- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
For many caught in the spell of J.K. Rowling’s fully realized magical world, reading a “Harry Potter” book for the first, second or millionth time is a spiritual experience.
That’s what many books are for us — a transcendent escape to a universe far from our own. But there remains something special about the “Harry Potter” series nearly 20 years after the first book published.
That proved true in July when droves of first-generation fans excitedly mingled with newer ones at book release parties for “The Cursed Child.” And it was also the case in October at Circle Brewing’s first Harry Potter-inspired yoga class. The North Austin brewery has regularly been hosting yoga classes (on hold now because of colder weather), but the owners were blindsided by the international attention they received as a result of the themed edition.
“We could never have imagined such a viral response,” said Alexa Gonzalez Wagner, director of marketing at Circle.
She and Circle’s yoga instructor, Isabel Beltran, had intended only to provide their yoga regulars with a different experience over Halloween weekend — but then the magazine Cosmopolitan got wind of the class. After that, “the snowball of international coverage,” as Gonzalez Wagner called it, guaranteed that two additional Harry Potter-inspired classes added to the calendar in November in honor of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” quickly sold out.
Fans of the series, many of them decked out in memorabilia like Hufflepuff socks or shirts with the Marauder’s Map printed on it (OK, that was me in the shirt), showed up to the brewery on one of the three yoga days not sure what to expect. But Beltran went above and beyond to deliver a truly transformative hour of yoga.
“I think yoga is more fun when you can use spells and imagine yourself transfiguring into a magical creature, don’t you?” she said later in an interview.
Circle Brewing was pretty magical itself. On Nov. 20, the day I attended, one of the entrance walls had been plastered with “Wanted” posters featuring the faces of Harry Potter, Sirius Black, Bellatrix Lestrange and other so-called criminals. A small Mandrake Garden rested below them. Another wall was covered in brick-patterned paper with the sign “9 3/4” written on it — a reference to the train platform in the books — as a backdrop for fans to take photos.
And a cauldron full of wands in all colors and lengths awaited everyone taking the class. Afterward, Circle — owned by Judson Mulherin and Ben Sabel, Beltran’s boyfriend — offered a free pour of Phoenix Feather and Goblet of Fire, two cask beers they had prepared as calming potions following yoga.
For Beltran, it wasn’t enough to simply have the decorations. She also incorporated the world of “Harry Potter” into the yoga poses, renaming them and, in some instances, having us use the wands as we stretched across our mats.
Giving the poses a Potter spin was easy, she said.
“Considering yoga is a spiritual process and ‘Harry Potter,’ of course, deals with magic, there are a lot of similarities between these two phenomenons,” Beltran said. “First off, in the sense that the wizards and yogis approach their practices mindfully and with an equal focus on hard work and ease. We do this through using our internal yogi magic, which is essentially our breath,” called “prana,” or life force.
Guiding ourselves into the one-legged, raised-arms tree position — called the Whomping Willow in this class — takes concentration, deliberation, and both physical and mental muscle-flexing. We’ve got to be in the right state of mind to pull off some of the trickier poses, and that’s the case with Harry and his wizarding buddies as well. They can’t properly Vanish a toad, Summon a broomstick or Disapparate without considering what they want to do.
“We meditate in yoga and concentrate to make a spell work in ‘Harry Potter,’” Beltran said. “The Patronus charm is one in particular where you have to concentrate on a happy memory; otherwise, it doesn’t work.”
Perhaps those similarities explain, at least partially, why it didn’t feel so ridiculous to be swinging a wand through the air in the middle of particular poses. During dynamic tadasana, in which we lifted our heels and balanced on the balls of our feet, we swished and flicked our wands and recited the spell “Wingardium Leviosa” to help us, as Beltran noted, stay steady in the air.
Beltran, who wore a thick Gryffindor scarf to guard against the wintry weather blowing into the brewery through open doors, changed the downward dog pose to downward werewolf, the three-legged pose to Fluffy and the plank pose to Nimbus 2000. She wanted them “to “reflect the known names of magic spells and creatures,” she said.
“I came up with the poses because I was envisioning the scene from ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ where Harry is secretly training his friends to be part of Dumbledore’s Army,” she added. “He’s teaching them all these spells and magic. And I thought about how a lot of wizard duels usually have a wide stance like the yoga pose warrior II. That was my abracadabra moment (when I) realized I need to include this in the ‘Harry Potter’ yoga class.”
There’s no doubt these classes would sell like hotcakes again — the Nov. 27 session ran out of spots almost immediately, Gonzalez Wagner said — but Circle hasn’t made any plans to bring Potterphiles back to the brewery. Maybe when the Pints & Poses series returns to nicer weather in the spring, Beltran said.
In that case, Accio springtime.