I visited New York recently and I tried to do a tour of all the important Mysore-style classes in Manhattan. I managed to take Ashtanga classes at 3 centers:
- Zoe Slatoff’s afternoon class at Yoga Sutra of NYC
- Guy Donahaye’s class at the Ashtanga Yoga Shala
- Eddie Stern’s class at at Ashtanga Yoga New York
My first experience was with Zoe Slatoff at the beautiful Yoga Sutra studio in front of Bryant park. The studio itself is on the second floor and looks stunning. Zoe has a well attended afternoon class and her students evidently love her. It was a real treat practicing in the afternoon – everything feels easier due to the increased flexiblity. I knew Zoe from when she was teaching in Berkeley at 7th Heaven, so the class was immediately familiar. This feeling increased when one of my students from Mountain View, Terence, unexpectedly walked in through the door and put his mat next to mine. What a coincidence!
I always make a point of visiting the local Ashtanga studio whenever I travel. Since the practice is the same around the world, it feels like a home away from home. No matter how exotic the places you visit, the opening mantra will be the same anywhere. Daily practice is such an intense commitment that I believe there is a bond between all practioners. The students you meet are always happy to share information, it feels like a big family. Truly a wonderful feeling.
My second stop was at Guy Donahaye’s Ashtanga Yoga Shala in the East Village, on Tompkins Square. The studio is located in a basement away from the beaten path. It is quite a few blocks from the nearest subway station, and for many people, that means it might as well be on the moon. I got lost while trying to find it and good thing I saw someone holding a yoga mat at a street corner; otherwise, I think I would have missed the class altogether.
It was my first time meeting Guy and he gave me the sense that a tight community had emerged at the shala. Since you have to go the extra mile – literally – to get there, students at Ashtanga Yoga Shala have to have a certain dedication to come to the studio every day. From the practice room in the basement, you can see the bottom of the sidewalk. This gives the shala a real feeling of practicing in the middle of a living city; yet, the space is very much apart from the hustle and bustle of New York city. Beautiful, contemporary paintings of Guruji enhance this feeling.
Last, but definitely not least was Eddie Stern’s Ashtanga Yoga New York. This visit was my third in 5 years, and as with my previous visit, the layout of the shala had changed. Before, Ashtangis went to an upstairs room for the finishing postures, and now finising postures are done in an anteroom to the main practice room. That practice area is where Sharath’s new practice DVD was shot, by the way. There is also now what is the smallest and neatest “office” I have ever seen, a 4-by-4 foot space right in the corner of the building.
Ashtanga Yoga New York has two Mysore-style classes in the morning: 6:30-9:30 am and 11:00-12:30 pm. During peak season, up to 200 students practice there daily , which must make it one of the best attended and largest Mysore-style classes in the world. Only about 30 or so fit in the room, so when it is full (as is usually the case), students write their names on a blackboard and wait to be called. There are one or two assistants to help out with adjustments. The students are advanced – during my visit, there were more Intermediate Series than Primary Series practitioners.
With the room so full of energy, practicing at Ashtanga Yoga New York is truly uplifting. I was able to meet up with KJS who wrote 5 posts for us during Guruji’s 2006 New York leg, with Spiros of Sri Ganesha Tea Stall fame, whom I’ve been wanting to meet for years. As an additional plus Balthazar is just round the corner, one of the most authentic French brasserie in New York with a wonderful bakery. Highly recommended for breakfast, and a lot of students hang out on the benches outside of it after practice now that the chai place is gone from Eddie’s studio.
All in all, New York has one of the most diverse and high quality set of Mysore-style classes anywhere, and Ashtangis lucky enough to visit there will really be spoilt for choice with special places to practice Ashtanga.