Eight months after 9/11—when the City’s commercial real estate was still inexpensive—two gals, fresh from Jivamukti, opened a yoga space at 815 Broadway. Now, 13 years and two kids later, Barbara Verrochi and Kristin Leigh reminisce about cultivating The Shala.
The time: the early 90s. The place: the original Jivamukti, on 2nd Ave.
Verrochi and Leigh met as they built budding Mysore practices with David Life. Soon after, they enrolled in Jiva’s teacher training and became good friends.
“We would study together all the time,” Leigh said. “And we would go on retreats and study some more. When we started teaching, we would plan classes together, and run through our talks. Oh, we were so nervous about our talks!”
Smiling, Verrochi remembered how they would call each other before their classes and review what they were about to say—sans iPhones, of course. “Opening a studio was a natural progression because we were always in a dialogue with each other about teaching and practicing.”
In 2002, they looked for a space. Their only criteria: located somewhere between SoHo and 28th St.—where they both lived at the time—and no elevators. They wanted to walk up into the space. Their search led them to the second floor of an old factory building at 815 Broadway. Perfection.
“It was an easier time for small businesses to start up—when landlords would lease a 2,000 square foot space on Broadway to two women with no savings and no guarantor!” Verrochi said.
It’s true. The Shala’s rickety staircase, high ceilings, and creaky floorboards echo a bygone New York—a New York that once brimmed with artist lofts and bohemian enfants terribles.
“Opening a studio seemed like a whim,” Leigh said. “But in retrospect, it had probably been percolating for a while. It was a little different back then, and dreams like that were pretty easy to make come true.”
The Shala has always been blessed with a steady stream of practitioners flowing through its door, many of whom Verrochi and Leigh now consider to be family. Their roster first offered Ashtanga-based vinyasa classes, and in 2006, with Pattabhi Jois’ blessing, they added a full Mysore program. The Shala has since become one of Manhattan’s Mysore hubs.
In 2011, as their ten-year lease inched to a close, Verrochi and Leigh looked for a new space.
“Our landlord wasn’t sure he was going to renew the lease,” Verrochi said. “We had both just moved to the Fort Greene/Clinton Hill area and thought it would be nice to have a small studio near home.”
A space came up and they grabbed it.
“The idea of growing and having many studios was not the impetus for our Fort Greene location, but the two studios complement each other and it’s been lovely to have them,” Verrochi said.
Agreeing, Leigh said that there are no regrets. “There’s a nice crossover of students and teachers in both places. They are both really special and I’m grateful for them every single day.”
2012 brought the addition of new teachers to the mix. The refugees of Cyndi Lee’s OM yoga Center set up shop at 815 Broadway, under the name of Now:Yoga. Led by
“They’ve brought a great energy and have diversified our student body in great ways,” said Verrochi. “We love sharing our space with them, and learn a lot from them. It’s like a yoga commune!”
“I always loved the warmth and lack of pretention I felt walking through The Shala’s door,” Jones said. “It’s a beautifully blank canvas upon which to create your practice. Kristin and Barbara have been so generous and supportive of us as we continue to settle and grow. The openness they bring to how they conduct their business is really refreshing. They’re game for anything.”
This Sunday, June 14, everybody’s celebrating: 13 years for The Shala (four years for Fort Greene—which they just celebrated yesterday, June 7, in Brooklyn), and three years for Now:Yoga.
“Our parties are a lot of fun and family/friend oriented with kids running around,” said Verrochi. The party will be a kirtan and potluck.
Leigh noted how kirtans have been a mainstay at The Shala since they opened. “It’s been a great way to bring the community together over the years,” she said. “And kids love them, so you can expect little ones building with yoga blocks, singing, and chanting.”
“We spend so much time together, moving and breathing, but very often don’t even know the name of that person we see across the room day after day,” said Jones. “It’ll be a great way to merge our voices together.”
A lot has changed over the last 13 years. Verrochi noted how both her personal and teaching practices have softened with age. “I’m more creative and I can make a U-turn easily when a class or student needs to go in another direction,” she said.
Leigh thought her teaching had ripened over the years. “I’ve definitely developed more empathy and intuition. I’ve learned how important it is to poke holes in your teaching agenda and let the students narrate the experience,” she said.
What keeps the regulars coming back?
“I think our students like consistency and a grounded practice,” Leigh said. “We are sort of a ‘no frills’ studio. None of us are really big personality teachers. We just try to pass on the teachings of yoga in an interesting and traditional way, and allow the students to have their practice.”
“I remember a student once telling me that she first learned what ‘a practice’ was at our studio,” Verrochi said. “I like that. It seems like a good description of what is important to us.”
So are you guys looking forward to another 13 years?
They both nodded.
The birthday celebration will take place at 815 Broadway, on Sunday 6/14.