Is Park Slope becoming the new yoga center of New York City?
It’s a wet Friday night in Manhattan. Through my apartment window, thick raindrops sound like bullets as they ricochet off the conditioner and scare the pigeons away. My phone rings. It’s my editor. He says he has an idea for a story about Park Slope, how “it’s the new Yoga hub of the metropolitan area,” and he wants me to do the footwork, and check it out.
Right away my internal Manhattan “Don’t Walk,” sign flashes, as I slip out, “Have you been to Union Square lately? You can’t walk down 14th Street without at least one Yoga mat, sticking out a backpack, poking you in the nose.”
After a spirited, Brooklyn verses NY Yoga debate, I agree to report back my findings, and determine whether Park Slope has in fact swiped the big apple’s Yoga limelight or worse yet, is cleverly plotting to bump it off.
So I venture into Brooklyn, where leaves are crispy, and townhouse-lined streets appear countrified compared to the chain stores, souvlaki vendors, and NYU hipsters that pepper Union Square. One real looker of a brownstone catches my eye: on the corner of Saint Marks, with a wall of curvy stained glass windows. But I don’t have time to waste on pretty. So I dash past. Then slow in my tracks, realizing, said building in question is my first stop: The Brooklyn Yoga School.
Lily Cushman, the studio’s co-founder greets me inside. Cushman is a slender young woman with a patient manner. Her and her husband Jeremy are the school’s founders, and teach the majority of classes, in the Dharma Mittra tradition, along with a handful of teachers. Cushman tells me, “We opened BYS a few years ago for students interested in the wider practice of yoga. Classes include a vinyasa series, standing postures, breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, a little chanting and Yogic Philosophy.”
What makes this place different from the rest? I ask. Without hesitation, Cushman says, “BYS is entirely run on donations. There is a $5 minimum for class, whether it’s 60 – 120 minutes. Anyone interested can practice.”
While discerning the differences between Manhattan and Brooklyn, Cushman tells me she lived in New York City for eight years, “What is wonderful, and challenging about Manhattan is that you can never turn it down,” she says, “it’s always on full blast. I find there is more space in Brooklyn, both physically and mentally.”
Cushman says many of the students work in the city, “They practice on their way home from work. You watch them settle down as the intensity of Manhattan melts off them throughout the class.”
Although Yoga is naturally calming, Cushman clarifies, “it’s much more than de-stressing; it’s an exploration of the Self. It’s figuring out how to be happy and kind regardless of what is happening in our lives.”
Before visiting the Brooklyn Yoga school I reached out to a teacher, Barbu Panaitescu, who wrote me while snowed in, from the Rockies. Panaitescu told me, “It’s much more humble at our space. In Manhattan everyone is a yoga superstar, or trying to be one. At our space, folks can come in sweatpants and don’t need to shell out $300 for a Lululemon outfit to feel like they’ll fit in.”
He made an interesting point, so I ask student, Libby Parks, what attracted her to the school? She speaks of being “drawn to the studio because of their commitment to teaching the yoga lifestyle.” When asked to recall a specific incident, Parks said, ‘“I remember the first time I did a proper headstand in Lily’s class. There was a moment, when I was up, that everything aligned perfectly and my fear subsided–I thought, ‘this is what they are talking about!’ It was this complete surrender and trust in myself I never experienced before.”’
Before I leave the School, I ask Cushman if there’s any connection between studio owners in Brooklyn. Cushman says she often recommends Pre-natal students try a nearby studio called, Bend & Bloom.
As it happens, Bend & Bloom is my next stop so I get directions from Cushman, and head out.
While journeying through the Park Slope streets, I keep a watchful eye on passersby. Several block later, I don’t spy a single Yoga mat. But I do however notice something else. Lots of little ones, children as far as the eye can see. Some with parents, others heading to and from school with nannies. Just as I’m jotting down my notes, one spunky five-year-old comes hurling down Sackett Street about to reduce me to sidewalk succotash.
His mom shouts at him to swerve away from my ankle. After he obeys, the mother smiles at me and shrugs, “You know how kids are.”
I smile back, in appreciation of being spared the emergency room visit, and dash to the next studio.
Bend and Bloom, a former firehouse, consists of two large studio rooms, reception and changing area. Since studio owner Amy Quinn Suplina had to pick up her children from school, the studio’s manager, Megan shows me around.
Quinn Suplina and I corresponded ahead of time. She said, “Our primary offering is a creative, sweaty Vinyasa Flow. We also offer complementary styles of Anusara and Forrest Yoga.”
