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.
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
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.
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 wondrous.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will find Part 2 here.