I tried all of Pittsburgh’s weird yoga classes, and it changed my life

There were owls, goats, grungy venues and a powerful crystal. You’ve gotta try this.

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Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
Rossilynne Culgan

Look no further: Your guide to all of those weird yoga classes you’ve been hearing about in Pittsburgh is here.

Dog and silent disco yoga? Check.

Goat yoga? GOAT.

Paddle board yoga? Nailed it.

For the past decade, I’ve been practicing yoga of all kinds in Pittsburgh — but I’d never done yoga with dogs, owls, goats, beer or a DJ at a grungy steel mill or lake and decided that had to change. What followed was a daring journey that forced me to face fears, taught me to let go of inhibitions and spurred on my mermaid dreams — and I came out stronger in a lot of ways.

This is my tell-all account of what happened when I tried Pittsburgh’s weirdest (that’s weird in a very good way) yoga classes. Try them for yourself, and tweet me to tell me how it goes.

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Doga

Where: Sterling Yoga’s outdoor patio in Scott Township

What was it like: For my first yoga adventure, I started off with doga (dog yoga) on National Dog Day.

I don’t have a dog, but the instructor said I was welcome anyway. I do, however, have a kitten, which made me think en route to the class, “Oh man, these dogs are going to smell all the cat hair on me and pummel me during a pose.” (Fast-forward: That did not happen.)

Six dogs showed up with their owners, ranging from teeny fluffers to big doggos. At first, the dogs were more interested in barking at one another and making new dog friends. But once class began, they miraculously calmed down and stood next to their owners’ yoga mats. Save for a couple of stray barks and a few inappropriate sniffs (of other dogs, to be clear), they were disciplined yogis.

The class itself was slow-moving with a focus on stretching and proper postures (no downward dog, though). Just before savasana, instructor Kristen Morgan taught the dog owners how to give their pups a massage — and the dogs soaked up every second. I mean, look at this guy.

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After class, the now-very-chill dogs sampled a special drink and even got dog tarot card readings. Yes, that’s a thing.

I explained my project to the studio’s instructors, telling them I’ll be doing yoga with goats and owls, confessing my major fear of birds. Thoughtful Nicole Druga, a reiki master, gave me a small, clear crystal to take to the scary classes and help me conquer my fear of those dastardly winged creatures. We’ll see how that works out later.

Protip: Even if you don’t have a dog, don’t be put off by this class. Prepare for a low-key, relaxed workout. The dogs will be panting, but you probably won’t find yourself breaking too much of a sweat.

Do it yourself: Stay tuned to the Sterling Doga Facebook page for upcoming dog yoga events.

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Beer + Yoga in a steel mill

Where: Carrie Furnaces in Swissvale, as part of the Beer + Yoga series

What it was like: Of course there’s a yoga class in an old steel mill. Because Pittsburgh.

The one-time steel manufacturing powerhouse was massive, dark, graffiti-covered, still filthy and filled with hundreds of yogis on this Sunday morning.

I unfurled my mat onto the concrete, and a cloud of dust erupted, making me very glad that I brought my second-string mat, not my new and beloved Manduka.

Led by Hallie Stotsky and Becca Robertson, this class promised Brew Gentlemen beer at the end. It was a good motivator for when the poses got tough, and they did get tough. The class focused on strength and power, a fitting theme for the space. I found my gaze drifting around the artwork in the space, landing on a piece looked like a pink, iced donut. I decided that makes a good drishti, even though I start dreaming of post-workout donuts. Everybody thinks about donuts during yoga class, right? … Right?

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Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

The sound here was particularly jolting. The silence reverberated in a space this big. A passing train rumbled by and made me wonder how loud this place was in its heyday. An end-of-class, “om” echoed up to the rafters.

As I rolled up my orange mat, I realized it’s turned gray from all the dirt and grit on the floor. Back home, I tried to wipe it down to no avail and ended up washing it in the shower — it was *that* dirty.

But with my post-yoga endorphins, I wasn’t complaining.

