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Crafting Community Through Yoga and Beer

By Matt Wastradowski

These days, the thinking behind Yoga + Beer seems obvious: The only thing we in the Willamette Valley love more than experimental yoga might be craft beer, so of course an intrepid entrepreneur would offer yoga classes that end with a cool, crisp pint-and of course it would become a runaway success.

But Mikki Trowbridge, E-RYT, MBA, recalls being skeptical when her husband Brian first suggested she hold a yoga class at Rogue Farms, just outside the city of Independence, in 2013.

Trowbridge, then teaching yoga in the Salem area, quickly downplayed the idea, explaining that yogis are encouraged to abstain from alcohol and don't traditionally drink. “‘But we do,'” he said. “‘You teach class at a studio, and then we go out with friends to the brewery or gather at a bar after class.'”

Convinced, Townbridge hosted her first Yoga + Beer class later that summer. And since that conversation, Townbridge and her team of 15 teachers have led classes in breweries, wineries, distilleries, and coffee roasters all over the Pacific Northwest-from the Willamette Valley to Woodinville, and from Portland to Walla Walla. Earlier this month, Trowbridge even led the 1,000th Yoga + Beer offering-though, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, running the class demanded a different kind of flexibility than most yogis are known for.

A group perform yoga outside with an instructor and dj in the foreground

Yoga + Beer's Promising Start

In the months leading up to that first class at Rogue Farms in the summer of 2013, Trowbridge admits it almost never happened. Rogue signed off on the idea in June, but within weeks, Trowbridge's father was diagnosed with-and subsequently died of-cancer. Grief-stricken, she did little to promote the class beyond posting a haphazard flyer at a local yoga studio and posting about the event on Facebook. “I almost canceled it because of the headspace I was in,” she says.

So when she showed up to Rogue's hop farm that August, she hoped for a dozen or so friends. But from the time she unrolled her yoga mat that day, Trowbridge knew she was onto something. “We had 100 people show up for that first class, and I still don't have any idea how,” she says. “We had such a great time with it, and there was such an interest in it, so we kept going.”

The event wasn't without hiccups: Trowbridge expected a fraction of the eventual attendees-so, without a microphone, she “stood in the middle of that field and screamed yoga at people, which I'm sure was super relaxing,” she jokes.

Relaxing or not, something about that class clearly resonated. Participants flocked to monthly Yoga + Beer classes at Rogue Farms over the coming months; when the Willamette River flooded in February 2014, temporarily closing the farm and forcing Yoga + Beer to find a new home, Trowbridge expanded to Vagabond Brewing in Salem. A few months later, Yoga + Beer started hosting events at Gilgamesh Brewing, also in Salem. (Note that Rogue Farms is no longer open to the public.)

A number of attendees were making regular trips from Portland to the Salem area for classes, which Trowbridge took as a sign to expand northward-so she did. Weekend retreats followed, as did classes in wineries, distilleries, and other unorthodox settings. Today, Trowbridge says that she and her team have hosted classes at more than 50 businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Building a Community Through Yoga and Beer

Trowbridge points to several factors in explaining the success of Yoga + Beer.

For starters, Oregon's craft-focused culture plays a part. “As a state and a culture, we appreciate our alcohol, whether it's craft beer or a Willamette Valley wine,” she says. “We have this great market of craft alcohol, and we're a culture that shows up and supports that. So the class meets people where they're at.”

And that setting-whether among stainless steel brite tanks or in the shadow of flowering hop bines-plays a role in demystifying the oft-intimidating world of yoga. “I love yoga, but I also understand that the culture of yoga and the idea of going to a yoga studio can be very intimidating,” Trowbridge says. “There's a lot of correlation of what it is to be a yogi-you're wearing $100 yoga pants and drinking coconut water and being super fit and flexible-and I think that scares a lot of people away. But if this is at a place where they're already hanging out anyway, it's a little less intimidating. And that softens it a little bit.”

But it goes beyond getting a good buzz after trying the warrior pose or downward-facing dog. “The beer is just symbolic of a social experience,” she says. “And as humans, we crave connection and human interaction-even the most introverted among us. So to create a place where we're not just getting done with class and heading off to the next thing, it's like the social experience is built in after class. And it just happens to have alcohol.”

Trowbridge also takes pride in making yoga accessible to all-at least to those 21 and older, anyway-whether someone attends their first or their 101st class. She trains teachers to suggest different variations on a given pose, so students can find one that suits their abilities and feels right. And if teachers look around and see a frustrated student, they take time to help.

People gather outside for yoga amongst the trees at dusk

Yoga + Beer Reaches 1,000 Classes

Back when she “screamed” yoga next to a towering hop field nearly seven years ago, Trowbridge never imagined that Yoga + Beer would eventually reach 1,000 classes-nor that the celebrated milestone would occur in the midst of a life-altering pandemic.

In early March 2020, Trowbridge realized that COVID-19 would be a long-term concern-and that regular yoga classes could provide support, create a sense of normalcy, and help tune out the deluge of bad news.

Early on, that meant limiting classes to no more than 50 students and livestreaming the sessions online. But that lasted all of one class; soon after, Governor Kate Brown urged Oregonians to “Stay Home, Save Lives”-closing many businesses and outlawing gatherings to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

But Trowbridge wasn't about to throw in the towel. “Our local businesses need us, especially if we're talking about things closing down for months,” she says.

In the weeks since that announcement, Trowbridge has started livestreaming 60-minute classes a few times each week, swapping standard charges for optional donations. In turn, she's used those donations to launch raffles that support Willamette Valley businesses, spread the word about beer delivery services from Yoga + Beer partners, and donated proceeds from merchandise sales to yoga teachers impacted by the pandemic.

And, of course, those classes-the 1,000th included-end with video chats via Zoom, where attendees can crack open a cold one and get to know others, whether in Salem, Seattle, or somewhere in between.

Even with all the uncertainty, Trowbridge sees the online classes as an opportunity to further her mission to create community around a pair of unquenchable passions. “Let's make sure people have yoga and that opportunity for self-care,” she says of the livestreams. “And then within that, let's make sure the businesses that support us and host us are receiving support, as well.”

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