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Flexing, stretching and sipping in Petaluma

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“It’s 10:30, so let’s get started,” says Hannah Yurth, yoga instructor, addressing a group of nine casually-attired class members inside the top secret “Yoga Den,” a large, funkily-furnished side-room at Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. It’s the morning before New Year’s Day, and this is another in Yurth’s weekly Downyard Dog Yoga Sunday series.

“As we go, listen to your body,” she tells the class, who’ve dropped down to their mats on a floor covered in rugs, the walls adorned with black light posters and prints depicting various Lagunitas brews. “Be as gentle as your body requires. Take care of yourself,” she says, adding, “And most of all, have fun. That’s why we’re here.”

Downward Dog Yoga Sundays was started in October, a suggestion from the management at Lagunitas, for which Yurth once worked.

“It’s already a great place for community gathering,” Yurth explains. “It’s a hub, where friends gather over beer. We’ve just slipped in a yoga class first.”

When the class first began, the sessions were held outdoors in Laguntas’ open air amphitheater. The class has since moved indoors for the winter months, but will be back outside as soon as whether permits. For a 15 dollar fee, participants enjoys a breezy hour-long Power Vinyasa class, led by Yurth, helpfully calling out directions and encouragements, as an energizing playlist of hip hop, jazz, and pop plays in the background. The cost of the class includes a glass of beer afterwards in the Taproom.

This yoga-and-a-beer format is unique to the Sunday series, in this area anyway. According to Yurth, the first Downward Dog class drew five participants, all employees of Lagunitas. But as word has spread, Yurth has noticed a steady growth from week to week.

“It’s been going really well,” she says. “We have a solid group of people who come every time, and between two to four new people appear each week. The most we’ve had so far is twenty people. That’s starting to be a little crowded, in our indoor space. But once the weather warms up and we move outside, I’m hoping we have up to fifty or sixty people every Sunday.”

Yurth, who’s been practicing yoga about eight years, has been conducting yoga classes elsewhere in Petaluma for about two years. She’s a regular teacher at Petaluma’s Bikram Yoga studio – aka Yoga Hell - in addition to teaching Pilates classes there as well. She also conducts classes for local businesses, overseeing lunchtime Pilates sessions for employees.

The appeal of the Sunday classes at Lagunitas, she surmises, is that they take a practice often conducted with formality and seriousness, and infuses it with fun, thus making it more attractive to newcomers and those intimidated by more traditional yoga-teaching structures.

“So many Yoga people take it so seriously,” she allows. “They can be so, ‘There’s one way or the highway.’ But Yoga can be fun. With these classes, we’re all about lightening up and just enjoying the experience.”

In Yurth’s experience, the strongest impediment to a person beginning a new yoga practice is the assumption that to start doing yoga, you already have to be good at doing yoga.

“The funniest excuse I get is, ‘Oh, I’m not flexible enough to do yoga,’ she says. “But, you know, that’s the whole point of yoga. To get flexible. It’s not just for people who are already flexible. It’s for everyone.”

The somewhat atypical environment – a beer factory and restaurant in the middle of Petaluma’s Eastside Maker District – is, of course, a large part of the appeal.

“Doing yoga in a place you wouldn’t normally expect it is liberating,” says Yurth.

After an hour of stretching, flexing, swaying, bending, crouching through a number of poses including the plank, the warrior, the lizard – and of course, the downward facing dog – during which Yurth frequently coaxes the class to “Stay strong” or “Take a vinyasa,” she leads them into the final cool down. To a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” she softly talks them through the final stretches.

“Allow yourself to feel a sense of ease and fulfillment,” she says,” knowing that by coming here today, by taking care of yourself and your body, you’ve done something good. Now, you can go on with your day, taking with you a sense of peace, kindness, and compassion for the world.”

By the time Yurth concludes, a few of the participants have already quietly rolled up their mats and departed. These are employees of Lagunitas, heading over to the taproom to begin their day’s work. In a few minutes, most of the others will join them for a beer and some post-yoga conversation.

“That was my first class here,” says Kim Kaye, having just ordered a beer in the bustling taproom. “I really liked it a lot. Hannah’s amazing, and she creates a really unique vibe. It’s everything from her playlist of songs to her ability to give cues.”

Asked how much of the attraction is the environment itself, Kaye says, “I really like the heightened social aspect of it, getting to come in here afterwards and socialize. Sometimes, in some yoga classes, it feels a little isolated, everyone on their mats focusing on their own bodies. So to come over here after, and hang out with the rest of the class, it’s really cool. I don’t even live in Petaluma, but I will definitely be back.”

Nearby is Scott Bell, who’s been attending since the first class in the amphitheater.

“I can’t wait to move back outside when it gets a little warmer,” he says. “It’s really a unique thing, everyone on their mats on the ground, or up on the stage if they want. It’s a great class. You can come out and do your yoga, get your sweat on, and then reward yourself with a nice glass of beer. I think it’s a good fit for this place.”

Yurth, on the other side of the taproom now, sitting with some of the regulars, says she hopes the classes continue to grow in 2018. Once outside, she says, the space will easily accommodate 50 to 60 people. And the more, she believes, the better.

“I just love doing these classes,” she says, “It’s nice to have the session, then spend time over a beer hanging out. It’s a really cool crew. I’ve actually made a ton of friends teaching this class.”

(Contact David at david.templeton@arguscourier.com)