I can’t help but ask the obvious: do you get many children and mothers at the studio? Quinn Suplina said, “Kids enjoy yoga fun in one room while parents unwind with an hour Flow practice in the adjoining studio. The sense of community is particularly strong amongst our prenatal and postnatal program.”
She credited cozy post-class gatherings to the studio’s friendly atmosphere, “We offer free ginger snaps and tea after class so the lobby often feels more like a café than a yoga studio.”
Beginners, she said are especially at home there, “Our studio puts a lot of effort into nurturing new yogis,” she explained, “You’ll often find our teachers doing mini one-on-ones after class to help a student refine an element of their practice.”
I also contacted Paige Moskowitz, a student, who spoke about how their teachers had helped her practice grow, “I used to be totally fearful of inversions. Bend & Bloom teachers worked with me and offered me building blocks to build upper body and core strength to do a headstand with confidence. I never found that attention at other studios.”
After studying at dozens of studios, Moskowitz felt, “Yoga teachers in Park Slope are more compassionate and attentive to students’ needs than in Manhattan. They encourage me to try new postures safely, without judgment. While Manhattan certainly has phenomenal teachers, those studios cater to volume and you end up feeling like an anonymous body in the crowd.”
When I leave Bend and Bloom, I’m pressed for time, forced to cancel my next studio visit at Bikram on the opposite end of the slope. During my long walk, I keep my eyes peeled for Yoga evidence on the streets, and think about the scads of other studios in Park Slope I don’t have time to visit.
Last stop is, Bodhisattva Yoga, located above a sweet-smelling French bakery, in yet another beauteous brownstone. There I meet Jessica Root and Vivekan, who run the floor-thru studio together. Jessica, a wholesome looking woman with long brown hair, says, “We’re a true mom & pop shop.” Root discovered the studio when she was a student, and Vivekan was running it. His teaching resonated with her so strongly, she soon made the studio her home, trained in Vivekan’s method, and eventually came to partner with him running the studio and teaching. Root and Vivekan are the only teachers at Bodhisattva.
Vivekan, the founder of Bodhisattva, welcomes me. He’s slender, with a light-hearted humor, and busy finishing his healthy-looking lunch.
When I ask about the style taught, Root says,” It’s a challenging, different form of alignment and mindfulness-based Vinyasa.”
Root talks about Vivekan’s style, being drawn from “the classical school of Indian Yoga, Iyengar, and Pattabhi Jois’ Primary Series.” She says she and Vivekan like to infuse the physical with “philosophical underpinnings of Indian Yoga and Buddhism, as well as scientific findings.”
Vivekan tells me that even though he’s a seasoned Yogi he mindfully tailors his classes for students in an accessible way. Gradually, as a student progress, he introduces more advanced practices, such as chanting, breathing and meditation. This way it feels natural for them.
I ask what’s special about their studio in particular, and Root says, “if there is something that truly sets us apart, it’s Bodhisattva no-fluff, no-BS, alternative to the commercial, mass-market, Hollywood Yoga that has become the norm.”
On my way to the door, Root tells me she they always maintain a sense of humor about what they do. “Here one can stumble, fall, make mistakes (hopefully laugh), and feel accepted among an unassuming, non-competitive crew.”
A couple of good-byes later, my feet tread down the steps of Bodhisattva, while my mind attempts to cobble together the day’s evidence. My editor was right: there were so many studios hidden in the nooks and crannies of the Slope, I’d need a month and a microscope to check them all out. But unlike Union Square, where mat-toting locals, showcase how Zen they are, the Yoga colony in Park Slope is much subtler. What may seem to the naked eye as a friendly old-fashioned neighborhood is actually a hotbed of studios lurking in the brownstone shadows, quietly growing more powerful day. Hum, maybe I should warn Manhattan, its days are numbered.
Park Slope Studio List
Check websites for class schedules and hours of operation:
Brooklyn Yoga School
82 Sixth Ave at St. Marks Ave
2/3 Bergen St or Q/B 7th Ave
Bend & Bloom
708 Sackett Street
2/3 Bergen St, Q/B 7th Ave, R to 9th St.
442 9th St.
F or G to 7th Avenue
405 5th Ave
1626 8th Ave
Jennifer Brilliant Yoga
732A Carroll Street
Park Slope Yoga Center
792 Union Street
Kundalini Yoga in Park Slope
473 13th Street
291 14th Street
Yoga for People
604 5th Street
Red Apple Yoga
379 7th Street