After unrolling our yoga mats beneath massive crystal chandeliers in a space adjacent to the dining room of the Federal bar in downtown Long Beach, we were directed to select two types of locally brewed craft beers from a curated menu. Then, pint glasses in hand we took our places on our mats and waited for class to begin. No sipping, though, before the first asana.
Beer yoga, it’s a thing.
So are wine hikes in Malibu, and an Indian Wells Spa that hosts a slate of alcohol-fueled workouts, including Vino and Vinyasa (that’s wine yoga), Tan (the sanskrit word for stretching) and Tequila and Scotch and Stretching (that’s self-explanatory). Elsewhere, there are brunch runs, IPA 10Ks and even wine marathons (in France).
Sure, folks have been pairing beer with bowling, skiing with schnapps and golfing with G&Ts for generations, but the latest iteration of happy hour fitness feels like the bar has been raised, quite literally, on working out.
“It doesn’t surprise me that these classes are sprouting up,” said J. Leigh Leasure, director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Lab at the University of Houston, who studies the effects of alcohol and exercise (combined and independently) on the brain: A clear number of studies show that people who exercise are also likely to drink, she said. Perhaps because they feel justified that they earned the reward, or “worked off” the calories? In fact, a study by the National Institutes of Health reported that moderate drinkers (defined as those consuming one drink per day) were twice as likely to exercise compared to peers who don’t imbibe, although it’s unclear why.
What is clear? Fitness with an alcohol chaser continues to flourish, attracting the fit, the social, and the curious.
Mixing beer, wine or cocktails with activities such as yoga, running, hiking, Zumba or spin class makes it more Instagram-friendly, of course, but experts say it also helps make the experience less intimidating.
“Yes, 100%,” said Stephanie Serrano, the yoga instructor leading the monthly beer yoga class at the Federal bar. “Offering yoga in unique format styles brings in a different audience that might not have tried yoga in the first place. Hopefully, by doing that, they’ll learn something new about yoga ... and it helps to clear your mind and build community.”
That sense of community is critical, wellness experts says, especially when some believe a sense of loneliness has reached epidemic levels in our society: A 2018 survey by Cigna and Ipsos reported that nearly half of Americans (46%) “always” or “sometimes” feel lonely, and 47% percent report feeling left out.
Unlike most beer yoga classes, though, Serrano incorporated beer tasting during the workout, not after. “I designed the class around the idea of balance,” said Serrano, particularly the quest for work-life balance. “So I thought about poses that we could do that also would make it easy for us to grab the drink and hold it at the same time.” The metaphor was not lost on us students, and the added degree of difficulty was real.
First-time yogi Matt Giangiordano’s review of the class: “There are definitely easier ways to get beer.”
In the “Vino and Vinyasa” and “Scotch and Stretching” sessions offered at the Agua Serena Spa in Indian Wells, mindfulness versus millennial multitasking is the priority. Spa fitness instructor Honri Marcel said, “They come in with the idea that they’re going to do a pose and then sip on some wine, but it’s really not that way.”
The workout is legit.
“I’m using yoga and stretching to get clients into a more calm state of mind, stimulate blood flow and come into a more present sense of being,” said Marcel. “Besides reducing and releasing stress and anxiety, [the practice] also enhances the sense of taste.”
Participants sample and learn about two whites and two reds during the 90-minute lesson before ending with a glass of bubbly.
“After they’ve done the champagne toast they’re usually kind of giggly,” said Marcel who noted that clients have been known to stay and socialize long after the mats have been rolled up and put away.
In Serrano’s beer yoga class at the Federal Bar, participants clinked glasses and happily “cheers-ed” with their neighbors. “I wanted the class to also be a space where you could possibly meet someone you may not have met if you were just hanging out at the bar having a drink,” said Serrano. “Now, you’re doing a yoga class all together, working on yourselves within a group setting and also having a good time and sharing a drink.”
Along the same lines, Nandini Von Herzen and husband, Doug Von Herzen, chose the two-mile easy-to-moderate Malibu Wine Hike excursion with wine tasting and exotic animal viewing to celebrate their wedding anniversary, but the avid hiker and fitness enthusiast said she was thinking of returning with her colleagues.
“It’s a nice getaway from work and a great way to socialize,” said Von Herzen, “it’s a unique experience.”
Emphasis on “unique.” Boozy fitness may foster a sense of experimentation and camaraderie, but it probably shouldn’t replace your regularly scheduled runs, walks and exercise classes as a serious workout program.
“There is a lot of evidence that indicates exercise is good for you and alcohol is not good,” said Leasure. “I don’t think there’s any health benefit to combining beer and yoga or scotch and stretching or any of that ... but if you’re doing it to be social and you’re having one drink, I really hesitate to say you are hurting yourself.”