First, the studio is beautiful, clean, and not smelly (I won’t mention any names but there are definitely some studios here in the city that have some serious funk going on and it smacks your olfactory nerve as soon as you open the front door, which is a real shame). The color palette of the studio is brown and ochre yellow with lots of wood (hardwood floors, bath mats, doors, blinds) and candles. The studio occupies the upper two floors of a three-story walk-up. The first floor is the lobby, men and women’s locker rooms, a small waiting area, and a small studio for private sessions. The main studio on the second floor is bright with windows that allow lots of natural light and high ceilings. Right outside the hot room, is a small waiting area that houses a rotating art gallery of work from local artists.
I was greeted by a sweet, older woman at the desk. Later, I find out it is Stephanie’s mom (Stephanie’s sister is the studio’s operations manager) who was so sweet that I wanted to take her home! She got me registered, checked me in, and pointed out the lay of the land. From the moment I entered the lobby, I was struck by the fact that the studio truly served the community. Most of the peoople milling about the studio were African-American and in my class at 11am, the majority of the students were multicultural in background. I had never practiced in a US yoga studio where this was the case. In fact, Stephanie is the first black yoga teacher I’ve ever had. So cool! I set myself up and when Stephanie walked in, she asked me to identify myself. “Welcome to the studio,” she said warmly. “Thank you,” I replied. And then we began our 90-minute moving meditation. She was a great teacher: stuck to the dialogue, was encouraging and compassionate, called out corrections to students, and reminded us to practice our stillness in between postures. At some point during the class, Stephanie said to a student, “You are in a safe place here. As teachers, we do a lot of talking. If you listen carefully and follow our instructions, you will be okay. I am here to help you so let yourself try. (pause) Outside this studio, well, that’s different!” Another time, she really encouraged us to go for it in each and every pose and asked us to consider this: “Instead of anticipating the end of the posture and waiting to hear ‘change’, you hear ‘change’ and then give it one last push and go for your best before you come out.” Hmmm…never thought of it that way.
After my shower, Stephanie and I chatted a bit. She offered to give me back my money and I looked at her quizically.
Me: Really?! My class is free?
Stephanie: Yes, teachers are free.
Me: Oh!!! I’m not a teacher!
Stephanie: Really?! Ok, then you don’t get your money back. (laughs) I totally mistook you for a teacher! You have such a beautiful practice.
Me: Awwww…thank you so much!! You know, you’re not the first person who has said that to me.
Stephanie: Have you thought about becoming one?
I’ve considered teaching, yes. And I’ve even considered becoming a studio owner. But there’s something in my heart that tells me to wait. Now doesn’t seem to be the right time.
If I lived in the neighborhood, I would totally support Stephanie’s studio, because who doesn’t want to support a business that is a total asset to the local community?! If you are a regular bikram yogi in the city or simply visiting the city, consider checking out her studio. It is a family-run business that is warm, welcoming, and captures the heart and soul of yoga.
This is Stephanie teaching. Look how pumped she is. You go girl!
All photos are courtesy of Bikram Yoga East Harlem.
Bikram Yoga East Harlem
4 East 116th Street
New York, NY 10029
(b/w Fifth & Madison Avenues)