Studies continue to reveal yoga's many health benefits – it can
make the muscles stronger, and is able to keep the mind more focused
and clear. Physical exercise with some spiritual elements seems like
a good stress- relieving and body-toning option for a lot of New
Yorkers. Modern devotees range from hard-working execs, trying to
keep their bodies functioning on a healthy mode, to image-conscious
actresses, striving for thinner thighs.
There is about a hundred different yoga instruction places in
Manhattan, which sprang like mushrooms to accommodate the new trend.
How can you choose where to try a class? Here is a description of
classes in three popular yoga schools in the city. All three offer
lessons that are very different from one another.
If you are looking for physically challenging and slightly
meditative form of yoga, try Jivamukti. You won't be alone. Each
week, more than 2000 people visit the Jivamukti yoga center on 404
Lafayette street. Featured in New York Times, BBC, ABC, New York
magazine and Yoga Journal, and frequented by Madonna, Christy
Turlington, Jessica Parker and Sting, Jivamukti features about 10
classes a day, both open and basics.
Center's instructors recommend that beginners take at least three
months of basic classes before attempting an open class, and they
also advise all students to sign up for in-class private once a month.
In class-private lessons are unique to this place. They give yoga
student the opportunity to get closer supervision and light
aromatherapy while perfecting the asanas. Jivamukti offers many other
options for self-pampering, ranging from private classes to the full-
The word "Jivamukti" is derived from Sanskrit for "living
liberation". Jivamukti center was found in 1989 by yoga teachers
David Life and Sharon Gannon, who stretched the boundaries of
tradition by blending a challenging yoga workout with Sanskrit
chanting and rock'n'roll.
After your arrival to Jivamukti, the friendly personnel behind the
copper desk will collect from you 15 dollars for a class (with 1.50 $
surcharge for a mat). Afterwards, you can check out the Jivamukti
store with books, CDs and yoga equipment, or proceed to the locker
rooms, which are located behind the 10- foot tall waterfall, that
splashes down the terra-cotta wall into a narrow pool. The scent of
musky incense hangs in the air.
I decided to take Thursday's 12 o'clock open class with David life.
The spacious room quickly filled in with about 60 people, mostly
young women, ready to chant and sweat. David came in carrying a
He begins with an "om", and the class joins in like an ardent choir.
He starts chanting, and the class happily sings the words after him.
"Now flow into the Downward-Facing Dog pose", instructs Life. We
stand in the pose, breathing heavily, while he is giving a short
lecture about detachment. "People are unhappy, because they are too
attached to things they do, to material possessions, to other people,
to themselves. Practice detachment – it's the road to eternal bliss.
Now flow into the Cobra pose," says the instructor.
Afterwards, Jivamukti class seems like endless vigorous positions
and heavy sweating until the final relaxation in the end. The
soundtracks that David Life played in class were changing from
Santana, to Krishna Das, to Beatles.
I felt more energetic and concentrated after the class, and I
definitely felt that my muscles had been worked. The atmosphere at
Jivamukti is a little competitive – most students wear workout
leotards and check out how straight are others' handstand postures.
If you are interested mostly in physical benefits of yoga, and aren't
afraid of the factory-like approach of the crowded Jivamukti – this
is a place to get rid of sweat and negative energy.
Sivananda yoga is based on the philosophy of Swami Sivananda, who
taught disciples to "serve, love, give, purify, mediate, realize". In
order to achieve this goal, Sivananda advocated a path that would
recognize and synthesize each level of human experience, including
the intellect, heart, body and mind. In 1957, his disciple, Swami
Vishnu-Devananda, introduced his teachings to the American audience,
and as a result, Sivananda yoga centers opened in the US and
The Sivananda yoga theory is based on five principles: proper
exercise (asana), proper breathing (paranayama), proper relaxation
(savasana), proper diet (vegetarian), and positive thinking (vedanta)
with meditation (dhyana). Sivananda center on 243 West 24th street
follows these principles.
