Under the Rader: Staking Out the Kent Ave Power Plant

By Athena Ponushis

How does one walk up in to a power plant? I walk west, headed to the East River. Pass Kent Ave. See the graffiti rabbit on the corner of Metropolitan Ave., partial spine exposed. See renderings of totem-like birds. I hit River St.by the Grand Ferry Park. Hear noise to my left, go right, to the gates of the Kent Power Project.

I am here because the Environmental Protection Agency designated Newtown Creek a Superfund site, promising federal money and muscle to clean the polluted creek. Good, but what about the soil and air touching down on neighboring waters? What about the white plumes from the Kent power plant landing in the East River? Where does this plant rank in the neighborhood’s environmental priorities?

Nearing my target, I see a child’s bicycle tangled in barbed wire—yellow wheels, purple handlebars. I write it down, because I am here to look for bigger, badder polluters—polluters not in the news—and a strangled bicycle might set a looming scene.

Gate open, I see a man and a woman in blue hard hats. I wave. Hear cranking. Politely ask if the plant’s running. Man answers, “I don’t see smoke.” He’s wearing protective eye gear, I’m not. He turns from me when he sees me look at his name badge. “Patrick” seems more scared of my notebook than the smoke stack. He points to a sign marked, “New York Power Authority Kent Power Project.” It lists a phone number and an address, my same zip code—11211.

I sit in Grand Ferry Park, adjacent waterfront access courtesy of New York Power Authority (NYPA). I see a lady with a stroller by the river. Roughly ten years ago, local groups—Williamsburg Watch, Stop the Barge, others—partnered city-wide, forming CURE (Communities United for Responsible Energy) to sue NYPA. These stroller-toting residents, studio-renting artists, two-job-workers short on spare time, all tried to stop a smoke stack from going up 100 feet away from their apartment windows. The neighborhood lost, NYPA won, at a time when Williamsburg ranked third in New York City for cases of asthma.

Stack built, the block quiets. You can see it. You can hear it. You just hear no talk of it. Why? Ask the usual activists and they say, “What power plant?” like it’s a new issue, not a lost one. Had all turned to Newtown Creek? The NYC Department of Health lists north/central Brooklyn as the second in the city for a high incidence of asthma—Greenpoint was third, Williamsburg was fourth in a 2009 survey. How good is this Kent power plant? How bad? I call the plant contact number, initiating my interview with Michael Saltzman, NYPA spokesman.

Saltzman calls the Kent power plant a small, clean power plant, one of six to start operating in NYC during summer 2001. When running, the natural-gas-burning plant generates electricity for roughly 46,000 homes. The plant now has a permit to run 24 hours a day, though activists say it was originally slotted to run only during “peak” times, when the city was in need of an additional power source. Saltzman assures me the Kent power plant enhances air quality, but how?

Using new plants means not using old plants. Advanced technology means cleaner energy. Saltzman says this 19 different ways in one interview—“cleaner technology contributes to cleaner air quality,” “this facility helps improve air quality for every-body in the city.” Can someone look at a smoke stack and see cleaner air? Really? Can a power plant be an environmental benefit? Really?

I call Mary Ziegler, artist/activist. I ask her, when she sees the Kent power plant, what does she see?

“I see the emissions,” Ziegler pauses. I say nothing. She says more, “I see the state taking an easy way out on a populace with a traditionally low income, a populace who didn’t have deep enough pockets to fight.”

Rather than reducing pollution, Ziegler sees addition. Yes, compared to dirty, old oil plants, she files this plant as an improvement. “But they didn’t take the old plants out of service, they didn’t replace anything, they just made more energy,” said the Williamsburg Watch cofounder. “They added these emissions on top of other emissions. Instead of fixing existing plants, they added more pollution.”

Spokesman Saltzman rebuts. He talks about the city’s air quality as a whole, rationalizing the Kent plant through NYPA efforts to offset emissions—like retrofitting 1,500 school buses with “tailpipe-emission-reduction technology,” or installing eight fuel cells to “harness waste gas from sewage treatment facilities to produce clean electricity.”

