MICHEL MARTIN, host:
And now just in time for your holiday meal hangover, we're bringing back a story about slimming down while broadening your cultural horizons. Cultural workouts are a way to make fitness more fun by mixing exercise with ethnic music and dance. Back in October, Tell Me More talked with a pair of cultural workout specialists. Yoga and dance instructor Hemalayaa teaches a fitness series inspired by her Indian roots. And Anne Harrison teaches Reggae yoga here in Washington D.C. Anne told me that the spirit of Reggae is actually a perfect fit for yoga.
Ms. ANNE HARRISON (Reggae Yoga Instructor): Well, Bob Marley wrote, emancipate yourself 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?
Mr. 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. Because - why, I have a chilled out vibe or what?
Ms. HARRISON: That's it.
MARTIN: Is that it?
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: 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 it is.
(Soundbite of a Hemalayaa Video)
Ms. 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?
Ms. 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 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 was - 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 Kamasutra." Do I have that right?
Ms. HEMALAYAA: Mm hm.
MARTIN: OK, we have another clip from there.
(Soundbite of video "Dance of the Kamasutra")
Ms. HEMALAYAA: The sacred dance is a series of slow movements that put us in touch with our body and our heart. 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 Kamasutra is an ancient Indian text dealing with love and sex, right?
Ms. 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 in 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. You know that is...
MARTIN: Can you do this so - everybody is not - how can I put this? Some things are - 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?
Ms. 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 Kamasutra is - it's not like an aerobics kind of cardio workout like the Bollywood DVDs are. The Kamasutra 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?
Ms. HEMALAYAA: In my own living room.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. HEMALAYAA: I am a couch potato by nature, and I just could not find anything to get me off the couch. And, 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, you know, I wanted to get back into 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 walk around going, oh, my God. I'm so happy. Everything is 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'd 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, 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 but I think there was like a yoga listserv, people email each other to criticize each other. I mean, I don't that there is anything like that, but some people are very devoted to specific kinds of practice. Has anybody ever said, that's not really right?
Ms. HARRISON: It's interesting you asked 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, huh?
Ms. HARRISON: Mm hm.
MARTIN: 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 links to her workout videos at our website. Ladies, yogis, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. HEMALAYAA: Thank you.
Ms. HARRISON: Thank you.
MARTIN: And to see a video of our guests working out with some brave members of the Tell Me More team- hint, I wasn't one of them - please go to our website, the Tell Me More page at npr.org.