Every week, Raven Tower and Black Swan Yoga are reinventing Sunday Funday with their “Plank then Drank” free yoga on Raven Tower’s spacious 3,000-square-foot outdoor patio. Beginning at 10 a.m., Black Swan attendees stretch and strengthen their bodies under the sun, flowing to music far from what you might hear at a stereotypical yoga studio.
Before the icehouse opens to the public, Black Swan offers yoga attendees exclusive access to the venue. Multicolored yoga mats line its outdoor deck, which juts out over White Oak Bayou and offers a tree-lined view of the downtown skyline. With a rotating cast of instructors, Black Swan ensures that each Sunday is different from the last.
The sessions at Raven Tower have been a huge success from the beginning. The first class was held on March 20 of this year; that and every class since has had more than 200 people in attendance. Because of heavy demand, the sessions have been extended indefinitely and are slated to move to the lawn of White Oak Music Hall soon.
Black Swan's instructors make each class their own by incorporating music that reflects their own individual tastes. One of them, Alicia Tillman, pays homage to the Bayou City during her session by playing music by Houston artists.
“If you’ve never done yoga to screw, I make dreams come true,” said Tillman during a recent session.
As for the motivation behind the music selection, “That’s me,” Tillman adds. “I’m from Houston, born and raised, and when practicing yoga, screw is the music I want to listen to.”
Tillman met DJ Rich Nasty a few years ago while producing concerts in Houston, and the two became friends. When Tillman began practicing yoga, she wanted to find a way to incorporate her love for music, and asked Rich Nasty to be her unofficial yoga DJ.
“I want to make yoga appealing to everyone and have it be something fun and enjoyable so that people want to return and get the benefits,” she says.
“I thought it was cool that it was a Houston-themed session,” said Jackie Tang, a first-time participant. “It’s not traditional to do yoga to hip-hop, rap or screw. It was fun!”
This past Sunday’s music selection took a different turn, with the Black Keys' “Everlasting Light” playing during pigeon sitting, transitioning to a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and slowing things down with James Bay’s “Move Together.” The session finished in Savasana, or corpse pose, as Damien Rice’s “Delicate” played through the Raven Tower speakers.
“I’m a big music junkie,” says Jenny Stevenson, another Black Swan instructor. “[When selecting music] I like to see how it flows and how my body responds to the music. I’ll be in my kitchen cooking, listening to Pandora when a new song will play that I know I want to add to my yoga playlist.”
Black Swan is a donation-based studio located near Raven Tower in the Heights that offers approachable, affordable and community-driven yoga. Its decision to partner with Raven Tower was made because the two organizations have the same contractor.
“We play music in all of our classes; it just made sense to pair with music venues,” says Black Swan owner Olivia Keller.
Initially proposed to last through the end of June, Black Swan's success has extended the Sunday sessions indefinitely. Besides moving to the lawn at White Oak Music Hall, Black Swan hopes to incorporate live music into future sessions.
Raven Tower and White Oak Music Hall are not the first music venues to integrate yoga and music, however. Yoga Rave, an international celebration of yoga and music, took over Stereo Live in 2012, updating thousand-year-old mantras with electronic beats, breaking the music with bouts of yoga and deep meditation as partygoers got drunk on fresh fruit and wheatgrass. Last year the Wanderlust Festival made its way to Houston, boasting a "Mindful Triathlon" complete with a 5K run, an outdoor yoga session and a guided meditation while various performers, both bands and DJs, entertained from the main stage.
There seems to be a connection between music and yoga in Houston. Raven Tower and Black Swan make this connection clear by capitalizing on the venue’s great view of downtown, transforming the community and finding the link between music and mindfulness, one song at a time.