Ziegler applauds NYPA for reducing the air pollution they increase by running their power plant. Locally, NYPA paid to convert the painting process of Tri-Boro Shelving— a steel manufacturer across the street from Public School 84—from methods releasing volatile organic compounds to powder paint, all electro-static, no chemicals. Ziegler acknowledges retrofitting school buses is a nice gesture, but she lives one block from the Kent plant. When she puts such gener-osities next to the drone she hears or the white plumes she sees, she does not get down to zero impact. “It sounds good, and it was a nice thing for them to do, but it’s a token compared to what they put out.”

Saltzman says white plumes are water vapor mists. I call Marco J. Castaldi, assistant professor of earth and environ-mental engineering at Columbia University. I ask the expert about the plumes. “Oh, that’s usually just water vapor,” Castaldi said. “Yes, they are called smoke stacks for a reason, but gone are the days when any smoke is actually coming out of them.”

I share the NYPA perspective—new technology means cleaner energy, making the Kent plant an environmental benefit. Professor, what’s your spin on this? “Well, that’s an interesting question,” Castaldi muses. “New York city needs power. How can we get it?” He ponders generating power from water. A turbine turns in a river, producing electricity. No air pollution, but the ecosystem changes up and downstream. Onto the sun. Castaldi says making some solar materials emits toxicities, fluorescent light bulbs hold mercury. Considering space and materials needed to match gas-fired energy, Castaldi does not see solar energy as feasible for New York city.

“In terms of the choices we have to meet the demand, natural gas is the best,” Castaldi deduces. “As far as an environmental benefit, I’m not sure I’m aligned with that definition of it, but it’s easy to see how one can make that argument. It’s a legitimate argument.”

But professor, what about the children with asthma on the playground across the street? “That’s a compelling image, but that’s all it is. There’s no evidence tying a modern-day power plant to respiratory illness. That’s the air quality of New York city. I would be very skeptical to pin it on one power plant.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has his sights set on one power plant. His first lawsuit targets a coal-fired Pennsylvania plant, one he claims “endangers New Yorkers’ clean air and health by emitting more than double the amount of sulfur dioxide as all of New York’s plants combined.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Audubon New York, and the American Lung Association all support the attorney general in his fight. I call back my activist. I ask Mary Ziegler, I must, why did she stop her Kent power plant fight?

“Because it’s there,” her answer literally 100 feet tall. “Because we did fight it and we lost. We lost, they won. We didn’t prevent it. There wasn’t any way to stop it after we lost the lawsuit… We tried as best we could.”

What now? Identify it. Ziegler points to the Domino sugar plant to show how many people in the community are not clued in. The controversial development drafted early designs with residential units rising 30-stories high. Heat rises. Plant emissions from the 10-story stack would waft into homes. Domino changed their north-tower sketches from residential to commercial, windows non-opening. “Wind blows in different directions and curls around walls,” Ziegler adds. “But I don’t think this will be in their sales literature.”

More than identifying it, and introducing the plant to the unaware, Ziegler says we must watch it. I call the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The Kent power plant has had emissions violations in the past. “It exceeded its nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and ammonia hourly average limits during start-up periods at various times in 2002, 2003 and 2004,” Thomas Panzone, DEC citizen participation specialist, wrote in an email. The plant has not had an emissions violation since 2004.

Measuring emissions against restrictions, Panzone further wrote, “The facility has a nitrogen oxides (NOx) emission limit of 21.9 tons per year. The facility actually emitted 1.17 tons of NOx in 2009.”

The same day the DEC replies to my inquiry, they issue an air quality health advisory for New York state. I sit in a coffee shop, writing. Since starting this story, I have been trying to conjure the perfect metaphor, some contradiction to show this air-polluting-yet-more-pure-than-others plant. And here I sit, waiting for a man to move so I can plug in my laptop. He’s reading the newspaper. He has no need to sit next to a power outlet. But I do, I have to plug in to write a story on a power plant. The Kent plant emits but does not violate–hinge–it benefits the environment but it pollutes the environment–hinge–it cleans but it dirties. I suppose when I see the Kent plant, I see less of a stack and more of a scale.