The bottom of this mat used to be orange.

The bottom of this mat used to be orange.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Protips: Take an old mat. Also, this Beer + Yoga series was a great way to get involved in yoga if you’re leery of trying it. Even if you hate the class (and I’d venture to bet you won’t), a cold beer awaits as a reward.

Do it yourself: Find an upcoming beer + yoga class here.

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Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga

Where: North Park Lake, Puppy Love SUP

What it was like: I’d been warned in advance: What’s easy on a yoga mat is harder on a paddleboard. And what’s hard on a yoga mat is easier on a paddleboard, my friend Janna Hockenjos, who owns Inhale Pittsburgh, told me.

So hearing that and being fully prepared to fall into the lake, it was hard to know what to wear. Do I wear a bathing suit? But that would be uncomfortable for doing yoga, right? Do I wear regular yoga pants? I even went so far as Google image searching paddleboard yoga, which wasn’t helpful because they all have cool athleisure outfits that I don’t own. It was unseasonably cold on the day of the class, so I opt for a swimsuit underneath regular yoga clothes — and that ended up being a good call.

Instructor Melissa Lucciola explained all the basics to our small group, namely, what to expect, how a paddleboard works and how to paddle. Once we mastered that and were able to sit and stand on the board and navigate around the lake, we started yoga, some very wobbly yoga.

My brave friend Gina attended the class with me, and it was very comforting to know that if I did fall into the lake, at least she would have a laugh (and help me dry off).

Once I got the hang of it, the class was exhilarating. We moved through a series of postures on the board, and my friend was right — somehow tree pose puts me seconds from splashing into the water. But crow, which is normally so hard for me, is easier. After about two seconds, the pose still sent me belly-first onto the board, but that was better than my track record on land.

Duck quacks occasionally interrupted our class. Kayakers glided by, nebby about what we’re doing. Osprey flew overhead. Water lapped the edge of my board. I realized I was starting to get comfortable enough with the board that I could notice the scenery. This is what it’s like to be a mermaid, I think.

Protips: Don’t get me wrong, this was a tough class with a major emphasis on core work, and I was sore after this one, for sure. I wouldn’t recommend this as your first-ever yoga class. Definitely practice on the land first before trying a paddleboard class. But do it because chasing those mermaid vibes is worth the hard work.

Do it yourself: Find a class, find some zen.

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Silent Disco Yoga

Where: Belvedere’s Ultra Dive in Lawrenceville

What it was like: I walked into the back room at Belvedere’s, which is normally filled with sweaty dancers but on that night would be filled with sweaty yogis. I unrolled my mat on a floor that has undoubtedly seen its share of beer spills.

Instructor Cassandra Stevens passed out over-ear wireless headphones to each student and snapped off the light. It was very dark, except for the blue glow of the headphones, and it became a little easier to forget that this makeshift yoga studio is actually a windowless dive bar.

On a stage at the front of the room, Ryan Ondriezek of Frequency 528, DJed the soundtrack for the evening, all broadcast through the headphones. The instructor wore a microphone, sending her instructions through the headphones, as well. The audio was crisp, and it was easy to hear the yoga instructions and the music.

As the vinyasa flow class began, I was suddenly aware of how tough balancing in the dark was, as it was harder to find a point of focus in the dark. But I also noticed how little I cared, because the darkness immediately zapped any yoga self consciousness. Wobbling in chair pose? Struggling in that down dog? Who cares. Nobody else can see. The darkness also gave me the confidence to groove along with the music. I found myself dancing in happy baby pose, and I noticed others swaying along, too.

The DJ played a wide-ranging set, featuring drum-and-bass, ambient, electronic and reggae. With upbeat club notes during high-energy poses and slower beats during savasana, it was well-timed with the class.

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Trippy visuals played on a screen behind the DJ. Other than thinking about how the visuals reminded me of those old-school Windows screensavers, the whole experience actually helped my mind stay focused on the class. It was as if the headphones helped me seal off my energy from the outside world and kept it all on my mat. Also, the headphones held back the loose hairs from my ponytail, which I really appreciated.

