The story of Yoga in the Heights’ founder and owner Stephanie Kumar is a circuitous one. After graduating from college, Stephanie hit Wall Street with big plans to become a bond trader. It did not work out. She knew that she wanted more from life but wasn’t sure what that meant – beyond quitting her job after four years. She went to South East Asia, finding her calling through community-based volunteer work that helped to educate young woman in small business practices and founding a non-profit that provided academic scholarships to underprivileged young women.
Returning to the states, she knew she wanted to continue doing community-based volunteer work but she still wasn’t sure what shape it would take. She started to dedicate herself to her yoga practice, and this is when the seeds of a new life began to germinate.
The only problem: there was tremendous effort and expense for Stephanie to actually get to her beloved yoga class. As a single mom, she had to hire child-care, get to a studio, and pay for class. It added up. But there was nowhere she could go in her own neighborhood for an affordable class.
Around this time, Jersey City Heights began to change, most notably with the addition of the Riverview Fisk Park Farmer’s Market on Palisades Avenue. Drawing on her community-based volunteerism, Stephanie decided to offer free yoga classes in the park every Sunday with her yoga-instructor friends (Stephanie herself is not a yoga instructor), coinciding with the hours of the farmer’s market. To their surprise, upwards of 45 people began attending. That was in the summer of 2012. Stephanie realized that series she nonchalantly created spoke to an unaccounted for need in her community. Someone needed to bring yoga to the Heights and that person would be Stephanie.
In true community spirit, the local art gallery and art space The Distillery offered to let Stephanie and her partner Bridget Fujioka use their space free of charge so they could continue offering yoga classes in winter. At the modest price of $10 a class they were able to continuing building up their community of yogis and teachers, and were able to start developing a business plan that would allow their studio Yoga in the Heights to become a more fully realized thing
In the fall of 2013, Yoga in the Heights moved to their current space on Palisades Avenue. Their mission - if you couldn’t have guessed - is to make yoga accessible for anyone and everyone, and to maintain low class prices (drop-ins are still modestly priced at $15). In addition, Yoga in the Heights is still strongly committed to giving back to its community. They are acutely aware that they would not be around if it wasn’t for their community and they are always wanting to give back to it. For example, the studio sent an email out to all of its students asking what local charities they would like Yoga in the Heights to raise money for in 2014. The first selected for 2014 is the Liberty Humane Society of Jersey City with others to follow suit over. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Yoga in the Heights held several community classes where all the proceeds were donated to victims of the storm.
The studio itself (and its schedule of classes) is still growing but isn’t lacking for ambition. It is nestled in the back of a karate space, with high ceilings and big windows, and still seems to be growing into its own. For example, between my first and second visit to the studio I noticed that the walls were newly adorned with framed photographs of Yoga in the Heights instructors doing yoga around and about in Jersey City. Personal touches like this take a little while to develop but it seems like the team at Yoga in the Heights are well on their way.
Stephanie and her partner Bridget Fujioka are planning to put in a partition between the two spaces, which would allow them to offer more classes (at concurrent times that the karate studio is open presumably) and to hopefully evolve into being able to offer hot yoga classes. The studio also shares a half bathroom with the karate studio, which has sufficient room for changing, but does not offer a shower at this time. They will launch a full class schedule in June of this year but even so the studio currently offers a variety of classes, such as yoga basics, open level vinyasa, and level 2 hatha.
When asked about the instructors at Yoga in the Heights Stephanie stressed again the community effort of the studio, mentioning that all of the instructors at Yoga in the Heights either live in the heights or in neighboring towns such as Union City and Hoboken. She also excitedly described each instructor, easily able to summarize what stood out about each one: Bridget Fujioka, her thing is yoga basics and restorative postures, she always ends her classes with them; Logan Kinney, a ball of happiness, like a flower child with positive vibes; Martha Kay, a Jivamukti-trained instructor with a funky NYC vibe; Jessica Ashen makes class fun; and Kimberleigh Weiss-Lewit, another charitable instructor, teachers yoga to prisoners at Riker’s Island.
All of this is to say that if that you are looking for an unassuming and welcoming place to not only practice yoga, but to get to know and be a part of a community that is full of generosity, then Yoga in the Heights might be for you.