Paper Products: An Eco-Retrospective Looking Forward

By Lisette Johnson

Although the invention of paper dates back two millenia, it wasn’t until the 20th century that paper products for the home were readily available, and it took another couple decades for them to become ubiquitous in American households. Using disposable cleaning products became a mark of wealth and prosperity rather than waste and irresponsibility. That notion is changing as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, when over 30 percent of the waste in U.S. landfills consists of paper products, most of which could be recycled or replaced with reusable counterparts.

Collectively known as “sanitary grades,” paper towels, napkins, facial tissues, and toilet paper are a billion dollar industry in America. They are made from varying proportions of bleached tree pulp and sulfite to create an absorbent sheet. Toilet tissue is also treated with resins to increase its strength when wet—production processes that emit harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Most house-hold paper products are treated with chlorine to make them whiter and brighter, another chemical that has been proven to have harmful effects on the atmosphere when released during manufacturing. The easiest first step to reducing your environmental impact from use of these products is to seek out those labeled TCF (totally chlorine free) or PCF (processed chlorine free). Of course, the most effective way to reduce your impact and increase your environmental responsibility is to avoid using these products at all. The second most effective is to seek out those made from recycled material.

One major debate in the green revolution is that reusable alternatives to sanitary grade paper products are unsanitary—and this argument both holds water (pun intended) and misinformation. It’s certainly true that cloth can harbor more germs than disposable products, but with proper cleaning, cloth towels are the most viable alternative to paper products (with the exception of toilet paper!). When using a cloth towel to wipe up a normal spill, there’s no need to take special precautions. Spilled water, milk, juice, or cooking oil can be cleaned using only one cloth, which should then be washed. If using a cloth towel to clean up a bacterial spill, however, such as egg, meat blood, or chicken fat, multiple towels should be used for sanitary reasons. One should be used to wipe, one to wash the area with hot water, and one to dry. All towels need to be washed after use. Following these steps makes using cloth alternatives just as easy and sanitary as paper ones—and greatly reduces environmental impact. And, for the record, far more water is needed to grow tree farms and run pulp mills than to run a weekly load of cloth towels through the washing machine.

Though debatable, there’s plenty of scientific evidence that the complete eradication of germs and bacteria is actually more detrimental to our health than beneficial. Appearing in a 2000 article in The New York Times, Dr. Stuart Levy, a program director at the Tufts University School of Medicine, reports that our obsession with cleanliness is changing the bacteria we’ve adapted to over millions of years. That same year, several preliminary findings reported that common household germs and dust may actually strengthen our immune system—a serious blow to an industry built around a culture of germaphobia. In 2001, the World Health Organization issued a global strategy to reduce bacterial resistance to antibiotics, due to an over-emphasis on cleanliness that has resulted in microbes becoming immune to disease-reducing medicines.

A Brief History of Sanitary Grade Products

Paper towels were an (un)happy accident, invented in 1907 when the Scott Paper Company unintentionally loaded a railroad car full of paper sheets that were too thick to be used for printing. Upon hearing the news, company president Arthur Scott recalled a newspaper article from 1879, in which a schoolteacher provided soft paper instead of cloth towels for her students, in an attempt to avoid a cold epidemic. Scott partitioned the mis-made paper, and marketed it as “Sani-Towel,” a product to make households more hygienic. Though it was originally a flop on the market, by 1931, perforated paper towels were a grocery store regular.

Paper napkins have a similar history, as do facial tissues. Napkins were first used at the dinner table in the 14th century, but were sheet-size pieces of fabric attached to the table and held by servants to dab the mouths of the wealthy. By the 16th century these had been sized down to three by four feet. The invention of the fork in the 18th century changed the role of napkins again. Paper napkins hit the market in the early 20th century—the first were manufactured by the Scott Paper Company in the 1930s. They were available for widespread consumption in the 1950s. Facial tissues existed in the form of washi (a disposable paperlike cloth now used for stationery and art) in Japan before the 17th century. The brand Kleenex was first introduced in America in 1924 by the Kimberly-Clark Company, to eliminate the need for cold cream, cleverly marketed by Hollywood starlets. It was the consumers themselves who began to use Kleenex as a disposable handkerchief, and by WWII they had become a common household item.