Because Sivananda is a non-profit organization, the classes cost
only 5 $, but they always accept donations. Except for the open
classes, this center offers yoga courses for beginners and advanced
students, teachers training course, satsang and meditation classes.
Sivananda also conducts various workshops on subjects ranging from
the headstand to the breathing, or Ayurveda. The center also has a
yoga retreat located in the Catskill Mountains. Sivananda's boutique
features an extensive collection of books on spirituality and yoga,
as well as tapes, T-shirts and incense sticks.
The Sivananda center looks like a little wooden house, which seems a
bit unusual, considering its location in the middle of Manhattan. The
minute you step into this yoga place, vibes of the good energy and
relaxation begin to flow through your body. Everything at Sivananda
makes you feel at home immediately – a fat orange cat, stretching on
the floor, the incense, the sounds of Indian chants and the smell of
food (you can purchase a vegetarian meal for 7 bucks).
Sivananda's classes are small, they contain about 10-12 students,
who are usually nice and smiling. I took a four o'clock open class
(teachers vary), which began with long "chanting", endless "om"s and
about 25 sun salutations. "Going inside" is emphasized at Sivananda,
so no music playing in class, and each time you open your eyes, the
instructor tells you to close them. During the next hour and a half
we were slowly flowing through the 12 basic postures to increase
strength and flexibility of the spine, relaxing after each pose.
Chanting, paranayama (breathing exercises), and meditation are
included in every class, helping students to relieve stress and
I almost didn't sweat in the class and afterwards felt lighter and
calmer – the class at Sivananda is a spiritual experience. When I was
putting my shoes back on to leave, the fat orange cat was still
stretching near the door.
YOGA ZONE http://www.yogazone.com/
Yoga Zone was established in 1992 by Alan and Greta Fischer, and
since then has been featured in publications, such as New York
magazine, GQ and Allure, which called it "the best yoga center in New
The Yoga Zone's system is ISHTA yoga – an acronym for the
Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda. This system as Alan
Fischer's invention, which occurred as a result of his 38-year yoga
practice under Sivananda and the tantric hermit Barati. ISHTA is
designed to help students of all levels of fitness to integrate their
individual sensations with a life-energy force.
Currently there are two Yoga Zone studios in Manhattan, located
downtown (138 Fifth avenue) and midtown (160 e. 56 street.) I visited
the one on 56 street and noticed, that it looked very modern, except
for the fact that they didn't have showers, and actual locker rooms.
Instead, there are individual dressing rooms with curtains. The asana
practice room is large, with carpeted floor, podium, yoga mats and
various props. The staff is very friendly and helpful. Yoga Zone
offers beginners orientations, teachers' training programs, and yoga
classes for the beginners as well as for more advanced students. On
average, Yoga Zone conducts 8 classes a day, with about 10 students
in every class. The center also features a little boutique that sells
Yoga Zone's own line of clothing, as well as tapes and props.
I took advantage of the introductory offer of 3 classes for 40$ and
signed up for a class called Yoga 2+3. Normally, one class would cost
you 20 bucks. The instructor, a young woman named Sara, sat down on a
podium in a spacious asana room where the class gathered. She turned
on a CD of Indian music. She lit a couple of candles and said "om".
That was about it for the spiritual part of the class, which
constituted of medium-paced flowing from one pose to another.
However, there was a little meditation at the end.
During the class, Sara herself was demonstrating to us some
positions, which was helpful. When it was final relaxation time, she
burned some incense sticks and dimmed the lights, which made the
whole Yoga Zone experience more nirvana-like.
After the class I felt like a new person – totally relaxed and
ready to face the world. To ensure that classes at Yoga Zone remain
on the highest caliber, all its instructors receive ongoing training
from Alan Fischer or his senior teachers.
If you are looking for a slow workout to increase strength and
flexibility, and to clear your mind from the everyday junk, Yoga Zone
is the place to go.