The First Friday Feast

Hungry for yoga as you finish the work week, as well as just plain hungry? If it's the first Friday of the month, take yourself on a trip on the L train and head to 164 Montrose Ave., where the Makara Studio has both on offer.

An hour class is followed by a picnic-style vegan or vegetarian meal. The yogis share food and experiences, and enjoy a sense of community that is not always easy to find in a city where we rush every day from work to class and back to the streets. Makara gives its students a chance to stop, sit, and share, and get to know each other the oldest and best way—by eating together.

The founder of both Makara and this delicious experience is Hannah Harpole. She is versed in, and dedicated to, the lineages of both Ashtanga and Iyengar, is a prolific artist, and, yes, an avid cook. Many first Fridays are crafted in her kitchen.

"Yoga + Food got started when the studio opened as a way to build a larger sangha or community," said Harpole. "It was an idea birthed between a dear friend of the studio, Sharib Khan, and me. I actually intended to open an Ayurvedic food truck, but fate had other plans."

The class I went to was taught by Victor Cotto, an Occupational Therapy Practitioner who put together a fun sequence to whet our appetites. It was a vigorous series of Sun As and Bs, and Cotto had us constantly pivoting from the front of the studio to the back to add an extra level of movement. Shortly after class began, Khan entered, with several large bags of food, creating anticipation of looming reward as we began our flow. He joined in on the asana as Beyonce's "Halo" set the vibe.

"Yoga + Food has been a way for me to cook on occasion," says Harpole. "I am very interested in showing people what we can do with vegetables. That said, I am not cooking every first Friday. Mr. Khan wants to share food from India, and, if I am too busy, he picks food, like the Sri Lankan food for tonight's event."

After class, we cleaned our mats and put them aside, leaving blankets and bolsters to sit on, as Tears for Fears's "Shout" roared. Sharib laid out a blanket and covered it with the treat we'd all been waiting for—a buffet of delicious, spicy Sri Lankan delights. We sat around the blanket and passed the food, a new family of yogis coming together for an indoor picnic of nourishment for the body and soul.

There was rice steamed in bamboo shoots, tarka dal, and coconut sauce, plus tortilla chips and salsa, for good measure. The food was prepared by Sigiri, which is at 1st Ave. and 6th St., in Manhattan. The six of us gathered gushed our appreciation through mouthfuls of spicy savories. In between, we talked about our lives and experiences, on and off the mat.

Cotto told of his 6:45am hot vinyasa class and marvelled at how many people were willing to show up that early to sweat. "Yoga makes you less of an asshole!" he proclaimed to nods and giggles.

Another student was a high-school teacher who recently went back to meat-eating after 15 years as a vegetarian. Another worked at an auction house and travels constantly. "Not so glamorous to travel for work!" she conceded. It was an honor and a treat to get to know the people I had practiced with. "Reach out, touch faith," Depeche Mode proclaimed, fittingly, as we ate.

"We always try to have vegan options," said Harpole. "Makara has a few vegan students." That said, the picnics can be quite varied. "At least once a year we have a pizza night," she added, "because pizza is fantastic! Part of the fun of Yoga + Food is that we often talk the day-of about what we are going to do." One previous event even added ice cream sandwiches to the party.

"I really want to reinvigorate something that was happening last year, where we have a charity that people can put money into a donation-basket for in exchange for the food and we pass that on to the cause we are gathering for. This comes from Seva, or service. We have not been doing this the last two months because I think it makes people nervous that they need to be able to donate to come, and really I have been broke and hungry so many times in my life. I just want people to come, and I trust they will donate when, and if, they can."

Yoga + Food happens the first Friday of every month.

Class begins at 6:30pm, followed by dinner at 7:30pm.

Drop-ins are $15.

A donation of $5, for dinner, will support community organizations.

Learn more at Makara Studio, and at Harpole's site, YogaAnywhere.

—Jim Catapano

—Illustration by Sharon Watts (To see more of her work click here.)

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