Toilet paper has a more storied history. Humans have been pretty inventive with their bathroom necessities throughout history (people of the Caribbean typically used coconut shell skin, while Eskimos were known to use tundra moss when the ice thawed), and for good reason. There is some evidence that toilet paper was manufactured for Chinese imperial courts as early as the 14th century, but during the Middle Ages using paper to wipe oneself was seen as unsanitary. It wasn’t until 1857 that modern toilet paper was introduced by American inventor Joseph Gayetty. It was called Gayetty’s Medicated Paper, and marketed as a means to reduce hemorrhoids.
Alternatives to Sanitary Products

There are ecologically sound alternatives using sanitary grade paper products that don’t involve getting rid of them altogether. Leading manufacturers compete for the “softness” factor, which is the problem. Softness is achieved by using virgin tree fiber. Every year tens of millions of trees are clear-cut to make paper products. According to the National Resources Defense Council, if every American household made the commitment to replace brand-name paper products with recycled versions, the impact on the industry would be monumental. This includes products that are made in part from post-consumer content. Post-consumer fibers are those that have been recovered from recycled paper that would otherwise have been dumped into a landfill or incinerated.

If everyone in the country replaced just one 70-sheet roll of traditional paper towel with recycled paper towel, it would save 544,000 trees.

Replacing just one 175-sheet box of traditional facial tissues with recycled ones would save 163,000 trees.

Replacing just one 500-sheet roll of traditional toilet paper with a recycled roll would save 423,900 trees.

Replacing just one 250-count pack of traditional paper napkins with recycled ones would save 1,000,000 trees. (That’s as many trees as are being planted over the course of ten years in the NYC Million Tree Initiative!)

There are plenty of recycled paper product manufacturers popping up, the most popular of which are Seventh Generation, Whole Foods 365, Marcal, and Green Forest. Brands that use less than one percent recycled material and use chlorine in their production process (read: brands to avoid in the name of environmental responsibility) include Kleenex, Puffs, Charmin, Cottonelle, Bounty, and Viva. If you’re skeptical about how the recycled products fare against their virgin counterparts, try them out and decide for yourself how much softness you can sacrifice in the name of the planet. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t try.

This new year marks the first of a new decade, and an opportunity to make responsible life choices and changes that will affect decades to come. The American Forest and Paper Association reported that from January to November 2010, Americans consumed 7 percent more recovered paper than in the same period of 2009, which is hopeful. Using cloth alternatives—safely and cleanly—is the best alternative to virgin pulp sanitary grade products, but using those made from recycled material is a low-impact-for-you, high-impact-for-the-environment decision. So as you’re making your resolutions this month, consider one for the betterment of the world, as well as your personal life. You’ve got nothing to lose but waste.

OMMMMG: So Many Yoga Studios in the Neighborhood – Part 1

Unnata Aerial Yoga

Michelle Dortignac, founder of Unnata Aerial Yoga, in a pose which combines traditional yoga and aerial acrobatics. Photo courtesy Unnata Aerial Yoga

by Stacey Brook

Part 1

My Zen is at the peak of productivity. Between morning and afternoon meetings, doctors appointments, a run at the gym, jazzed up on cappuccinos, deadlines looming, I take a minute to focus on my breath, I inhale the city’s car-fumed air … Blackberry still in hand, podcast tunes pumping through my brain, scanning the daily paper … and I exhale.


Even while living life in the fast lane, yoga has always held its promise for me—for stress reduction, flexibility, and promoting overall mental and physical well-being. And as can be witnessed by the insane number of yoga studios opening in the neighborhood in the last few years, it looks as if it’s holding its promise for many others too. Throw a healing stone in the air and you’re bound to hit one. So I set off on a spiritual journey to find the best of what the neighborhood has to offer in the way of pose progressions, earth-based scents, non-melodic chanting, and general good vibes, sampling everything from Vinyasa Flow classes, to super sweaty Bikram, to aerial yoga that had me swinging from the rafters. Whether you’ve never treated your hamstrings to the intensive stretch of the downward dog, or you are already inducted into the art of twisting your-self into a pretzel, one of these classes will put you on the path to tranquility—or at the very least, workout those abs.

So discover your bliss.

