Yoga classes in an art museum? The mixture makes sense - stretching and sculpture, posing and paintings, art and asanas seem to go together.
For about five years, Krannert Art Museum at the UI has been offering hatha yoga every Friday at noon. What began as a group of seven or eight participants now attracts 20 to 40 yoga enthusiasts, says Hayli Peterson, an instructor with the Living Yoga Center in Urbana, who teaches the weekly class.
"It's an inspiring place to be," Peterson said.
KAM offers all the necessary elements for a yoga class: a hard, flat floor; abundant space; a calm, contemplative atmosphere; and, perhaps most important, plenty of drishti.
"Drishti is a Sanskrit word for 'gazing point,' which can be a spot on the floor, your fingertips or something else," Peterson said. "Still art is extremely calming and it's fascinating, so people really like to stare at it. It gives us something to focus on."
Melinda Campbell, a wetlands geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey, has been practicing yoga in conventional studios and at home for four years, and she values KAM's unique environment.
"One theme you hear in a lot of yoga classes is that you need to try to silence your brain to everything that goes on in your life, and having art all around you helps you to be in that room, in that place," she said.
"I think it is so cool, such a neat mix of the kind of floor that you'd have in a dance studio with the ambience of art - whoever thought of that is pretty creative and fun."
At the UI, the idea was suggested by Anne Sautman, the director of education at KAM. She had heard about another museum, possibly one in Chicago or New York, offering yoga, and then over lunch one day, a co-worker suggested starting a yoga class at KAM. "I think by doing different types of programs like this, the museum itself is more on the radar," Sautman said. "I feel it draws people who have never been to the museum, or have not been in a long time. It informs people that the museum is more than just art on the walls."
It's a trend that is quietly stretching across the art world - the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Crow Collection in Dallas, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas and the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University all offer yoga classes.
Unlike most of those classes, KAM's yoga class is free and open to the public, in keeping with the philosophy of KAM director Kathleen Harleman. "She believes strongly that all of our events should be free," Sautman said. No advance registration is required, but participants should bring their own mats. For more information, contact Sautman at firstname.lastname@example.org.