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REVIEW: Would You Van Gogh to Yoga? (Lighthouse)

Opera singer Victoria Erickson of Northfield, MN engaging in yoga practice at the Immersive Van Gogh–Minneapolis exhibit. 

The Van Gogh immersive art phenomenon is sweeping the world. According to Lighthouse Immersive, the company behind the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Minneapolis, those numbers are adding up: some 3.2 million people have seen its exhibitions so far. But where do you go after you’ve danced in the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)’s olive tree groves and bathed in Starry, Starry Night? Lighthouse has an answer: yoga class.

Yoga is, of course, another phenomenon sweeping the world. By some estimates, more than 36 million Americans now practice this ancient discipline for mind and body fitness (if not necessarily for the spiritual discipline with which it is also associated in India) – roughly double the number 12 years ago. Add in yoga mats, yoga pants, and yoga classes, and that’s big business. Many yoga practitioners are known for their devotion, seeking out intensive yoga retreats and yoga-centered vacation packages to keep things fresh. 

If yoga and Van Gogh are a natural pairing from a business perspective, does this work out (or lead to working out) in practice? To answer this, the Arts Reader sent two personnel to Northeast Minneapolis to participate in a yoga class while the Immersive Van Gogh Experience played around them.

A yoga class holds the Warrior II pose against the digital backdrop of one of Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionist canvases. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Immersive.

The first things you should know are that there are no changing areas and no juice bars; you should bring your own mat and arrive dressed to go. As of press time, the classes are all in the early morning: 9 AM on Thursdays, 8:30 AM on Fridays, and 7:30 AM on Saturdays and Sundays. The exhibition soundtrack is turned down for the classes, so you can skip the normally recommended hearing protection. As you enter the gallery, the lights are dimmed and the instructor guides you to arrange your matts in a circle, sit down…and class and exhibition begin together.

The Gogh with Lifeway Kefir Immersive Yoga classes (say that three times fast) are advertised as accessible to people of all fitness levels, which matched up with the class on Thursday morning. No prior knowledge of the hero or boat poses is required; the instructor named specific poses and explained how to do them the first several times. Soon, you’re holding familiar poses and seeing your eyes wander as the walls morph around you into animated versions of Van Gogh’s famous canvases. The 35-minute class passes quickly; it could easily stand to be an hour long, with another exhibition loop. It’s a comfortable and gently stimulating environment, with less of the normal body self-consciousness since your own eye is naturally being drawn to the brightly projected images on the walls, and not your fellow classmates.

After the class is over, attendees are offered a complimentary bottle of kefir (a fermented dairy beverage), courtesy of the series sponsor Lifeway Kefir. You have the option of staying to watch another loop of the exhibition that played during your class. If you elect this option, the whole experience adds up to an hour’s stay. At $54.99 a class, I would say that staying to watch the exhibition is practically mandatory: the class if fun, but you’ll want your money’s worth and to get a better look at the visual experience.

A yoga class unfolding against the backdrop of Van Gogh’s sunrise over wheat fields. Photo courtesy of Lighthouse Immersive.

Lifeway Kefir Immersive Yoga classes run Thursday–Sunday through October 31 at Lighthouse (1515 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413). Masks are required at all times; bring your own mat. 

Basil Considine