
Ms. HARRISON: That's it. That's actually it. The theme is unity. When I go to a reggae concert I see people of different cultural, ethnic and age backgrounds together, united, enjoying themselves, and the theme of yoga is about uniting the body, mind and spirit. So that's how I came up with that. And I really love reggae, and actually, I managed a band in the Washington area for many, many years, a very successful reggae band.
MARTIN: What was the name of the band?
Ms. HARRISON: DKGB.
MARTIN: I bet you I saw them.
Ms. HARRISON: I bet you did, too.
MARTIN: I bet I did.
Ms. HARRISON: You look like you did.
MARTIN: OK. Why, because I have a chilled-out vibe, or what?
Ms. HARRISON: That's it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Is that it? Hemalayaa, some of your workouts are inspired by Bollywood. And actually, we're going to play a short clip from one of your videos here.
(Soundbite of video clip)
HEMALAYAA: It's impossible not to laugh, smile, and exult with joy as you shimmy, hop, shake, bop, pulse, seduce and play Bollywood style. This is a no-dance-background-required kind of groove.
MARTIN: So for those who don't know, what is Bollywood style?
HEMALAYAA: Well, Bollywood is the Indian cinema from Bombay, India, Mumbai. And it's so fun to watch because they're all musicals, and they're very melodramatic. And the song and dance numbers are completely exuberant and make you feel amazing just watching them. And the music, the soundtracks for these films are so amazing. They make your heart sing and you just - you can't help but smile.
And so I got to the point where I was like, oh, my God, that's inspiring for me. I want to get up. I want to move to that. I'm not into choreography but I definitely got - it got me off the couch. I don't like going to the gym. I don't like going to aerobics classes. I'm actually quite uncoordinated. But the music from these movies and the inspiration from these films got me going. So Bollywood is that culture.
And in every emotion you could possibly have, so it's not just excitement and happiness but it's even the expression of anger through the dance and the movement. So I just found, wow, that's great. I can be whatever I want to be and move my body and feel amazing.
MARTIN: You know, you've got another workout entitled, "Dance of the Kama Sutra." Do I have that right? OK. We have another clip from there.
(Soundbite of video clip)
HEMALAYAA: The sacred dance is a series of slow movements that put us in touch with our body and our heart. And we open our hips, our shoulders, our back to release any blocks that inhibit us from embracing ourselves and our sensuality. The eyes are the storytellers of this dance.
MARTIN: Now as I understand it, the Kama Sutra is an ancient Indian text dealing with love and sex, right?
HEMALAYAA: Right. And my focus is love, and it's love for yourself first. People get so caught up in oh, I need to find love, and I need to find a relationship. And if you don't have a relationship and love with yourself then you're not going to be really happy in a relationship with someone else. So this dance movement is definitely very slow and meditative and sensual and loving with yourself.
MARTIN: Can you do this, though - you know, everybody is not - how can I put this? Some people are very private. And is this something you could do for a workout in a group without feeling a bit shy if you are very private?
HEMALAYAA: Well, that's the point of having the DVD so you can do it in your own home. Also, it's not so much about, you know, being sexual with somebody else or doing it for somebody else. You're really doing it for yourself. And it's not really a workout. The Kama Sutra is - it's not like an aerobics kind of cardio workout like the Bollywood DVDs are. The Kama Sutra is more about the meditation. It's more about your breath, and it definitely combines yoga so it allows for your natural - our nature, which is sensual, to be explored and experienced.
MARTIN: How did each of you get involved with dance fitness or yoga or whatever your practice is? Hemalayaa, why don't you start? How did you get involved in dance and yoga and fitness?
HEMALAYAA: In my own living room. I'm a couch potato by nature, and I just could not find anything to get me off the couch. You know, it wasn't even watching the movies. It was playing the music, and playing the music got me off of my butt. And I was actually, at that time, about - you know, five years ago, I was shifting from doing a lot of yoga into finding that yeah, I wanted to get back into it, a little bit more dance expression. You know, I think I got in touch with my inner child, I suppose. And it allowed me to find something fun.
So I just played the music in my living room and started letting go and making up all these moves and feeling so good. So it really started in my own living room, not because I had to look good or, you know, it was more of, oh, my God, I want to find something to move my energy because all these emotions that were stuck in me, you know, I would get depressed sometimes or I would, you know, I can really go into those places. So moving like this in my own living room allowed me to move that energy out of my body. And not to say I walked around going, oh, my God, I'm so happy. Everything's so great. But it allowed me to get to a neutral place, which is, I feel, like pure joy.
MARTIN: Anne, what about you? How did you become involved in yoga practice?
Ms. HARRISON: Well, I was doing some other forms of fitness but what really led me to yoga was the spiritual aspect of it. I've been searching for a long time for something that helps me tap into divine energy. And I went to a few yoga classes, and the more I did it, the more I was able to calm down what they call the monkey chatter of the mind and really focus and go inward. And the more I do it and continue to do it, the more I am able to be calm and have that connection with the divine. And it just so happens that fitness is a wonderful benefit of doing yoga.
MARTIN: A lot of people have perhaps been exposed to yoga as a silent practice or just with the assistance of the instructor. Do some people have trouble adjusting to the reggae vibe?
Ms. HARRISON: Actually, no. Everyone who comes to my class is there because of the reggae. And the reggae has been likened to the heartbeat. And that is really why - that's another reason why I use it, because it helps open the heart of my students.
MARTIN: So finally, a final thought for someone who might be interested in trying a new fitness option, a new workout option but is either stuck in a rut or just says, well, gee, I just don't know if that's for me. What would you say?
Ms. HARRISON: I would tell them that my class is about the journey. It's not about the perfect pose. I'm simply a cruise director, and what you do is your practice. And to be comfortable and know when it's time to push the limit and know when it's time to back off.
MARTIN: Do any purists ever take issue with your combining of these two art forms? I mean, not that I - I don't know, I think - if I think there is what, like a yoga listserver, where people email each other or criticize each other, right? I mean, I don't know that there is anything like that. But some people are very devoted to specific kinds of practices. Had anybody ever said, that's not really right?
Ms. HARRISON: It's interesting you ask that. I do, actually, a very traditional practice. I'm Ashtanga-inspired, which is a flow. And then to heat up the body and then the rest of the practice is holding the poses. And there was a lot of things about my class being written up during Yoga Week. And someone made a remark like that, what is this? Reggae yoga, what could this be? This is blasphemy. And I just said, you know what? It's publicity. So that's OK. I don't mind her saying that.
MARTIN: Tell it to the hand. Tell it to the pose.
Ms. HARRISON: That's right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Anne Harrison is a yoga instructor here in Washington, D.C. She teaches reggae yoga, and she was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington. Hemalayaa is a dance and yoga instructor based in Los Angeles. She joined us from the studios of Canadian Broadcasting in Vancouver. And you can find the links to her workout videos at our Web site. Ladies, yogis, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. HARRISON: Thank you.
HEMALAYAA: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: If you want to learn more about either of these workouts, you can go to our Web site. It's the Tell Me More page at npr.org. And we also want to hear from you. Have you been searching for a workout that speaks to your body and your spirit? Are you currently in an exercise program that incorporates your culture? Let us know what's working for you. You can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. That's 202-842-3522. Or again, go to the Tell Me More page at npr.org where you can work it and blog it out.
And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.