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Photo: Sound Off Yoga
Photo: Sound Off Yoga

Yoga mat? Check. Cute yoga clothes? Check. Wireless headphones? Excuse me?

When I was handed a pair of glowing, neon blue ones before my Sound Off Yoga class at the W Hotel Union Square, in New York City, I wasn’t sure what I had signed up for.

Obviously, something novel. The new monthly event ($25) was a mega draw. the concept of wearing the headphones throughout class (yup, even during inversions!) packed the hotel ballroom, mat-to-mat-to-mat. I found a space crammed between two other women toward the back of the room. A third woman placed her mat perpendicular to mine.

Add red, green, purple, and fuchsia lights streaming up the walls and pillars, and it looked like one big rainbow. This is not real yoga, I thought, and this is not going to be any fun. I was wrong.

 

The name Sound Off Yoga, or silent yoga, is a bit of a misnomer. I had visions of practicing downward-facing dogs and warrior poses enclosed in something like a sensory deprivation tank. But instead, you’re bathed in sound from start to finish.

The specially designed headphones cancel out the noise around you—the yogi grunting next to you, overly exaggerated (Darth Vader-style) ujjayi breathing, you name it. When I slipped mine over my ears, the room seemed to vacuum-seal around me, leaving just instructor Lindsay Valdez’s perfectly clear, unmuffled voice and the DJ’s music in my ears. She told us to not worry about what our poses looked like, just focus on what the yoga feels like, and flow.

 

I had visions of practicing downward-facing dogs and warrior poses enclosed in something like a sensory deprivation tank. But instead, you’re bathed in sound from start to finish.

Sound Off is the brainchild of Castel Valere-Couturier, who originally developed the headphone technology for silent discos. But in 2014, an idea to fuse music and yoga on a beach in Hong Kong (where sound ordinances prohibited music from being played out loud) gave birth to a whole new business. Classes sold out. “It took three and a half years to build a business around dance parties and one weekend to build a business around yoga events,” he says.

Since the first class in Hong Kong, he’s introduced the events all around the U.S., Costa Rica, Paris and Milan. Valere-Couturier first brought silent yoga to New York City last year, at Sugarcube, an inflatable event space at South Street Seaport, selling out 12 weeks of classes.

Why, when so many yoga classes are now set to amazing music, has this one with headphones hit such a high note?

“It’s an immersive experience combining yoga and music. It is an enhancement of the traditional practice by enabling you to go a little deeper by being devoid of any distractions around you,” he says.

The class itself is a pretty straight-forward vinyasa flow: crescent lunges, cobras, upward-facing dogs, and chair pose. But the experience of having the instructor and music literally in your head actually brings a whole different realm to the experience. At one point, I could feel the beat of the music and my heartbeat together.

silent_yoga event in NYC
Photo: Sound Off Yoga

Even though the class was overflowing with 130 or so yogis, I forgot all about them—even the woman whose mat was perpendicular to mine (until her dangling ponytail tickled the back of my neck in warrior III).

And the headphones? While they initially felt unwieldy, and I completely expected them to slip off in downdog and forward folds, surprisingly, they stayed put. Others around me had no problem, kicking into headstand with the headphones on, too. —Christine Yu

If you’re a try-everything kind of yoga person, boy, there’s a lot out there: bouncy house yogatopless yoga…or you could always become a teacher yourself and start your own branch.