Go Yoga (pioneer yoga)
112 North 6th St. b/w Wythe Ave. and Berry St. 718-486-5602

I start my journey to purity of mind and body at Go Yoga on North 6th St. In an open level class taught by Lilia Mead, a petite brunette who is the studio’s owner. I took my first Vinyasa of the week, brushing away chaturanga cobwebs. The class was a perfect warm-up session for a rusty yogi— slower than I like my practice, but inspirational because Lilia took such care in adjusting my posture.

Go Yoga was one of the first studios in the neighbor-hood when it opened its doors ten years ago. It also boasts a much-regaled staff of instructors, many of whom have remained with Go Yoga since the beginning. Lilia is a patient teacher who effortlessly adjusted the level of the class to my skills. I rewarded her with many failed handstand attempts, and a pigeon pose that was more like “ugly duckling.”

The Go Yoga space is instantly welcoming, and consists of one large, yet cozy, practice room, with sun streaming in through a double set of French doors onto a meditation shrine. Cubbies to store belongings are located outside the yoga room, by the one small bathroom/changing area, and front desk, where manager Ralph makes tea for the class after each session. Go Yoga also offers community reiki (palm healing) and acupuncture, as well as yoga retreats, the next of which is happening January 28-30.

The classes offered are varying levels of Hatha Vinyasa Flow, which combines the extended posing of Hatha Yoga with the fluid movements of Vinyasa. Many of the instruc-tors incorporate meditation, but lest non-meditators like myself be scared away by this, Lilia emphasizes the practicality of the studio’s philosophy. “There’s nothing new age about Go Yoga,” she said, allowing me to breathe a sigh a relief before tossing my Enya CD and recently purchased vial of patchouli oil in the trash.

At the end of the session, in savasana, or “corpse pose,” I felt Lilia place a lavender mask over my eyes before giving my shoulders a knead with scented oil.

1 Aerial yoga student Janice Muscio in yoga pose using silks. 2 Bikram instructor Luke Strandquist in Standing Head to Knee Pose. 3 Bikram instructor Jessicah Coulston in Eagle Pose. 4 Bikram class in session. Photos by Eric Ryan Anderson

Bikram Yoga Williamsburg
(exceptionally sweaty yoga)
108 North 7th St.
b/w Wythe Ave. and Berry St.

Of all the yoga styles, Bikram is my favorite. As a chronic aerobic exerciser, I like to feel my heart beating out of my chest when I work out, though it turns out that sweating profusely, enough to fill a carnival dunk tank, will also do the trick. Bikram Yoga Williamsburg’s classes are held in one large, carpeted room that is kept at 104 degrees on average, for those who have ever wondered what it feels like to be cooked sous vide. The room is one of the few in the neigh-bor-hood that features full-length mirrors (some studios prefer that people not focus on themselves in this way), which steamily reflected a crew of thirty or-so Williamsburgians dressed in a Chorus Line-like array of exercise bikinis and profanely snug male bike shorts. I breathed through my warrior stances three feet from a bare-chested Russell Brand look-alike. Watching the beads of sweat stream through his chest hair was truly a spiritual experience.

My 4pm Tuesday class was taught by Sara, a tall, refreshingly curvy, woman, who wrote down the students’ names on a floorplan at the beginning of the class, so she could address us individually (me three times as much as anyone else) to adjust our posture from a podium at the front of the studio. She didn’t give us much time to pause or rest during the challenging practice that draws from 96 poses, which was probably intentional—if you stop to think about the equator-like heat, it’s much harder to stay in camel pose.

Bikram Yoga is the only Bikram (heated) studio on the Northside of Williamsburg, and, with an eight-year history, is another one of the neighborhood pioneers. In-structors are handpicked, and everyone goes through additional Bikram yoga training before teaching. The desk staff is friendly, and there is a spacious downstairs area for changing, including two showers and three bathrooms. Take advantage of the intro special—$20 for a week’s worth of classes, including mat and towel—during the next cold front. And all 7am classes are only $10, if you can manage to rise with the sun for sun salutation.

Unnata Aerial Yoga
(gravity-defying yoga)
241 Bedford Ave., Studio #7
b/w North 3rd and 4th Sts.

Unnata Aerial Yoga is a yogic exercise regimen created by Michelle Dortignac, combining the postures of yoga, with the athletics and flexibility of aerial acrobatics.

