At a time when yoga studios are struggling to make ends meet and to define themselves as centers for spiritual growth versus “gym fitness,” Samamkaya Yoga Back Care and Scoliosis Collective, a new center at 119 West 23rd St where over half the teachers studied with B.K.S. Iyengar, offers a new vision based on an old idea. It will be New York’s first Worker Cooperative Yoga Center focused on Back Care and Scoliosis. According to Deborah Wolk, Founding Member, “Decisions and rewards should be shared by teachers. Often teachers get the short end of the stick. At Samamkaya, teachers will be democratically involved in all decisions, including what supplies are necessary. We will vote at meetings and run them according to the by-laws we have put in place. Teachers will share in the profit according to the number of hours they work.”
To create this structure, Founding Member Mimi Rosetti, researched options with Chris Michael, Executive Director of the NYC Network of Workers Cooperative. He guided them through the entire process: how to create a corporate structure and how to get teachers on board.
Wolk, who went to a democratically run school in Brookline, Mass., where students voted on whether or not there should be couches in the classroom instead of desks, has always been interested in the cooperative mindset. “Workers co-ops have longevity compared to corporations that are frequently bought and sold.”
Studies indicate that worker cooperatives achieve higher productivity levels and maintain higher survival rates than traditional businesses. Employees tend to rank higher with regard to career advancement opportunities, working hours, as well as relationships with colleagues and supervisors. Worker cooperatives are free to use a “multiple bottom line” approach—evaluating success as measured by their contribution to the community, the happiness of their workers, and their sustainability as businesses, while keeping in mind the importance of financial prosperity.
Samamkaya which means exact alignment of the right and left side of the body, was Iyengar’s guiding principle as a practitioner and teacher. He wanted his students to experience a flow of energy between their mind and every part of their body: a “consciousness in the arch of their big toe.” Samamkaya’s classes, modeled on Iyengar’s teachings and principles, include classes for the lower back, general care, pre-natal back care, back care for athletes, and teens and tweens with scoliosis. Body Mind Centering (BMC) classes and workshops will be offered as well.
Both Wolk and Rosetti who have scoliosis have been working in the field for over twenty years. Wolk’s growing awareness of her condition after two falls and a session with a physical therapist in Germany who diagnosed her as having scoliosis from birth, inspired her to complete Alison West’s Yoga Union Teacher Training in 2000. She then studied Yoga and Scoliosis with Bobbie Fultz, and was certified as a Yoga for Scoliosis teacher through Elise Browning Miller's teacher training in 2005. In 2002, she was invited to teach the scoliosis segment of the Yoga Union Teacher Training and since then she has taught Yoga & Scoliosis workshops in New York City, nationwide and in Europe.
Regarding the ending of her relationship with Yoga Union, Wolk says, “I decided to solely concentrate on healing and therapeutics, which meant separating from Yoga Union where regular, non–back care classes are offered as well. Wolk hand-picked the teachers herself. “I look for people who have an eye for detail and an eye for seeing the body and translating it into healing practice for others.”
The studio, located in a quiet section towards the back of the building on 23rd Street off of 6thAvenue, houses several other holistic practitioners. It fits 20 students, and has a homey old New York feel. Two roped walls and colored grids (appealing pinks, green, and blues) frame each student’s section in order to address how people with scoliosis see, as exterior feedback is a factor is developing better alignment.
In December, the studio will offer several workshops to get things rolling on subjects like anatomy and physiology of backcare, scoliosis, spinal care, which will be given by highly respected teachers like Genny Kapular.
It will definitely be an interesting place with tons of integrity. If you want to get in early on some great deals, check out their Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the studio. Contributors can get deeply discounted classes as well as lifetime class cards of 3, 5, and 7 years that might seem pricey but are actually a bargain if you take class regularly.
The Collective will officially open on January 1, 2015