Nowadays you can find a yoga scene in practically every urban center in America. You have the hard-core fitness yoga classes, the yoga dipped in spirituality classes, the power yoga, the hot yoga, the celebrity yoga, the naked yoga, the go-every-day-at-7-am yoga, the yoga classes that feel like 5th grade popularity contests, and the yoga classes that leave you buzzing with God. In any big city you will be able to find a plethora of different styles, approaches, gurus, and followings. It’s a regular circus.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of yoga. I’ve been exploring the yoga scene in New York City for the past eight years now. Having been raised in a granola-and-sprouts family in Southern California, I’m open to pretty much anything in the new-age realm. However, there is one thing that gets my blood boiling. The cost. The best yoga classes in New York will easily cost $18 – $25 per class. Let’s face it. New York City is a competitive environment where many people have money to spend. Just like chefs and hair stylists, the gifted yoga teachers generally rise to the top centers where they will get paid accordingly. While I advocate the teachers making the money they deserve, I lament the fact that this brings an exclusivity to the yoga community. Yoga should be available to everyone, not just the Real Housewives of (insert city). And having tasted of the forbidden fruit of the yoga world through free special events and generous friends, I know a great yoga class when I find one, but I cannot afford to make it a part of my day-to-day life. What’s a Broke-Ass to do?
Here’s where Yoga to the People comes in. Head down to the tackiest strip of St. Marks Place (between 3rd and 2nd Aves.), and you’ll encounter the most welcoming yoga center in Manhattan.
There’s no counter to pay at when you walk in, no skill levels, and it’s always packed with loud, cheerful people of all ages, sizes, genders, orientations, and colors. You just put down your mat and chill out until class starts.
Founder Greg Gumucio opened YTTP in 2006 as a way to â€œremove the obstacles that keep people from experiencing the benefits of having a regular yoga practice.â€ It is a donation-based studio, asking students to pay what they can. Suggested donation is $10, but no one will look and see if you put anything in the tissue box on your way out. People who are able to pay more, do, and those who are unable to pay the suggested donation, pay less.
Gets that Butt Moving
The 60-minute Power Vinyasa Flow classes are challenging and sweat inducing, but there is no shame about taking a break and releasing into child’s pose to steady your breathing. Everyone is encouraged to take the class at his or her own pace and to focus on breathing in the midst of the chaos and burn of the movement.
Locations in New York and San Francisco
YTTP has expanded since 2006, and they now have studios in San Francisco and Berkeley as well. Classes are held multiple times a day every day, and their goal being never to turn anyone away, the classes get jam packed with positive beings and spirits. Just don’t be late, cause the doors get locked and the buzzer shut off. In New York, they’ve also recently opened up two more â€œhotâ€ studios, where classes are held in heated rooms.
By now, you’re probably thinking, what’s the catch? It’s pretty hard to complain about a yoga studio that is populist, non-elitist, and free, but here are a couple of my humble reservations.
No Teacher Schedule
YTTP believes that students shouldn’t become too attached to any one teacher but become attached to the practice, so there are no lists of who is teaching what class. I love the idea in theory, but in practice, I like certain teachers more than others. I have chronic lower back issues, and because of that I find that classes that are slow, deep, and sustained benefit my body the best. It is frustrating to show up and find the teacher who teaches super fast classes. I guess it is a good lesson for me to continually remind myself to take care of my body, to let go of judgment, and go at my own pace.
Another minor complaint is that there are no shower facilities. I leave my apartment in Brooklyn in the morning and am not ending up back home until late at night. So after sweating my face off in a mid-day class, it is a little gross to put my clothes right back on and continue abut my day. But I do. So deal with it.
There also is the practice of releasing air on sound and vibration at multiple times during the classes. The first time I encountered it I was a little startled. People moaning and sighing aloud all over the place is not usually customary in yoga class. After laughing uncontrollably a few times, I started trying it myself, and along with blocking out everyone else, it made me aware of the vibrations in my body when air is released. That was interesting.
Overall, the complaints are minor in relationship to the big picture. I encourage you to try out a Yoga to the People class, and to share the word with everyone you know! If you are nervous about trying it for the first time, YTTP has FREE audio classes available on their website. Besides, it’s about the most nonjudgmental environment you will ever encounter. The hardest thing is getting there and getting out of your way. Once you’ve found yourself on your mat, all you have to do is breathe and let your body take over. Give your mind a break. It’s overworked and cranky anyway.