Yoga to the People is the first studio that I discovered in NYC, just after it opened in 2006 on St. Marks. The founding concept is that there are no set prices; the studio runs entirely on donations. The classes themselves are intense – they’re all vigorous vinyasa, and it’s impossible to leave the studio without being drenched in sweat and sore all over. If you’re looking for a restorative class, you definitely won’t find that here. But if you want to stretch and sweat and work hard, you’ll love it.
The teachers here don’t talk much, and they don’t do many adjustments. There’s no chanting, and you won’t get into any long talks about alignment or spirituality. The teacher will usually read a brief inspirational quote and then ring a Tibetan singing bowl to close out each class, which is nice. The classes get packed, so it’s a good idea to arrive at least 10-15 minutes early. But the crowding can be fun too, since there’s always an eclectic mix of students of all ages and body types, which is what Yoga To The People is all about. Having so many people in the room can also be useful for a new student – it makes it easy to watch what other people are doing if you get confused.
Bottom line: This is a great, affordable studio for a yogi of any experience level. Final pro tip: Bring your own mat (the rentals smell funny).
Yoga Vida is the NYC yoga studio that I go to most often. (Full disclosure: I'm starting my Yoga Teacher Training there next Friday, so I am slightly biased!) I think it strikes just the right balance of classes that feel challenging and thorough but never overwhelming. Most classes are open-level vinyasa, and they encourage everyone from beginners to advanced students to attend. I had no problem following along during my first class here, but I would recommend taking a Basics class first if you’re completely new to yoga, so you can get your bearings. Yoga Vida has two locations - one near Union Square, and the other in NoHo. The studios are spacious and bright, with a great selection of rental mats and props. If you’re new, you can sign up for two weeks of unlimited yoga for $20, which is an excellent deal. They also offer big discounts if you’re a student, teacher, or senior. They have regular donation classes as well - every weekday at 2:00 and 7:30pm. Recent graduates of the Teacher Training Program teach the classes, and 50% of whatever you donate (it can be as little as $1.00) goes to support a charity called Every Mother Counts. Occasionally, you’ll get a subpar donation class from a new teacher who seems sort of unprepared. But usually, you’ll take class with thoughtful, thorough new teachers who offer interesting sequences with great alignment cues and adjustments. Yoga Vida teachers also strike a good balance with the amount of talking during class. Teachers will sometimes speak in detail about breathing techniques or bandhas – it might be a little too much for some people, but I enjoy it. There’s not much chanting here, although you might occasionally do a quick Om. Even though most classes are vinyasa flow, the sequences always feel unique, and you’ll probably end up trying something new here every time you come.
Bottom line: This is a great studio for yogis with a little experience. Use all the props they offer, and take advantage of the donation classes if you can!
The Bhakti Center is my most recent yoga find. The small second floor studio is bright and beautiful, with exposed brick walls and a hardwood floor. Hindu paintings and sculptures hang everywhere here – there’s even a Vedic temple up on the third floor. There’s no denying that this studio has a religious bent – Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion, and the word “Bhakti” itself means devotion to the divine. If you’re a lapsed Catholic like me, it can feel a little overwhelming at first. At any class at The Bhakti Center, there’s a decent chance that your teacher will read from The Bhagavad Gita. You’ll probably also end up chanting Hare Krishna at some point, and at the very least, you’ll do a round of Om’s with the harmonium. The teacher might also rub your neck or back with essential oils at some point during class – the oils aren’t a religious thing though, just a special treat that you should thoroughly relax into and enjoy. If you come to class with an open mind, I guarantee that you will have a great experience. The class size here is always small, which is a rare treat in NYC. The rental mats are really good (The Mat by Lululemon - they are amazing), and there’s no cost to use one. The Bhakti Center also offers a special for new students: 2 weeks of unlimited yoga for $30, which I highly recommend. They also offer 3 donation classes every week – Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, and Sundays at 10:00 am. You will never get a subpar class here – every single teacher at The Bhakti Center is outstanding. Each teacher offers helpful, careful adjustments and clear verbal cues. I also love the attention to breath and alignment that is always emphasized here. This really is one of the best places for a beginning yogi to come, since you’ll definitely all get all the individualized attention and assistance that you need.
Bottom line: Come to class with an open mind! And whether you’re brand new to yoga or a student who has been practicing for years, there’s no doubt that you’ll have a special and memorable class here every single time.