Friday, March 8, 2019

A visit to Now Yoga on 4th Avenue

Photos and interview by Stacie Joy

After six years of sharing space near Union Square, Now Yoga, 61 Fourth Ave. (third floor) between Ninth Street and 10th Street, opened its very own studio this past September.

I recently stopped by to talk with studio owner Renata Di Biase as she prepped Now Yoga for the day ... I also watched instructor Edward Jones lead a morning vinyasa class.

In the following Q&A, Di Biase discusses the challenges of operating a community wellness space and making yoga accessible to more people.

How did Now Yoga come to be? What is its history, and why did you choose the East Village for its home?

The story of Now Yoga begins with Om Yoga, which was founded by Cyndi Lee in downtown Manhattan back in the 1990s. When that institution closed in 2012, a few of Om’s senior teachers (including Edward Jones, Frank Mauro and Joe Miller) founded Now Yoga.

They didn’t have a studio space of their own at the time, but Barbara Verrochi and Kristin Leigh of the Shala in Union Square graciously opened their doors to Now, inviting the guys and a small team of teachers to offer a number of classes on their schedule as a complement to their own ashtanga program.

For six years we operated out of the Shala, where Now continued to offer its own distinct brand of alignment-based vinyasa yoga, in addition to developing its own teacher training program.

When limited space in the studio and on the schedule meant that Now Yoga would have to downsize in order to continue its residence at the Shala, it was time to take the leap and move Now into its own home. It was important that the new studio continue to serve our existing community, so the search for a new space was pretty focused around the general Union Square/East Village vicinity.

Our most loyal students either live in the East Village area or are already very accustomed to traveling in and out of this area to or from work and home. This area is where we all really developed our practices and careers teaching, so it’s only natural that we transplanted ourselves just a couple of blocks from where we began.

How do you describe the community of people at Now Yoga?

Our community is pretty diverse. Many of our students are seasoned practitioners and long-time East Village residents — creative professionals who make up the fabric of the East Village in their own ways as business owners, artists, teachers, etc. Some are college students newly settling into the neighborhood and just beginning to delve into yoga. Some are circling back to yoga after several years since Om’s closing, rediscovering the practice in this new space. Many travel from other neighborhoods because this is their second home. We’re right off of two major subway lines, so we’re on the way to or from somewhere, for most.

Our teachers and staff are a huge and important part of the community. We’re a little family and one that has grown with the move into the new studio. Our teachers are grounded, down-to-earth, regular people. I think that makes Now unique.

You say on your website that “Everyone can practice yoga, regardless of one’s level of fitness or experience.” How does Now make yoga accessible?

We’re committed to helping people adapt the practice of yoga to suit their body and their needs. We’re not trying to fit ourselves into a rigidly defined practiced. We’ve tried to build a diverse schedule of classes that offer pretty specific levels so that any student can feel welcome and serve, which may sound counter-intuitive.

What we’ve found with teaching all open-level classes in the past is that things can get pretty watered down in an attempt to deliver a one-size-fits-all practice. It’s impossible to do that. Introducing levels (basics, basics/intermediate, intermediate, intermediate/advanced, yoga for seniors, etc.) allows us to get pretty clear. With a menu full of options, you’re more likely to get what you need and want. And you’re more likely to get a teacher prepared to meet your needs.

A recent CDC study showed that yoga has continued to rise in prevalence among U.S. adults since 2012. Do you feel as if yoga is becoming less of a so-called alternative practice and more mainstream?

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s yoga was much more of a trend. That and a very different economic landscape meant that a new yoga studio had the potential to be the hot new thing.

We’re in a different age now and there’s a yoga studio on nearly every corner, which I think means that more people are doing yoga and accept it is a standard part of their fitness and wellness routines. The prevalence of yoga studios means there’s also a broader range of adaptations of yoga available — so there’s something for everyone, from the super traditionalist to the person who enjoys asana in the dark set to hip hop. (We’re somewhere in between.)

Do you find yourself competing for people's time and attention who could be swayed to try the increasingly popular (and trendy!) HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and CrossFit classes as well as the plethora of fitness apps?

Competition within the yoga marketplace and the fitness industry at large is, indeed, rather stiff. Before we moved, many people asked why we’d ever endeavor to open up a physical studio when so many yoga and fitness studios close due to market saturation and the challenges of the NYC real estate landscape. (“Can you just offer your services online? Cut out all the overhead? What about an app?”)

For what we do, having a local community space is entirely the point. And we really believe in the kind of practice we’re offering that doesn’t quite exist elsewhere. We hope it resonates with some people and that we can continue to build.

And, unlike a lot of the fitness boutiques cropping up all over Manhattan, we are competitively (and fairly reasonably) priced, plus we offer discounts to students, seniors, and veterans. Yoga, mindfulness, health and welling, while incredibly valuable, all need to be accessible and affordable.

What’s next for Now Yoga?

Community outreach has been part of long-term vision for Now Yoga from the outset; figuring out how and what Now Yoga has to offer the East Village community and beyond is on the more immediate agenda now that we’ve begun to settle into our new home.

One of our teachers and managers, Jana Hicks, is currently running the Yoga4Cancer program at Now, which makes it possible for us to offer an entirely free weekly class for cancer patients and survivors.

We hope to offer more in this vein in the coming months, including developing partnerships with certain nonprofits, like the Trevor Project, to support those in the helping professions with free or discounted classes and services.

We’re interested in partnering with local community organizations that might be interested in bringing accessible, practical yoga and meditation practices to the underserved. But let’s not forget that we’re also surrounded here at Astor Place by stressed-out corporate professionals. Many of us worked — or still work — in the corporate sphere and know the whole desk-lunch routine.

You can check out the class schedule at Now at this link... and follow them on Instagram here.

Previously on EV Grieve:
A visit to the Tompkins Square Library branch on 10th Street

A visit to Bali Kitchen on 4th Street

A visit to Eat’s Khao Man Gai on 6th Street

A visit to Yoli Restaurant on 3rd Street

Preparing for Saturday's dinner at Il Posto Accanto on 2nd Street

A visit to the Streecha Ukrainian Kitchen on 7th Street

A trip to the recently expanded Lancelotti Housewares on Avenue A

A visit to C&B Cafe on 7th Street

A visit to Rossy's Bakery & Café on 3rd Street

A visit to CAVAglass on 7th Street

A visit to Dumpling Man on St. Mark's Place

No comments: