When I first began practicing at Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, I discovered that yoga didn’t need to hurt. No more throbbing sacrum in savasana, no more aching hips when I first climbed out of bed in the morning.
In fact, with proper alignment and intelligent sequencing, I found I could actually get more space in my joints instead of less. Miraculous! Thus began my weekly pilgrimages to the east end of Long Island to study with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee. The next thing I knew I was enrolled in their teacher training, and then I was mentoring a Yoga Shanti teacher training and then another and another…
Well, I don’t need to hop on the Hampton Jitney quite so frequently anymore, because Yoga Shanti is now open in New York City!
Originally founded by Colleen in Sag Harbor in 1999, Yoga Shanti recently unveiled its gilded interiors at 46 West 24th Street in the Flatiron District. You no longer have to relocate to the Hamptons to have access to the creative, anatomically sound, alignment-based sequencing that has made Yoga Shanti a premiere yoga destination for over 15 years.
The New York studio is a collaboration between Colleen, Rodney, and their partners Joyce Englander Levy, Jenny Hudak McCabe and Ariel Levy.
So, how did this collaboration come to be?
“We were sitting around relaxing at the end of our final weekend of a Yoga Shanti teacher training,” says Colleen, “And we were saying what a shame it was that we couldn’t house the mindblowingly talented teachers and mentors from the training under one roof in the city. Of course, Jenny and Joyce’s minds started ticking, and they said, ‘But we can!’ Hence, YSNY was born. Joyce’s husband, Ariel, immediately went to work looking for the perfect home for the studio, and also signed on as a partner. Rodney and I had been talking about opening a studio in the city for a while before that, but now the timing was finally right: all of the kids are out of the house and into college or beyond. The five of us—me and Rodney, Jenny, Joyce, and Ariel—bring such different elements to the partnership that it feels like a perfect balance.”
Joyce adds, “Because Colleen and Rodney teach all over the world, they were excited to have partners who could hold down the fort while they are away and be as personally invested in the success and integrity of the studio as they are.”
With so many dynamic neighborhoods in NYC, how did they choose the 24th street location?
“It’s in the heart of Manhattan and within the burgeoning neighborhoods of flatiron and NoMad,” says Ariel. “The space is located on the ground floor of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the state of New York. The building was built for the sole purpose of creating and building community, which is what we are aiming to do as well.”
When you walk into the space you are instantly transported. The design is breathtaking. Ariel calls it “Moroccan chic,” referring to some of the furniture and fixtures that were imported from Morocco. That said, the majority of the studio was Made in NYC.
“We used Yoga Shanti Sag Harbor as the foundation for the design, and took it to a new dimension,” says Colleen. “Evan Yee, Joel Siegel, and Denise Regan made our vision a reality. We couldn’t have expected so much beauty and perfection under the gold ceiling. We really wanted the studio to be a beautiful haven, but these three took the aesthetics to the extreme. Everywhere you look are details that have been so lovingly and mindfully planned and executed—from the hand carvings to the lockers, to the chandeliers to the curtains. Don’t even get me started about the paint. I am gushing with gratitude for these artists who worked tirelessly to prepare a sweet, safe, and beautiful space for New Yorkers to lay their burdens down and dig down and find their internal beauty.”
Adds Rodney, “I couldn’t be prouder that my son Evan and his partner Joel and my good friend Denise Regan were instrumental with the creative design and overall vision.”
In addition to building community, and curating a beautiful space for yoga practitioners, Rodney was excited to “up the yoga game” in New York City. “I want us to utilize all of the amazing yoga knowledge we have access to and be a vehicle for information to flow easily. There’s so much wisdom available to us so far as philosophy, alignment, ethics, pranayama, meditation… Our faculty can pick out the essential knowledge and help educate students about yoga for the benefit of themselves, their family, their communities and the world at large. This knowledge can enable people to live with more joy and less suffering. We should share it! YSNY is a place where everybody can drink from. It’s a central location where people from all forms of yoga can come and not be threatened and have access to these teachings.”
Accessibility is a huge part of YSNY’s mission. Says Colleen, “We want to make yoga approachable and accessible to everyone. We are starting from scratch with beginners, and have continuing education for teachers and everything in between. There are literally classes for everyone, regardless of age or experience level.”
YSNY will also be a “grad school” of sorts for yoga teachers and seasoned practitioners who yearn to deepen their studies. “We have the fortune to bring in the top, most senior teachers from around the country,” says Rodney. “People like Richard Freeman and Richard Rosen. These are the teachers who are helping to direct the movement of yoga. YSNY will be a place of inquisitiveness and curiosity and the open exchange of ideas.”
What else makes YSNY different from the myriad of other yoga studios in New York?
“We’ve been really thoughtful with the way we’ve put together the schedule,” says Joyce. “We aren’t just trying to re-create what is happening elsewhere. The question is – how are we poised to make a different offering? Well – for starters – with our Beginners Club! We’ve really taken into account what it’s like to be a beginner and we’ve created an incredible program to help get people started. Additionally, we’re hosting afternoon ‘self-practices’ for teachers and advanced students who like to go at their own pace, and work on their own sequencing – but also want to practice around other like minded people, receive hands on adjustments and feedback.”
Colleen agrees, saying, “YSNY has a lot of offerings that make it unique—from really catering to and welcoming brand-new beginners who may feel intimidated, to Urban Zen Restorative, to classes where teachers come together and share with each other what they are finding interesting and inspiring.”
So if Rodney Yee could get anyone to come to his class at YSNY, who would he choose?
“All the yoga teachers in NYC,” Rodney said. “I hope they come to YSNY, because we have something vital to share. I’d certainly like to have my game upped and be held accountable to the senior teachers of NYC and share my experience at that level. When you work together like that, you go deeper into the art of yoga.”
As of for Colleen, she’d like her dad and Michelle and Barack Obama to roll out their mats underneath the gold ceiling.
“I want my 80-year-old mom to come,” says Jenny. “And all the people who say, ‘I can’t do yoga – I can’t even touch my toes’ – those are the ones I’d love to get into class!”
What can students expect from a class at YSNY?
“Students will get a good dollop of philosophy and spiritual teaching as well as the physical alignment in which to support that teaching in their posture and their daily life and the way they move in the world,” says Rodney. “We use great sequencing to illuminate the philosophy we are trying to awaken and create wellness in the body and mind. It’s a new standard of yoga.”
Colleen adds that students can expect a safe, fun, and creative journey, that will leave them feeling “wrung out, happy, calm, and alert.”
“We want our students to leave feeling balanced, energized relaxed free and happy all at the same time,” Jenny says. “Students can expect to feel welcome and taken care of like they’re a part of our family. That’s my favorite part of this whole endeavor. I want to make people feel like they’re a part of something… make sure they feel part of an inclusive community that values inquiry and open-mindedness.”
Joyce sums it up beautifully, saying, “We want YSNY to be a place where people come for daily classes and stay for teacher trainings; where people from the neighborhood come to engage, recharge and feel alive; where people from all over the world come to sculpt their minds and their bodies; where students turn off their phones and turn on their sensitivity to the living, breathing present moment; and to be a place where modern New Yorkers come to cultivate meaningful friendships and take a fulfilling breath.”
Well, that all sounds pretty transcendent. Sign me up!
To check out the schedule or sign up for a class, click HERE. See you on the mat…