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Brooklyn's Yoga Hotbed Follows Real Estate Trends

To find inner peace, follow the Brooklynite with the mat to more than 90 places of instruction listed in the YellowPages, from Clinton Hill to Coney Island.

"Yoga has become a hot phenomenon," said Carlo Schissura, President and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. "Yoga studios are everywhere, even where I live in Dyker Heights, which is a residential neighborhood in southern Brooklyn. It's one of the last places you'd think of for a yoga studio, but we have one. Brooklyn is a destination."

New York's greatest increase happened in Brooklyn -- already the city's most populated borough -- between 2010 and 2013, according to the U.S Census Bureau Whether growth is because of cheaper rents, spacious apartments, or trendy neighborhoods, Kings County may be home to a rising yoga community. In 2013, Iyengar Institute opened in Boerum Hill. In July, YogaWorks launched its Brooklyn Heights location. In September, Dana Flynn, co-owner of Laughing Lotus, signed a lease for a center in Williamsburg.

Studios are especially abundant in Park Slope and Williamsburg, which Schissura describes as "the hottest neighborhood in New York."

A short L train ride from Manhattan, Williamsburg is home to nearly 10 yoga/Pilates businesses, including newer centers like Kula Yoga and Yoga to the People. Such saturation both encourages and challenges long-time resident Lilia Mead, owner of Go Yoga, which opened January 2000,

"Go Yoga is now one of seven yoga studios in a six-block radius," Mead said. "My studio was the first vinyasa yoga studio in the neighborhood, when yoga wasn't as popular and the area wasn't beautiful, full of old industrial buildings and squatters. Now Williamsburg is the most desirable place to live, which is crazy to me. On one hand I say, 'The more people practicing yoga the better.' It makes you kinder, more peaceful, but it makes it hard for the smaller organic yoga studios to survive and thrive."

Mead said Go continues to exist as a "labor of love," a center with regular classes, teacher trainings, and retreats emphasizing the full spectrum of yoga, not just poses. During times of distress -- including hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy -- Go Yoga provided a safe place to commune, meditate, and serve others.

J. Brown, owner of Abyhyasa Yoga Center, was one of Mead's senior teachers before establishing his own studio in 2007. His East Williamsburg location on Metropolitan Avenue allowed him to run a businessand raise afamily. "Lilia was one of the frontier people of yoga in Williamsburg," Brown said. "I was really so grateful to her and I wanted a respectful distance from Go. We came up with a mutual agreement and are still friends."

Brown, a "reluctant businessman," believes he made smart moves early on. He teaches breath-centeredtherapeutic yoga, which gave him a niche. While his first year was difficult, he has almost paid off his Small Business Association (SBA) express loan. Today, Brown and his wife, who live near the studio, are expecting their second child.

"I think it's more possible to have a business and family life in Brooklyn," Brown said. "You need an enclave. You need a grass roots community to make a yoga center fly. But I don't think I would have survived had I not been here seven years before. For yoga centers, it's about keeping pace with the real estate market."

"It's easy to explain why there are so many yoga studios in the area," said Anna Kader, co-owner of Accord Real Estate. "The majority of the people are young professionals and artists who don't have families or may soon start having babies. Everything is there: bars, nightlife, restaurants, the best of everything. Since 9/11, people have wanted to moveout of Manhattan and over the Williamsburg Bridge."

On September 11, 2001, Go Yoga remained open, that Tuesday and the weeks and months that followed. Park Slope Yoga, which started in 1998, provided similar solace to neighbors. According to manager Teri Richardson, there were no nearby studios at the time. Now there are several, including Brooklyn Yoga School.

"After 9/11, the world felt unstable," said Richardson, a Brooklyn resident since November 2001. "This studio helped people in the community deal with the world around them. Gentrification had already begun, but people who had corporate jobs started moving from Manhattan. There are tons of parents here now. That's been the biggest change, the families."

Adapting to Park Slope's "stroller boom," the center added Parent/Baby & Parent/Toddler classes, with anemphasis on moms and dads. "Many of our practitioners are parents and we enjoy supporting them," Richardson said. "We are nurturing these stressed out people who are new to carrying diaper bags while dropping their kids off to school in the morning. We understand they may be late to class, and that's okay. We're here to remind them that they were individuals before they had kids, that they need care too."

Park Slope Yoga weathered other transitions, such as moving from two spaces into one. Richardson helped downsize two years ago. Like Mead, Richardson updated paper punch cards to MindBody Software.

As for the future of yoga in Brooklyn, teachers may have greater career opportunities, according to Mead, Brown, and Richardson. More studios may translate into greater responsibility to local residents.

At Abyhyasa, a neighbor inspired the formation of chair yoga instruction. The woman, an older Italian widow with a bad back, brought her friends to the class. When the chair instructor got married, all seven students were her bridesmaids.

"You're never going to get that in Manhattan," Brown said. "People still want that indie yoga center, and I'm the guy behind the desk writing hand-written checks to my teachers."

--Ann Votow

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