Opal Stereo combines vinyasa yoga with unexpected tunes

Monica Buckley draws yogis of all experience levels to Opal Stereo, a challenging yoga class that incorporates upbeat playlists into the practice. Photo: Martyn Kyle Monica Buckley draws yogis of all experience levels to Opal Stereo, a challenging yoga class that incorporates upbeat playlists into the practice. Photo: Martyn Kyle

I’ve been doing yoga for six years, and a lot of my friends don’t get it. It’s boring, they say, and it’s not even that great of a workout. I’ve also been told on more than one occasion that people who do yoga take themselves too seriously. (Clearly they’ve never erupted into a fit of giggles on the mat when the soft, serene flute background melodies start skipping on the iPod during a post-workout savasana pose in a room full of fellow college students, but I digress.) Whether the stereotypes are accurate or not, longtime yogi and fitness instructor Monica Buckley takes 90 minutes out of each week to push the boundaries of traditional yoga with Opal Stereo, a class that incorporates music from every genre, from Neil Diamond and The Grateful Dead to Missy Elliott and The Black Eyed Peas, into a fast-paced, intense yoga class.

Buckley’s been teaching the popular Friday evening class since the studio opened last February, and even with UVA’s population depleted significantly for the holidays, the small, hardwood-floored yoga studio was packed last Friday. After more than 30 people—mostly women in their 20s, with some middle-agers and older couples sprinkled in—rolled out their brightly colored mats no more than six inches apart, Buckley, wearing a cordless microphone, bounded to the front of the room.

You’d expect some nice, gentle stretching in the beginning, right? Not on Friday evenings. Buckley pressed play on the stereo, then led us through a playful, bouncy warm-up reminiscent of the “Hokey Pokey,” with Cathy Heller’s “Gonna Make a Change” blasting through the speakers. Some of us glanced around nervously at first, but as I balanced on one foot with my arms at 90 degree angles, waggling my limbs as the peppy indie tune filled the room, I couldn’t help but smile—especially when Buckley chirped, “Now shake your booty!” over the music.

Once warmed up, we dove straight into the vinyasa practice, which focuses heavily on breath-synchronized movement. Inhale, down dog. Exhale, right foot forward, warrior one. Inhale, clasp your hands behind your back. Exhale, bend forward, hands still together, arms overhead. It was a faster-paced practice than I’m used to, but having “It’s goin’ down/I’m yellin’ timber” ringing in my ears not only gave me the odd urge to tap my toes the whole time, but helped me keep up with the constant flow of movements.

Fleetwood Mac, DJ Drez, and Ben E. King all were in rotation throughout the class, and by 6:50pm, we were all lying on our backs as dramatic yet soothing chakra meditation tunes lulled us into savasana, the resting pose that some yogis claim is the most important part of a yoga practice.

With the popularity the Friday evening class has gained, Buckley noted that it brings everyone from newbies to seasoned yogis into the same space. It’s a challenging class whether you’re trying your hand at crow for the first time or kicking yourself into forearm-stands during the warmup, and there’s something about being in close quarters with fellow practitioners.

“The modern yogis want to share with one another,” Buckley said. “We’re not going off to sit in caves anymore.”

As for the tunes, Buckley said she’s never recycled a playlist. That’s part of the intrigue of the class—you never know what exactly you’re getting yourself into. She’s brought DJs and live bands into the studio, and has even experimented with heavy metal music, which she described as an exercise in remaining calm and focused among distractions that may otherwise be stressful.

“The music really gets people deeper into their own practice,” she said. “You’re not thinking so much about your position and perfection.”

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