It’s one of those still evenings just before spring that awakens your senses after a long winter. The setting sun has turned the sky rose pink and the air is almost warm. I’m walking through the clean streets of Hamburg on my way to a very special USC community event. We’ve teamed up with our partner Boom Bang Namaste Yoga for an evening of fun, fitness and freebies; but I’m not expecting the typical yoga experience this evening. After-all, Boom Bang Namaste isn’t a typical yoga concept.
The class today is held in Hamburg Botschaft, an empty event space in the trendy Sternschanze district. I enter to find stacks of USC goody bags in the entryway to the vast open-plan room. Candles flicker, placed strategically around the industrial space. BBN is written in bright white letters on black boards with two giant speakers either side but, instead of the usual whale music I’m used to hearing before a yoga class, out pounds the slow, heavy baseline of Yaeji’s raingirl (listen while you read this. Total banger).
It’s clear that BBN do yoga a little differently. Laura and her partner came up with the concept three years ago. “I travelled a lot for my teacher training and got so much inspiration from the different cities I went to,” Laura explains. “Boom Bang Namaste combines yoga with hip hop music in unique locations. So we’ll have hip hop yoga sessions in a nightclub, an event space or in the open air.”
Laura and her boyfriend handpick the playlists for each session. “When you practice yoga while listening to hip hop it gets you out of your head. You’re not thinking about what to do next – you just flow to the music. It’s like when you’re dancing; you don’t think; you just move.”
As the USC community begins to file into the room I realise there’s something different about tonight’s yoga crowd… something I can’t quite identify. The space quickly fills up to capacity with everyone happily chatting on their yoga mats and sifting through the contents of their USC goody bags.
Laura stands at the front of the room and introduces the class. “We’re here to have fun, to enjoy the music and to move our bodies.” She says. With the first notes of Drake’s Passionfruit pumping over the speakers, Laura leads us into our first Vinyasa of the evening.
I look around and I suddenly realise what’s unusual about the crowd. Never in all my years of yoga have I attended a class that’s 50/50 men and women. Later I ask Laura how she’s managed to create a yoga concept that actually appeals to men. “We want to attract everyone,” she replies. “Particularly people who have never done yoga before and who want to be part of a community.” She pauses and then adds with a smile “And I don’t do any chanting or ‘Kumbaya’ stuff… I think that appeals to them.”
Laura’s yoga class is fast-paced and demanding. She leads us through Chaturanga to cobra to downward dog in dynamic flows. I enjoy how creative Laura’s sequences are; she seamlessly leads us into intricate poses and challenging twists and for each sequence she encourages us to make the final repetition in our own time.
About 45 minutes in, as I move through a particularly challenging Vinyasa sequence to the sound of Nicki Minaj, I realise this is by far the most amount of fun I’ve ever had in a yoga class. Perhaps this is because of the sheer light-heartedness of the concept. You can’t take yourself too seriously with such a fun and upbeat soundtrack. And as Laura walks around the room guiding us through her microphone it’s clear that she’s enjoying herself just as much as we are.
But she still works us hard, leading us through an utterly brutal set of crunches before she guides us into shoulder stands. Her instructions are always clear and simple, explaining a range of variations to accommodate every level.
Finally we reach the holy grail of the yoga class. The divine moment where we put the downward dogs, pigeons and cobras to bed and lie flat on our backs, breathing deeply, congratulating ourselves on being absolute legends for coming to class (AKA Asana). As the gentle beats roll out from the speakers Laura guides us through a short, extremely welcome meditation.
Clearly, Boom Bang Namaste is awesome – but the best element is yet to come. Building a community is at the heart of BBN, so Laura and her team prepare snacks and drinks (including Prosecco) for attendees to enjoy afterwards. “A lot of studios have sessions one after the other – as soon as one ends the next people come in,” Laura says. “It’s such a rush. But we only have one session per week and afterwards everyone is welcome to stay for 10, 20 minutes, an hour – however long they like.”
This means that each week the BBN community gets a chance to meet and make friends with like-minded yogis. While I sip on a can of healthy sparkling lemonade I get chatting to other attendees. Sven is a big fan of Urban Sports Club and the BBN concept. “I saw Boom Bang Namaste on Instagram and it looked like a very similar concept to what I experienced in the US,” he says. “And when I heard there’s hip hop and R&B music alongside the yoga I thought that was brilliant.”
Sven loves the community aspect of Boom Bang Namaste. “In Germany we aren’t so advanced in boutique fitness so I celebrate events like this. People are realising it’s a cool concept and much more fun than a generic fitness studio.”
He speculates that the combination of music and movement is what appeals to men. “Yoga is tremendously in fashion, and men are realising this is really good for them. Yoga isn’t easy. Exercise isn’t always about weights, it’s about holding your own bodyweight. And if you’re a serious athlete you know yoga provides an amazing stretch.”
And this goes hand-in-hand with the USC concept. “Everything in life is about mixing things up,” Sven says. “This is where USC comes in. Offering this platform where you can go every day to a new gym and location – this is totally the zeitgeist of today’s consumers, especially millennials.” I later find out that Sven works in fitness marketing so he really knows his stuff.
As I chat to happy USC yogis I notice a throng of people surrounding a bread basket full of banana bread. I nab the penultimate piece and after one bite understand the traffic jam. This is hands down, by a very long way, the most delicious banana bread I’ve ever tasted. I relay this fact to Laura.
“I made it myself!” she beams. And – coincidentally – the exact same thing can be said for the atmosphere and community she’s created with Boom Bang Namaste.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official. BBN x USC = Dream Team. See you at the next event!
Check out Boom Bang Namaste’s website to find out details of their next hip hop yoga session.