Words: Carly Shields
Photos: Patrick Donahue at Super Duper Photographic
“What else would you call a Phish yoga class?” asks Chris Calarco, creator and instructor of Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga, who has been on an East Coast tour since around Halloween.
The room giggled at his rhetorical question, and I knew this wouldn’t be like an ordinary yoga class. Well, there we countless other hints before that, and not one of them made me yearn for the standard Vinyasa flow class. First of all, Chris had been posting the “set lists” of each class, including show dates, and they were all pretty killer. He did Makisupa>Night Nurse>Makisupa 10/23/10 followed by Tweezer > Mist 7/10/99 in New Haven, CT, and the Mike's > Hydrogren > Weekapaugh 11/22/97 before that, so I trusted the man’s taste.
Secondly, it was the most welcoming yoga room I’ve ever been in- filled with phriends, and you know who phriends are. They smile at everyone, talk and laugh with one another; they have an automatically strong bond because of their passion for Phish, which translated flawlessly to the yoga studio.
As we settled into our mats, Chris described how he wanted to bring the joy of seeing Phish live into his life everyday, and discovered how through his yoga practice. He started the set with “Buffalo Bill > NICU” from 1997 as we began to control our breathing and sung an ‘ohm’ together, which someone later suggested could have been a ‘kung.’ We moved through sun salutations and back bends, forward folds and half-lifts, and we cheered when the transition came in, as Chris encouraged us to do whatever we felt. So when the epic Ghost from 11/17/1997 came on, which was also the date of the class this year, people started bouncing in their down dogs and clapping to relieve the tension of chair pose (picture it. Tough, right?), Chris seemed elated, and the room felt full of joy.
Fluffhead came on and was most unfortunately turned down, which Chris apologized for, “but I’ve got to teach something during this class!” As an elusive photographer clicked away, he and his agile helper, Dan Wilf of Yoganonymous, demonstrated how to reach a full handstand and suggested we pair up and try it ourselves. In a more rigid yoga class, I would be timid asking for a partner, but here, it felt only natural to grab the girl in the faded Dead tee next to me and let her hoist my leg into the air as I pulled the other one up. Awkward? Is hugging the random guy in the crowd because of the killer jam going down awkward?
Solo practice continued, though getting the chatter to slow down only worked when the “2001” was turned up, and kept at a simmer since everyone was that much more comfortable. We moved onto a series of leg and hip stretches towards our next goal of a full split as Chris and Dan walked around gently adjusting our postures and doing the pose along side us. One of the first ever “Light”s was a perfect selection for yoga, considering the lyrics and seemed to ring true to everyone as we sank into more difficult poses.
It was feeling a bit like a real show would, energy dying a little but still wanting to carry on and loving it. After the instructional for the full split, we began a slow wind down that would end with a handful of finals poses to “Harry Hood,” response cheer and all. It was a perfectly planned out set closer and when we laid on our mats for corpse pose (again, picture it. The best, in my opinion.), an encore-worthy “Shine a Light” ran through the speakers to close what had been a challenging, but fulfilling yoga class.
Chris was absolutely right in the beginning of the class. That elated feeling when the boys come on stage, and even when they walk off, can be accomplished through a yoga practice, and you don’t even need to be a seasoned vet. One of the participants asked a young guy who admitted to never having done yoga before how his first class was. “It was great, if they played Phish all the time, I’d probably do it again!” And they wonder why people go on Phish tour…. Ha!
Surrender to the Flow: Phish Yoga will be back in NYC for the New Years Run, but consider pre-paying when he announces the date if attendance at last Thursday’s class was any indication of interest. It was packed, so big thanks to Yoga Vida on Bond St. for hosting us and to Chris for inspiring us through the magic of Phish!
Here's the set list:
Buffalo Bill > NICU 8/17/97
Bathtub Gin 9/4/11
Fluffhead 6/3/11 [first instructional for headstand]
The Lizards 8/13/96
Mellow Mood 8/9/11 [instructional for splits]
Rocket Man 8/9/11
Harry Hood 8/9/11
Shine a Light 6/25/10