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Yoga's Brewing in the Bronx!

Opening my heart and a bottle of Stout; enjoying a flight in warrior three followed by a flight of craft beer -- these are a few of my favorite things. I heard that I could enjoy all of them in the same place in the Bronx, a part of New York that had been seriously down dog-deficient in the past.

Beer and Bend is a weekly Saturday morning yoga class that takes place right inside the Gun Hill Brewery at 3227 Laconia Avenue, organized by Mardeah Gbotoe and Yvette Quaye Akua.

I (and a full house of eager yogis) took a vigorous donation-based class led by Victor Chaves, just a few feet away from the bar. Nice to be able to work on your updog and check the b-ball scores at the same time. Victor (aka Jai Warrior) took us through a great, strong sequence, and yet was generous and thoughtful with the adjustments. He helped me really open up in my camel pose, lifted me higher than ever in my bow, and helped finally straighten my stubborn leg in triangle. The stone floor was a little chilly when we started out, but we were plenty warm after class and ready for a pint!

“ I found out about the brewery through an ad in the AM New York paper,” explained Mardeah, a dynamic poet, actress and not-for-profit organizer, after class. "The co-owner, Kieran Farrell, was hoping to get the word out about the brewery. During one of our conversations, he explained how being an entrepreneur is fulfilling and rewarding, but it can be stressful. 'Maybe I should do yoga,' he said jokingly. But I thought that was a great idea! And I pitched it to him." He liked it, clearly.

The classes are held every Saturday at 11 am, before the brewery opens. "We engage in the art of yoga for an hour, then we get to know each other after the class and experience the art of craft beer," says Mardeah.

After trying out a few teachers, Mardeah and her partner settled on Victor for the yoga, because he had a philosophy and style that seemed to jive perfectly with theirs.

"Beer and yoga may not seem connected, but they actually are," suggests Mardeah. "The word 'yoga' means to 'unite' or 'come together and make whole'. It's hard to make friends as adults in New York, so a platform like Meetup is a saving grace. I figured yoga is a great way to feel strong yet centered in a tough city like New York. Heal your body, quench your thirst, and afterwards make some friends. The beer operates as a perfect medium to get acquainted with someone."

"I'm trying to get people back to their natural state," explains Victor. "To show people that yoga has the ability to heal the body. It starts with the mind, and by practicing you quiet the mind. And that allows you to go inside, meditate, and connect to the true source. Because all of us have a piece of that divinity. And I'm here as a construction worker. I'm going to rebuild your body. And I'm going to go inside to start the involution that will lead to evolution. And getting the mind to change, the way you live to change. And the practice is just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger part is below."

Victor, who has over 12 years' teaching experience, could clearly teach anywhere, but he is devoting himself to bringing the gift of yoga to places where classes are hard to find. "I could get paid to teach classes in Manhattan and that would be ok," he says. "But this is not about the money. This is about giving yoga to people who don't have access to it. Because the people who practice yoga in the Bronx, what are they doing? They're getting on the subway. They have to go somewhere else. So I want people to know I'm right here...I'm just trying to bring something to the people that need it."

--Jim Catapano

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