South Williamsburg just got a lot hotter. One hundred and four degrees with 40% humidity — to be precise as that’s the regulated temperature in YO BK, a Bikram yoga studio that recently opened on Broadway.
Traditionally, a Bikram studio offers 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a 90-minute structure. At YO BK, they do things a little differently.
“I want liberty as a small business owner to be able to meet the needs of my community,” says studio owner/ director and certified Bikram instructor Kate Davies.
And as it turned out, her community wanted 60-minute classes in addition to the 90-minute offerings. So she added the condensed class to the schedule which took her out of the official Bikram studio category, yet left her with room for variety. The name of the studio - YO BK, refers to Brooklyn, though it could easily be interpreted as Bikram because that is the predominate style of teaching.
“It’s a challenging form of yoga, but it’s also highly therapeutic because of the heat, and the way the postures are. It’s very safe, and great for injury. It’s amazing for weight loss, and helping with cardiovascular issues,” Davies explained.
While a customer base was already built into the neighborhood from the former Bikram yoga studio on North 7th, Davies is looking to introduce the practice to new students as well.
All classes are appropriate for beginners.
“There isn’t level 1, level 2 and level 3. But within every posture there are those levels. There’s always more that you can do. I’m into 11 years of my practice, and it’s still incredibly challenging. And the beauty of Bikram yoga is that it works with an energetic flow, and so much of what you are learning is from watching the people around you, and you get swept into this current energetically.”
On a recent Wednesday morning class, there were a couple beginners practicing next to teachers. In the posture standing head to knee, the instructor Riji Suh was helping a man in the corner who had come back to his practice with injuries. He was working on straightening
his standing leg while the woman next to him was standing on a straight leg, and was working on the full expression of the pose.
“It is such a discipline because it’s always the same postures done in the same environment that you really get to know yourself incredibly well. So you start to watch yourself, and see how your postures progress, and how you deal with heat, and how you deal with breathing. How you deal with looking at yourself in a mirror for 90 minutes which can be challenging. It’s a tremendous tool for alignment, but I think psychologically it can be hard in the beginning. So that’s something new students must get used to,” Davies said.
While the 90 minute and 60 minute hot yoga classes monopolize the schedule, the studio also offers kids yoga for 4 to 9 year olds with Tracy Noh along with an advanced class for students who have a regular Bikram practice of 6 months or more, and can sit in lotus pose.
“Gloria Suen leads our advanced classes. She’s a yoga champion. The advanced class is actually preparation for a yoga competition which might sound really strange to an American audience, but they are quite common in India. And that’s how kids get into yoga through watching competitions and participating in yoga competitions, and that’s really the whole point of it — to inspire more people to do yoga. One of our teachers, Aviad Sasi won the male division of the last competition in New York, and he’s going on to the national completion in Jackson Hole in May.”
“I wanted to give my students a variety because especially in NY where we have so many choices, it’s great for a student to find a teacher that they can resonate with. They can look on our schedule and say 'Hey Riji is teaching, I want to go and take her class because I know she will be able to help me with my alignment. 'Or I want to go and talk to Nick about the injury I have.' I wanted to give my students as much variety as possible within the Bikram frame. I also wanted a more intimate environment where you can get correction and get attention from teachers.”
In the Wednesday morning class, before beginning, Riji went through the room to make an individual connection with each person. She was already aware of one woman’s spine issue, and later, gave a hands on assist to that woman in camel.
The sparse yoga room holds 30 students with a bathroom and shower in the corner. Downstairs there is a unisex changing area (with curtain drawn sections) that includes lockers (bring your own lock).
As the weather warms up, the thought of adding more heat to your practice may be questionable.
“Practicing in that room makes me more comfortable when it’s hot outside,” Davies explains, “And also, it’s fantastic to practice seasonally because we have four real seasons in NY so you focus on different things at different times of the year. In the summertime when it’s hot outside and hot inside, I find I’m a lot more flexible and can go a bit deeper. But the heat can be a bit more overwhelming so I focus more on my breath. Whereas in the winter time when I’m naturally stiffer, I’m focusing on strength, and on getting perfect alignment.”
And as for jumping into the role of studio owner, Davies says, “It’s made me hyper aware on a different level. When you come in somewhere to teach a class once or twice a week you’re a free agent.You come in and you gain as much information as you can about who is in your room at that moment. But I’m here all the time so I really get to know these students well. And I know exactly what’s going on with most of them whether it’s a knee issue, or whether they had a big lunch because they tell me those kinds of things. Or if they just went through a break up, or they didn’t get enough sleep. Or if they’re feeling great that day…so I have more information. And it’s also changed my practice because I feel like a mama hen when I take class. Like if someone is struggling, I feel it in a deeper way than I used to. I feel very protective over my students. If I notice one of them struggling while I’m taking class, I worry about them in a way that I didn’t used to.”