On the second floor, right above the King’s Pharmacy on Bedford, Dortignac clips aerial silks in a loop, or “hammock” formation, from ceiling rafters specially rigged for aerial acrobatic devices. A decade-long hatha yoga instructor, and accomplished aerialist with New York’s Suspended Cirque, Dortignac has crafted a thoughtful progression of poses which uses changes in emphasis of gravity and weight shifting to help you safely deepen your stretches, pinpoint the correct posture in complex poses, and find flexibility where you never thought you had it. While other instructors will tell you to plant your feet firmly into the ground, Dortignac is more often asking you to lift your own body weight in an assisted pull-up, or suspend yourself in the air from your waist in a full-split position.

The class can move slowly, but it certainly tests your balance, and strength. Throughout, Dortignac is supportive, encouraging, and sharp-witted. Noticing one of my yoga-mates was hesitant to hang upside-down, feet bound and knees flipped outward to either side in what I’ve taken to calling “Mutant Butterfly Pose,” she reassured, “The more you get used to it, the less scary it is. Kind of like living in New York.”

For me, the highlight of the class was savasana (“corpse pose”), which I entered by spreading out my panel of fabric so the hammock could support my entire body as I lay down. Completely ensconced in silky fabric, a sweaty sarcophagus levitating three feet above the ground, I offered Michelle $20 to let me nap there for an hour, light as a feather, stiff as a board.  (She declined.)

Classes are small and private (12 students or less), with a lot of personal attention, and you can sign up in advance via email or phone. Single classes are $20, and discounted packages are available as well.

Unnata Aerial class in session. Photos Courtesy Unnata Aerial Yoga.

Hosh Yoga (spreading the love)
55 Nassau Ave. @ Guernsey St.

HOSH Yoga was named with purpose. “Hosh” is the Turkish word for “good and kind.” It is the root word of “welcome” and “happiness.” In sanskrit “hosh” means “awareness” or “awakening.” And “XOS,” the Turkish spelling of “hosh,” is, as the studio’s owner Hamid Elsevar explains, comprised of X’s and O’s—appropriate, since HOSH Yoga is all about spreading the love.

Many studios in the neighborhood offer community, or pay-what-you-wish, classes during the week, but HOSH is the only all pay-what-you-wish, non-profit yoga studio. The HOSH operation began during the summer of 2009, when Hamid and other volunteer instructors began conducting open sessions in McCarren Park on the corner of Lorimer and Bedford. When the weather became too cold for tree pose among the trees, Hamid took the class indoors to a bare-bones basement studio in a gym on Calyer St. But this past June, HOSH reopened in a new location on Nassau Ave. in super close proximity to Lomzynianka, for loading up on pierogies before class. (Although trust me, it doesn’t help flexibility.)

In my 6:30pm Friday class, taught by Hamid, the en-viron-ment had a more relaxed air than most yoga studios. Shoes came off at the door, but students kept their belongings beside their mats, and Hamid peppered instructions with jokes. He soundtracked the class with con-temporary indie rock, and mellow favorites, Thom Yorke crooning to us as we tried to bring our chests to our knees. “Soon, you can all go party!” Hamid said over the music, as he watched our thigh muscles shake in chair pose. This is a man who understands my motivations.

The studio space is huge, with high ceilings, sunny yellow walls, and beautiful, wood floors installed by Hamid and friends. Clear, Edison-style bulbs hang fashionably from the ceiling. Hamid and his generous volunteer crew will be finishing the build out of HOSH’s second yoga room in time for New Year’s resolutioners to take advantage, and nine new classes of varying intensity will be added to the diverse schedule. HOSH also plans to expand into schools and to offer retreats, all depending on the gracious donations of its students—so practice and give!

Namaste Yoga
(spiritual yoga)
336 Grand St.
(b/w Marcy Ave. and Havemeyer St.)

Namaste is the studio for the spiritual set, and they know how to throw a party. The morning of my Vinyasa Flow class, the staff was preparing for a combined Full Moon/Lunar Eclipse/Winter Solstice Party, and the studio regularly throws full moon and new moon celebrations, including occasional female-only festivities for the empowerment of the ladies, and special practices like the Full Moon, Steam Room, Goddess Gathering (coming up on Wednesday, January 19). Amidst all of this jubilation, the people of Namaste also practice yoga.

