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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Yoga classes in odd places

Time Out Chicago's D.L. Hopkins practices yoga at these unconventional spaces, from the lakefront to a museum.


I’m no Michael Phelps. In fact, my swimming skills rank somewhere between “adequate” and “what the hell is that?” No matter to stand-up paddleboard yoga instructor Mary Lou Cerami. Stand-up paddleboard is like a cross between kayaking and surfing; people stand on a floating board and push themselves with an oar. The yoga version you get at Chicago SUPYoga adds standard positions while you’re floating in Lake Michigan.

After a short briefing on land about how to navigate, my dozen or so classmates and I hit the lake’s choppy waters. I fall behind 20 yards. A rower sees I’m struggling and offers maneuvering advice. After an hour, I’ve finally got the rhythm of paddling and I take a break to try maneuvering my wet body into a half-master triangle and bow ("in which your body mimics the shape of a bow with its string stretched back ready to shoot an arrow") while veteran students nail headstands. This is clearly the most challenging of all the classes. I fall once, but the water is refreshing after posing in the sun. Returning to land, my arms and abs won’t forgive me, but that’s okay. I’ve got sea legs. Kayak Chicago, Montrose Beach, near the Dock at 200 W Harbor Dr (630-336-7245). Through September, weather permitting, Sundays 10–11:30am; $60.

Generic yoga studios can’t compare with a pond and majestic skyline. In addition to housing a chimp, giraffes and jaguars, the Lincoln Park Zoo features an open-air honeycomb tent on the Nature Boardwalk that’s home to adult yoga classes. Amid the wetland and wildlife, students will find an eco-haven for hatha (gentle) yoga taught by various yogis. An encouraging Julie Snyder leads my session. I should be lying still, inhaling and exhaling, but I can’t help but open my eyes to sneak a couple more peeks at the landscape. I have to admit, I could’ve forgone the ants and dragonfly. After ending with a meditative om, I bid adieu to the park, but not before visiting the alpacas nearby. 2001 N Clark St (312-742-2000). Through September, Thursdays 6:30–7:30pm, Saturdays, 9–10am; drop-in $20, monthly $56.

“Arch your back like a Halloween cat,” says Gary Alexander, an instructor with Sacred Space Yoga. The spooky comment is especially surreal in light of where we are—a historic candlelit church in the Gold Coast. Every Monday at St. James Cathedral, spandex-clad yoga fans fill the aisles to practice hatha with mats and brown leather kneelers that double as yoga blocks.

As we cover fundamentals of pranayama (breathing), dhyana (meditation) and asana (physical postures), I marvel at the church’s stained-glass windows and orange-and-green geometric-patterned ceilings while noting that we’re holding warrior long enough to make my thighs quiver. After savasana (rest, or corpse pose), I feel divine from 60 minutes of hatha vinyasa. Hallelujah. Enter through the cathedral’s Garden Entrance, 671 N Wabash St (312-787-7360). Mondays at 5:30pm; suggested donation $10.

Some like it hot. I prefer Bikram—a form of yoga practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees—sans the all-too-familiar stench of B.O. Enter the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s butterfly lab, a 2,700-square-foot conservatory that’s home to more than 1,000 live butterflies and, today, seven beginner-level yoga fans. To keep the butterflies comfortable, the lab is humid. It’s not sweltering but for a hot-yoga fiend, I’ll take it. The class centers on basic asanas, but it’s hard to stay focused on trickier poses while surrounded by live plants, koi ponds, waterfalls and the smell of jasmine. And the beautiful butterflies. They’re everywhere, sometimes landing in our hair and on our mats. Assuming we can’t harm the insects, I go with the flow, which seems to be moving freely at this point. Instructor Jessie Young is as tranquil as the surroundings and devotes the last few minutes to doing poses recommended by the class. 2430 N Cannon Dr (773-755-5100). Ongoing most Saturdays, 8:30–9:45am; $15.

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