There is a spirit to trap music, a genre of Southern hip-hop known for its 808 drum bass and layered synthesizers. It can be brash, daring and unfazed by strictures of tradition — the perfect backdrop for Brandon Copeland’s yoga class.
“Trap yoga sounds like an oxymoron, but the music complements the practice,” said Copeland, owner of Khepera Wellness Group in the District.
Copeland uses trap music to set the stage for a physically demanding Rocket yoga class. The style draws on Ashtanga yoga moves without strict adherence to the traditional progression of poses, giving practitioners a chance to push themselves with some coaching.
It’s the kind of practice where you’re encouraged to try headstands at your first class. And Copeland is the kind of instructor who can actually get you to do one, with some assistance, at least in my case.
He and his assistant, Michelle Rodgers, cajoled me into a forearm stand on a recent Thursday night. It didn’t take more than a few words of encouragement and shifts in alignment to get me upside down.
I’m no yogi. And the thought of breaking my neck has been enough to keep me away from inversions. Yet there I was. The second attempt at the pose was far less successful — it was my first class, after all. Other newbies had mixed results with the advanced moves, too, but didn’t seemed deterred from giving them a shot.
Although Stephanie Johnson, 34, has taken Bikram and power yoga classes, she said her first trap class was more of a challenge than she expected. Still, the pace and the T.I. songs thrown into the mix kept her engaged.
“That tripod pose, I could do it in my 20s, not so much anymore, but it helped that he’s playing good music,” Johnson said. “The music actually helped me get through it.”
Richard Matthew, 27, recalled his angst the first time he attempted a crow pose during his first trap yoga class. By the time we met, he was balancing his knees on his elbows with ease and testing out handstands on his own.
Matthew had attended other yoga classes but said he was “looking for something more genuine, more natural to me,” somewhere he could feel comfortable making mistakes and just being himself.
“This feels more natural because we’re listening to hip-hop, music I listen to on my own when I want to relieve stress,” Matthew said. “You’re channeling the energy of music through the practice. I can be my best self by learning to channel that energy.”
Copeland wants to disrupt the notion that yoga, despite its origins in India, is the domain of upwardly mobile white people. Throughout his training and teaching, Copeland, who is African American, felt alienated, sensing white practitioners’ unease at his presence and fighting to fit into a yoga culture that can seem elitist.
He said that environment can distract from the psychological benefits of the practice. Yoga calms the mind and focuses energy, and in the midst of unyielding social unrest, Copeland said, African Americans could use a little of that to cope. He sees music as a means to create an inviting space, to break down barriers for people who might otherwise shy away from yoga.
Copeland, 25, began practicing six years ago after taking a class with his girlfriend. It took only a few months before he began training to become an instructor. To gain teaching experience, Copeland offered classes in residence halls at Howard University, where he was studying psychology.
“People would be walking by, stop, walk back, look at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ And my friends would be like, ‘You trying to talk to girls, right?’ ” Copeland said. “They got over the initial apprehension because yoga was no longer something other people did, but something for them, too.”
After graduation, Copeland taught at studios and gyms around town, including Stroga and Washington Sports Clubs, before launching Khepera in December. The name is a nod to an Egyptian god that represents rebirth and evolution.
“The idea is you’re living in chaos, and through this practice you’re able to evolve,” Copeland said.
Khepera, housed in the Capoeira Spot at 2008 Rhode Island Ave. NE, offers yoga for children, vinyasa for beginners, power yoga fueled by house music and a class designed for African American women, called Black Girl Magic. Drop-in classes are $18, but new students can get the first two weeks of classes for $35.