Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a form of meditation, set to the song of wispy woodwinds, on the top of a grassy knoll. It is not about reaching enlightenment while standing on one leg, or being able to fold one’s body into the shape of a pretzel. Not exactly.
Beyond these stereotypes lurks the true nature of yoga—the intense energy, the fusion of mind and body, the journey of concentration, relaxation and individual reward.
One Harvard student may have captured the essence of this sacred discipline—through heavy bass beats and hip-hop rhymes.
Matt A.B. Siegler '05 calls it rap yoga. Instead of the soft rhythms—or even silence—that accompanies conventional yoga, rap yoga is set to everything from Nas to Bob Marley. After four years of practicing his tree pose at a studio in Los Angeles, Siegler recently brought rap yoga to Dunster House. What began as a request from roommates and friends for an introduction to yoga has expanded into a regular class.
The strenuous hour-and-a-half routine is offered in two separate sessions each week, one for beginners and another for more advanced students. Ilyana M. Kuziemko, Dunster House Resident Tutor and rap yoga devotee, praises the activity as “a great way to learn and have fun, even if you don’t have a lot of experience.”
In addition, Siegler lauds the stress-releasing effects of a rap yoga session.
“Often people will come in flustered and frazzled, but by the end of the class they have this serene look on their faces," he says. "It’s really neat to see the transition.”
That is not to say, however, that the workout is a breeze. In fact, it is largely the opposite.
The routines demand strength and flexibility, precision without tension. Siegler demonstrates each move, but emphasizes that there is no pressure to attempt positions that are too challenging or uncomfortable. The environment is nurturing and low-key, making the physical challenge more bearable.
The energetic music serves a similar purpose: listening to David Bowie and Queen sing “Under pressure” while maintaining a particularly challenging position provides, if not an alleviation of the pain, then at the least a very good distraction from it.
“That’s why yoga is so unique —because it’s strenuous and relaxing at the same time. It frees you up a bit,” says Siegler.
For those who subscribe to the philosophy that exercise should be fun, rap yoga provides the perfect balance of physical challenge and entertainment. Put simply, “It’s a way to get a little bit enlightened, and have a great time while doing it,” says Siegler.
As the Dunster House squash court resounds with the lyrics of “You can’t always get what you want” and the members of rap yoga transition seamlessly from intense stretching to peaceful stillness, it appears that perhaps this time, the Rolling Stones had it wrong: sometimes, what you want is exactly what you get.