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On tap in Bel Air: Yoga and beer

What pairs well with beer? In Bel Air, it's yoga

When they're not creating small-batch craft beers, Independent Brewing Company owners Phillip and Beth Rhudy like to participate physical activities. They sponsor local sports groups and athletic businesses, and Phillip Rhudy is on the Ma & Pa Trail committee.

That's why hosting yoga classes on Sunday mornings, which the Bel Air brewery has done since January, "totally" makes sense, Beth Rhudy said.

In a partnership with Real Flexi, which lets members attend various local fitness classes for a single fee, the Bend & Brew series offers a yoga class and a beer for $15.

The latest installment of Bend & Brew was its most popular yet, filling the events room at the Main Street-based Independent Brewing with about 30 people early on a recent Sunday.

"We have a healthy lifestyle and our clientele has a healthy lifestyle," Beth Rhudy explained from behind the bar, while yoga instructor Adriane Miller guided participants through a "slow flow" yoga class nearby.

The idea of mixing yoga with drinks may be new for Harford County, but it has spread quickly nationwide. As yoga has become mainstream, yogis have also taken exercise out of the studio and combined it with more social activities in creative ways, whether it's summer yoga at the Liriodendron Mansion, on a floating barge or paddleboard or near the lighthouse in Havre de Grace.

Earlier this month, Independent Brewing offered a yoga class on the field at Aberdeen's Ripken Stadium. Yoga Centric, which has focused on "hot yoga" since opening last year on Bel Air's Gateway Drive, has been offering sunrise and sunset yoga practices at Steppingstone Farm Museum this summer. The sunset classes are coupled with beer and wine tastings.

The studio has also held Bend & Brew sessions at Birroteca on Route 1 earlier this year, with $30 buying a 75-minute practice, two drinks and a chef's selection food item. Havre de Grace's BeachBee Yoga, meanwhile, featured a wine tasting at Mount Felix Vineyard for "Yoga on the Mount."

An event like Bend & Brew "really brings together the whole community, so we have a lot of people who really love craft beer and think, 'Hey, let's try some yoga and then we can have some great beer after,' and then we have another part of the community that really loves yoga or fitness classes, and so then they come here because they really like the yoga, and then they stay for the beer," Real Flexi's Lisa Quigley said.

"Our goal is to make it a non-intimidating, very comfortable, relaxed environment where people can come together and have a good time, and get fit while they're doing it," Quigley said. The Forest Hill resident, who runs Real Flexi along with Cindy Hearn, also of Forest Hill, promotes fitness classes in the Baltimore area, Annapolis, Delaware and West Chester, Pa.

The response to Bend & Brew has been "incredible," she said, as "all types of people like to come out to the event, and we're growing... Our classes have been full consistently since January, so it's definitely something people are asking for."

Independent Brewing was quiet as the Bend & Brew attendees concluded their hour-long practice with "shavasana," the motionless Corpse Pose that typically caps off yoga classes and highlights the more mental and meditative aspects of the ancient Indian training system. Participants said "Namaste," the traditional Hindu greeting that is a staple yoga-class gesture, before rolling up their mats and heading into a more boisterous, early-afternoon happy hour atmosphere at the bar.

For attendees like Nicholle Beard, Bend & Brew is a win-win.

"I like beer, I like yoga so far, so – works for me," the Riverside resident said with a smile after getting a drink at an Independent Brewing table. She said she goes to yoga "quite often."

"When I don't go, I usually have races that day. I'm a runner as well, so it helps with running," she said about yoga, citing "the stretching and strength training and opening the hips up." Beard was not surprised by the Bend & Brew concept, noting a friend of hers in Virginia mentioned a yoga class at a brewery there.

Linda White of Forest Hill was at Bend & Brew for the first time.

"It was an absolutely great class, and I'm kind of thirsty now; maybe it's time for a beer," she laughed. "I've never been here, but this is a great way, I think, to get people together and socialize afterward. I think it's a great idea and it gets kind of a mixed group to come in."

The events offer a different kind of social gathering, Bel Air's Dawn Harman said. She tries to come twice a month.

"I love the concept because it's a very laid back approach, meeting new people. I love to socialize, and then after [the yoga], you can socialize, you can have a beer with friends," Harman said. "The instructors are awesome."

Chris Chewey of Joppa was at Independent Brewing with her husband, Bob.

"I think it's the greatest thing ever. I wish all the bars did it," Chris Chewey said of Bend & Brew. "It's getting more popular."

Bob Chewey added: "I think beer is a good motivator to get people out in the morning and get a little exercise."

Miller, the instuctor, thinks the concept helps encourage more men to consider yoga.

"It brings people together who might not otherwise try yoga. It makes it much more accessible to couples. There's a lot of men in this class, which is great," Miller, an independent contractor who mostly teaches at Bel Air's Peace Yoga, said. "Their wives maybe do it, or girlfriends, and they might want to try it out, too."

Although grabbing a beer after a yoga class at a brewery might seem odd to some, "it depends what you are coming to yoga for," Miller said. "There's as many goals for yoga as there are for any activity."

"This is a great way to get involved in a community activity, and if it helps bring people to yoga who otherwise wouldn't come, that's great," she said.

Yoga Centric's events at Steppingstone and Birroteca have "surpassed any of my expectations," co-founder Candice Hennessey, a 15-year Bel Air resident, said. The Steppingstone practice, which asks participants for a donation of $5 or more, has drawn more than 50 people.

The events are part of the studio's Out and About program "to minimize complacency and have our community step outside of their comfort zone," she said. "My vision is, hopefully, eventually I can see people all over that [Steppingstone] lawn doing yoga."

Yoga Centric's main demographic is people ages 35 to 44, who "appreciate good wine and good food," Hennessey said. "It's all about the small business, the ingredient, the thought process that goes into it."

It's also about breaking down stereotypes and barriers, she said, "to really make yoga mainstream and take away that stigma of it's about everyone that looks good in yoga pants or everyone who burns incense and wraps themselves in patchouli oil and tie-dye."

"We all talk at the studio about, 'Wow, where do all these people come from?' And I think it's just that craving for a simpler life," Hennessey said.

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