In a city that can feel full of strangers and attitude, East Yoga is the place you can count on to bring you back to your mat and back to the basics.
On a recent foggy morning, I made my way down to the East Village for Rian Bodner’s 8 AM flow class. Up a short flight from the street entrance at 96 Avenue B, and there was Rian, signing students in at the desk at the top of the stairs in the one room, green-walled studio. Like Goldilocks finding the perfect fit, the studio is neither too small nor too large, but just the right size with just the right light and the right amount of students.
"To be really good at something, you have to be really focused. Our focus is on our students and their practice," Katie Childers tells me. For that reason, you won't find teacher trainings here, just a full menu of classes every day of the week, workshops (currently, Deep Restorative Yoga with Clare Ryan on December 6 and Advanced Yoga Studies with Jen Whitney) and the occasional retreat (head to Tulum next March with Anna Greenberg and Bridgette Trezza).
Katie came to East Yoga as a student and when then-owner Kari Harendorf was contemplating closure, came aboard as a partner. "I recognized the fact that there was something really special about what Kari had built and I didn't want the East Village to lose that," she explains.
There's about 10 of us this morning and after a round of OMs with the harmonium, Rian speaks briefly about cultivating gratitude, not just for what we like or what comes easily but also for the things and places that challenge us. He's sincere and humble and I'm already grateful that he doesn't drone on about himself and process or talk at us, especially at this time of day.
A soundtrack with rich cello tones by instrumentalist Garth Stevenson and we're into the flow, a sequence of gently increasingly challenging postures. Rian moves fluidly around the room, giving simple cues and an occasional hands-on adjustment that feels more supportive than corrective - physically anchoring the awareness practice he's pointing us toward: how to hold that edge of discomfort by invoking thankfulness.
I've just experienced the signature East Yoga class. Music, alignment-based vinyasa and a theme to weave it all together. While there's variation in their personal style and personality, what marks them as East Yoga teachers, according to Katie who looks for this key trait when she hires them, is a desire to foster community.
It feels like that sense of community is baked into the brick and mortar of East Yoga's new location (which was previously occupied by Hare Krishnas and is owned by another yoga teacher). When the electricity came back on after Hurricane Sandy, it started the electrical fire that put them out into the street. In the year it took to find a new space, the East Village community came together to support the studio. The hair salon down the street offered their space a few nights a week and with that and other space rentals, they were able to run a quarter of their classes. Numerous fundraisers helped Kate pay the teachers their full salary for a few months while everyone got back on their feet. And meanwhile, the search for a new permanent space was a group effort.
"It was a tough year," Katie says, "one of toughest of my life and for many of the teachers as well. We came so close so many times and it was always like, just a couple more months…I'm very proud that all our teachers - except for those who have left New York - are still with us."
During the year-long search, their frequent meetings to discuss their vision for the studio gave them a lot of clarity about who they were and what they wanted to offer, which is a safe, accessible physical practice for the community. And there's one more thing that makes this incarnation of East Yoga unique: "Spirituality."
Katie explains, "that means something different to each of the teachers. There is a dharma talk at start of each class. As a group we decided that that's what brings people back and gets them hooked,time after time - it's not just the physical practice. It's something deeper and more meaningful and we wanted to provide that to people."
And as she says, it's a message that's simple and basic. And it's the same message you'll find every day at East Yoga: just come to your mat and practice.
East Yoga offers an average of four classes a day, caps the number of students at 20. You're encouraged to sign up online. $20 single class, a great spectrum of packages, including introductory, refer a friend and student options.
Come celebrate the holidays and East Yoga's first year in their new space on December 6. The party starts with a free class from 5 to 6:15 pm, then food, wine and dancing from 6:30PM onwards. All are welcome!