Built from the ground up by owner/founder Deborah Desmond and her husband, the yoga room features bam-boo floors and support poles, with warm, squash colored walls and a green paned glass door out to the lovely med-itation garden (complete with firepit!). When I visited, the space was flush with cherry tree branches salvaged from the garden of a neighbor of Debbie’s grand-mother. The forestry made me feel like I was practicing in a Maurice Sendak book, earthy and wonderous.

The classes at Namaste are mostly Hatha Vinyasa Flow, but the studio also offers prenatal and restorative yoga. My class, a party of three on a cold, early weekend morning in a neighborhood of late-risers, held a combination of experienced and beginner practitioners. As always, I brought up the rear, with my hips forever unwilling to properly tuck in alignment. Sara, our instructor was patient and warm, and made us tea after class, which is, as I’m now coming to understand, the yoga equivalent of putting your date in a cab at the end of the night to make sure she gets home okay.

Small bathroom and changing facilities are located down a hand-painted spiral staircase, along with reiki and massage treatment rooms, and a brand new meditation room. There is a steamroom that is free for all members, and comes with the regular $17 class. And Namaste also houses a holistic aesthetician who works with mostly Aveda products, and offers acupuncture and the ancient medicinal remedy of “cupping,” in which hot cups are suctioned to the skin and then pulled off. Sounds relaxing. You folks can write the review on that one.

Namaste started as an all-donation studio, and now tries to offer at least one donation class a day. They also sell herbal products made by instructors and staff including salves and bath salts, and publish a quarterly zine.

Kula Yoga (family yoga)
85 North 3rd St.b/w Wythe Ave. and Berry St.


Kula Yoga is the newest, it’s the coolest, it’s the behemoth. The Brooklyn extension of a beautiful Tribeca studio, Kula is the place everyone is talking about, and with good reason. The facility, opened just two months, is breathtaking, all built with reclaimed wood from a demolished farmhouse upstate. When you walk through the studio’s entrance on North 3rd St., it feels like you’re walking into the countryside —huge barn doors stand in as walls, and dark, battered wood has been fashioned into shelving and sink space. There’s even a sauna made entirely of repurposed cedar.

But what makes Kula stand out from the other studios in the neighborhood is its boutique, full-service feel. This is not no-frills yoga. At the front of the studio, you’re immediately greeted by the Shanti Shack, and all-organic snack factory run by a cheery woman named Brownie, who, the morning I attended class, had an organic egg and cheese scramble and sweet potato hash on the menu that could turn a meat-lover, vegetarian.

The class I attended, an express class, and the only 60-minute session of my seven-class neighborhood tour (Part 1)—almost all traditional yoga classes are 90-minutes, I have come to learn—was stuffed to the brim with the fashionable, Williamsburg parents. Even in child’s pose, the group looked parental. Perhaps because they were, with their kids doing baby downward dogs in Kula’s second studio.

“The kids class at the same time as the adult class is completely self-serving,” said Schuyler Grant, owner of the Kula locations. A genius idea, unless you don’t have kids. If the idea of someone else’s little critters jumping all over the place post-class is not so relaxing, maybe try Nikki’s 6:30pm class on Sunday, which is routinely followed by a supper cooked by Brownie in the Shanti Shack.

Schuyler and her Williamsburg location co-director, Nikki Vilella, do seem to know what Williamsburg parents want and need in a yoga studio. They are even getting Kula a wine license for what they’re calling “Detox /Retox.” “Food and wine and yoga,” said Schuyler. “To have all of those things in one place is beautiful.” Soon you will be able to grab a glass of wine post-savasana, and head on up to the amply cushioned mezzanine level, lovingly coined “The Snuggle Room” by Schuyler’s daughter, Lolly. Sounds pretty zen to me.

More information is always to be discovered on the internet! Find out more about each studio’s philosophy, class schedules and pricing by visiting their individual websites.

Part 2

In February, we will continue the tour and visit more studios… including… GoodYoga, Human@Ease, Yoga to the People, Abhyasa Yoga Center, Usha Veda Yoga, private practitioners, etc…
Send us the name of your studio, too, at info@thewgnews.com.