February 11, 2010

Yoga To The People in New York City (aka Yoga With A Lot of People).

(photo from yogatothepeople.com)

On a recent Wednesday at 7 in the evening, a line of people began at the door to 12 St. Mark’s Place and stretched down the block, past an Adult store, a head shop, falafel restaurant, and various street vendors shilling mittens, sunglasses, jewelry, and everything in between that you might find on Kho Sahn Road in Bangkok.  By 7:10, the line had grown past 100 people.  People waking by wondered out loud what club New Yorkers in work out clothes, office garb, and street attire were queuing up for.  Many of the people in line laughed that they would never wait in a line this long for club or a bar.  The 7:30pm at Yoga to the People is arguably most popular class out of the studio’s 8 classes offered on weekdays.  To be fair, you will not always have to wait in a line this long, or at all, and I got into the 7:30 class a couple of days arriving at 7:20.  I have not been so lucky arriving at 7:25, but the next and last class is at 9pm, and the East Village is a great place to kill time, but my point is, people will wait in line, a long line—for a yoga class, and no, there isn’t a “famous teacher” waiting inside.

Yoga To the People is a donation-based studio in the heart of the East Village.  They also have two studios near to Midtown, offering Hot Yoga and Hot Flow (word to the wise, when it’s crowded, classes at the St. Marks location become Hot Yoga), and a studio in San Francisco.  A Hot Yoga and Power Yoga studio is set to open in prime Williamsburg real estate, the epicenter of Hipster New York, February 21st.

All the Yoga classes at St. Marks are hour-long power yoga classes inspired by Bryan Kest, with the exception of one ninety-minute class Sunday afternoon, and two candle lit yoga hours Sunday evening, which always seem to be mellower by the nature of their atmosphere.  The studio suggests a $10 donation, but encourages students to donate what they can, if they can.  I always try to donate at least $5, but I’ve taken a class before when there’s only .44 cents in my bank account, and I’ve donated $5 in quarters once, okay twice.  I’ve never felt guilty, just incredibly lucky that no matter what my financial situation, I always have a beautiful, albeit often crowded, studio to practice in.  The crowds aren’t for everyone, and I’ve been in classes where I could actually swan dive with arms outstretched, but that’s the exception.  At a typical 7:30 class, at least lately, Yoga to The People can boast about 220 people practicing in one of their 3 studios, each on a different floor.  There are no showers, but there are changing areas with curtains (pulled back to accommodate mats once class starts) and a very nice, and quite large, bathroom on each floor.  I’m surprised no one practices in there once class gets underway, but I suppose that wouldn’t really be right (I’ve come into bow pose more than once only to discover I really really have to pee…I could say something about wind removing pose here, but I won’t…oopps too late).  Really, it’s a downright excellent example of how to use space in this city, making it oh-so  New York.

Classes are demanding, and while the website stresses all levels are welcome, it’s not always the best place for beginners, as the teachers simply can not devote enough time to the adjustments novices often need, though I’ve had teachers remind me to ease my shoulders down my back and I’m grateful for it.  More than once, I’ve been tempted to tell the person next to me not to over extend their arm in a flying twist, but since they don’t know I’ve studied yoga alignment, I don’t want to come off as pretentious.  I’d like to think I’d risk it if someone were about to injure himself or herself.  I love Yoga to the People, but it’s not perfect.  There’s plenty of devoted yogis, but also some, I don’t know what the right word is, but a girl next to me texted on her iphone the other night.  The teacher politely asked her to put her phone away, but from what I could tell she just became more adept at concealing it, but hey, it’s her practice, not mine.

Getting an average of 60-70 people in and out of a rigorous class in an hour is a challenge, and classes are not always as well balanced as I’d like, but there is always at least one backbend to counter all the forward folding that comes with vinyasa.  There is not a mandatory 5-10 minute savasanna, but at least a couple minutes at the end for relaxing followed by a reading or quotation and Tibetan Singing Bowls (you can always chose to go into an early corpse pose at the end of class when teachers give students a little bit of time to do any pose of their choice, invariably  plow or shoulder stand, though I  try to squeeze in plow and fish—maybe that doesn’t sound ideal, but I can’t afford $20 a class or a class card with an expiration date with an inconsistent work schedule).  For me, Yoga to the People is a Godsend, or Universe-send, if you want any insight into my spiritual beliefs.

Yoga to the People doesn’t stress Ujai breath, though they encourage controlled nostril breath, in addition to load exhaled sighs at points.  This elicits the occasional giggle from people unfamiliar with the practice, other times, I’ve heard what I imagine a whale giving birth sounds like sighs, but mostly it’s nice to let go as a group and it truly helps one get through the pace inherent with power yoga.  They won’t OM, but the Tibetan Singing bowls connect me to the universal sound.  The teachers are nice, friendly, encouraging, and you should expect some core-work and yogi push-ups, though the intensity varies from teacher to teacher.  I’m not sure Patanjali had sit-ups in mind, but a stronger core can certainly aid in almost all poses, and it might not be yogic, okay it isn’t, to focus on appearance, but I’m happy with how my stomach looks since I’ve been going 3 times a week.  It’s okay though; I’m practicing non-attachment because I know my abs might not stay this way.  I’ve also enjoyed every class, and the teachers boast awesome yoga mixes.

All in all, any drawbacks are outweighed by what Yoga To the People offers and accomplishes- giving up to 220 people a class a place to practice regardless of their financial situation is pretty damn admirable.  It should really be called Power Karma Yoga.

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