PORTLAND, Maine — Inhale. Exhale. All rise and join the conga line.
A full moon rose over the East End Saturday night, and 150 yoga enthusiasts in dayglow war paint floated, jumped and lunged on their mats to a hip-pop beat.
For 90 minutes the East End Community School gymnasium transformed into a rave fueled by spirit and lit up like a disco. It was the start of the signature event of Maine Yoga Fest — black light yoga — and spirits and glow sticks were high.
“Hello family, you look gorgeous,” instructor Halle Becker bellowed into a microphone from the stage.
The New York City yoga instructor, who bills herself as a “spiritual gangster,” lead the class through pose after pose with the confidence of a coach and inclusiveness of a group therapist.
As we limbered into warrior and downward dog poses, green and blue laser lights bounced off the walls synchronized with DJ Revolve’s Steve Miller, Bob Marley and Lorde mashups.
Om quickly amped up to OMG.
The latest trend in exercise, a physical workout transferred from the gym to the nightclub with a “we are all in this together” vibe, has landed squarely on the yoga mat. Borrowing from SoulCycle, an empowering spin workout that’s trending in New York City, black light yoga is the latest twist.
Because hot yoga is so 2012, “We decided to throw a black light yoga party this year,” said Justine Carlisle, one of three local women who founded the two-day Maine Yoga Fest, now in its second year.
Last weekend, more than 500 people participated in the festival, which is starting to make a name for itself in wellness circles.
Holly Twining drove down from Orono for the fest. An instructor who teaches at Om Land Yoga in Orono and Bangor, she applied a coat of glow-in-the-dark polish to her toes before stepping into black light class.
“Any form of yoga interests me. I did paddle yoga today. I did aerial yoga today. So black light? Yah, I’m going to give it a try,” said the 43-year-old.
Doing poses in the dark as your mat mate’s hair glows orange and pink (compliments of the DIY makeup bar) adds to the trippy ambiance in this quantum leap from the ancient practice of getting quiet and focused.
Or is this yoga’s next wave?
“Yoga is taking on so many different forms and it has for so long,” said Becker, who teaches mega classes in Central Park. “It is yoking or binding with the self, getting back to the self. Whether you are doing that with a neon bracelet around your wrist, people are getting creative with the environment.”
The environment she created — “dancehall meets a sweat lodge meets a yoga class,” with a dose of Burning Man — was exhilarating. In this pop-up club there were no mirrors, no worrying about form.
“Yoga is supposed to be an ego eradicator. The ego doesn’t get in the way of the whole organic situation,” said Becker.
Heart rates spiked early as dancers from Casco Bay Movers got things shaking. Fest-goers trailed in a party train around the room.
As we transitioned into salutations on our mats, Becker laid bare a few revelations.
“Yoga saved my life.”
The 51-year-old, who lived a wild lifestyle in the ‘80s and ’90s, told the class of mostly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s that the practice is sacred. Yoga poses were designed to heal and “it takes a lot of courage to heal.”
Her confessions on a yoga floor continued as we morphed into wheel pose.
“Big Wheels keep on turning,” Lynyrd Skynyrd boomed through the room.
“Life is about showing up … What brings you to the mat?” Becker asked.
For many it was the chance to try something new in an exercise genre that shows no signs of lagging. According to a 2012 Yoga Journal study, 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, up from 15.8 million in 2008, an increase of 29 percent.
Yoga fans spend $10.3 billion a year on classes and products, including equipment, clothing and vacations.
The Maine Yoga Fest, with dozens of lectures, workshops and free swag, is a retreat minus the tropical jungle, but similarly restorative.
Emerging from this high-energy incubator an hour and a half later, we were chilled out, limbered up and filled with enough energy to light up Portland’s Time and Temperature Building.
There is something transformative about the emerging, endorphin-fueled yoga community, if you catch the buzz.
“Yoga forces you to stop, sit, and be with yourself and get uncomfortable. We are so busy we don’t stop and sit and see what we are doing,” Becker said. “It’s like an incubator.”
Self-reflection can make all the difference.
For Becker, “Yoga helped me to gain spiritual strength and get my life back on track.”
Not bad for a Saturday night in an elementary school.