My only complaint was the air. It’s tough to take deep inhales and exhales when the room has a faint lingering smell of cigarette smoke, booze and bad decisions. I would definitely take the class again, but I’d bring along a bottle of Febreze Air Effects.

Protip: This is your chance to ditch those inhibitions. See how low you can sink into that chair pose, and hold that plank a little longer, because even if you’re wobbling, nobody will be able to see.

Do it yourself: Try silent disco yoga.

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Y-owl-ga

Where: Humane Animal Rescue Wildlife Center in Verona

Remember that crystal I got at Sterling Yoga to calm my fear of birds? This was my moment. The reiki expert had advised me to cleanse the crystal with cold water, and I’d never done this before, so I assumed that washing it in my kitchen sink was good enough. This crystal was going to endure some yoga sweat during class, so I was hoping that wouldn’t wash away this cold water cleanse. The reiki master advised me to tuck the crystal into my shirt, so after doing that, I was ready to go hang out with some … shudder … birds.

The crystal.

The crystal.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

As far as birds go, owls are among the creepiest. First, they’re giant and could definitely rip off my fingers for a snack if they wanted. You never know where they’re looking, because they can turn their heads. And they always look really judgy and skeptical of everything. The owls are going to look so skeptical about my crystal, I just know it! Ugh.

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Judging.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

This class was held on the back porch at the wildlife center with a stunning view of rolling hills. Adding to the beauty, it happened that class ran during sunset. There were two owls. Martha, a female great horned owl, and Hermes, a male short-eared owl. They watched us try to flow through our poses, including an avian-themed eagle pose.

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Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

But honestly, these owls couldn’t have cared less about us. And that was just fine with me. I, however, was definitely aware of the owls perched nearby, but I wasn’t as scared of them as I expected. They were both flightless, so that might have helped with my fear.

Or maybe it was the crystal, after all. Here’s the deal with crystals, Nicole the Reiki Master explained, “They protect and absorb negativity and uncertainty — both [yours] and others who come into your circle.”

Protip: You’ll be unrolling your mat onto an outdoor porch, so, again, bring a second-string mat. You’ll get to see the owls up-close but you will be asked to keep your distance (which was completely fine with me, naturally).

Do it yourself: Learn more.

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Goat Yoga

Where: Potential Farm in Presto

I trekked up a long, steep hill in the middle of nowhere, and there was an expansive pasture that would serve as a yoga studio. A herd of goats strolled around, snacking on grass.

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Rainy Laux, herdswoman and owner of the farm, told us about goats. They’re a matriarchal society, and they look to their leader Cypress — “she’s tough.” I like this place already. Two pygmy goats, Hagrid and Hermione, are also among the herd, and they are unbelievably adorable.

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I’ll be honest. This was not my best workout. Forget deep yoga breathing; I was oohing and awing over these cute creatures. Focus on my practice? But how, when there were goats bleating and leaping around? One even jumped in between two yogis mats! Just for a second, I also realized how big and intimidating these animals were and kicked myself for forgetting the crystal.

Practicing on the grass was also a bit tough, as its softness didn’t help with stability. The class featured outdoor-inspired poses, perfect for the venue, like tree, crow and half-moon.

One goat pooped directly behind my mat, but at least she had the class to keep it on the grass. After class, the goats endured our requests for photos. Lines formed to hold Hermione, and she soaked up the attention. As they say here, in the lighthearted way I’m learning to embrace through these experiences: It’s not Namaste. It’s NamastHay.

Protip: This was one of the most distracted yoga classes I’ve ever taken. I’m not complaining because, I mean, have you seen these goats? (Look at this one who’s already ready for #TongueOutTuesday). Don’t expect to leave with chiseled biceps, but do expect to leave having made some new furry friends.

Do it yourself: Find a goat yoga class for yourself.

NamastHay.

NamastHay.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline